Graham Parker must have sensed that replacing a backing band as solid as the Rumour wasn't going to be easy after he parted ways with the group, and the session heavyweights assembled for Another Grey Area either couldn't or wouldn't summon up the passion and soul Parker's music demanded -- and the mushy-sounding production didn't help, either. The Real Macaw, while hardly perfect, is a significant improvement; the musicians, who include former Rumour guitarist Brinsley Schwarz and Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis, sound tight and snappy throughout, and if the album rarely rocks as hard as you might hope for from Parker, the accelerated tempos of "Just Like a Man" and "Last Couple on the Dance Floor" indicate the band could kick it out when the situation demanded, and the quieter songs still display a potent if low-key energy. While David Kershenbaum's production is a bit too stereotypically mid-'80s for its own good in spots (especially the periodic use of the Linn drum and those regrettably dated keyboard patches), it packs plenty of presence and gives the songs a bright, listenable surface that serves them well. And Parker has a batch of gems this time out; in the wake of his recent marriage, relationships have apparently been on his mind, and he has plenty to say about the ups, downs, and plain hard work that goes into being in love, ranging from the rueful "Can't Take Love for Granted" and the bitterly self-chastising "Just Like a Man" to "Life Gets Better," one of the most openly optimistic tunes he's ever allowed himself to write. After the disappointments of his final album with the Rumour and his first solo album, there was certainly room to wonder if he'd become a spent force, but The Real Macaw makes it clear Parker's muse is still on duty and working hard to put him back on track.
The Real Macaw Review
by Mark Deming