Back in late-1998, I was driving to a high school basketball booster club meeting during which I was supposed to be introducing the seventh-grade basketball team that I was coaching at the time to the members of this club. Even though I am basically an introvert, I have never found public speaking intimidating, which means that I am really a “paid extrovert.” If I were funny, I might be a comedian; or if I could get over myself, then maybe I’d be an actor. Instead, I became a teacher and coach. But, that’s not the point. The point was I that I was driving my car, which means the radio was on, when I heard one of the most brilliant songs I have ever heard during the decade of the Nineties. I thought I was hearing a new Todd Rundgren song, only with someone that sounded as if the singer’s voice fell somewhere in the middle of a triangulation of Rundgren, Daryl Hall and Billy Corgan. This song was blue-eyed soul and rock heaven! When the heavenly sound was done, the local DJ stated the group was a new band called New Radicals with their new song “You Get What You Give.”
Of course, since this was 21 years ago, I was still in my “get excited about new music” phase, even though I should have out-grown the phase a decade sooner. Anyway, all I knew at the time was I had to hear that song again! Sure enough, when that morning meeting finally ended, I got back in the car to drive home, and I immediately heard the song again. And, I knew I was correct about it. The song was brilliant. Of course, my older son was 13 at the time, and when he first heard it, he was NOT impressed. If it had been Limp Bizkit or Master P at the time, he would have been excited, but something that sounded rooted in the Eighties…naw!
Undeterred by my boys’ lack of support, I went out and bought the CD, which I still have today. This album, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, is an overlooked classic. Go ahead, find this album at the local used CD shop or Half-Priced Books, as you can probably buy it for $3.00 or less, which is a steal! I just cannot believe that it continues to be overlooked by most critics as it is a pop/rock masterpiece.
The album opens with a Rundgren’s Utopia-type pop-based rock song called “Mother We Just Can’t Get Enough.” The song sets the stage for what is to come during this song. The second song is the big lead single “You Get What You Give,” which I said sounds like a long-lost Rundgren single from the Eighties. The third song is a dead-ringer for a Daryl Hall & John Oates song called “I Hope I Just Don’t Give Away the Ending.”
But, the true depth of the album’s brilliance comes in the form of track 4, “I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore.” This song should have been a huge hit, as it sounds as if Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins was fronting the Hall & Oates band of their hit-making Eighties era. This song is the emotional pinnacle of the album. Next up, we get yet another Hall & Oates-soundalike, which in my book, is an honor to be called. The song is “Jehovah Made This Whole Joint for You,” and sounds as if Hall & Oates left it off their 1979 X-Static LP, which was, if you know Hall & Oates history, is the album that set-up the duo for their successful Eighties run.
Now, as if to have life imitate art, track 6 is “Someday We’ll Know,” a song that actually was covered by Daryl Hall & John Oates on their big 21st century comeback album Do It for Love. Once you hear New Radicals’ version, you knew it HAD to be covered by the rock ‘n’ soul duo because it is tailor-made for them. Track 7 is the title track, and is more of an alternative rock song, not real grungy, but not unlike the music on Daryl Hall’s first solo album. The song is a great stretch of the band’s sound, displaying leader’s Gregg Alexander fantastic songwriting ability. After that experimental break, we get back to the blue-eyed soul based pop/rock sound with another slice of Todd Rundgren called “In Need of a Miracle.”
Now, it needs to be said that Gregg Alexander may have been the leader of the band, but he was not the only talent in it. Much was made at the time of this album’s release that former child actor Danielle Brisebois, that little girl who was in Archie Bunker’s Place. Brisebois had given up acting to pursue a musical career and was finding some minor success when her buddy Alexander had her join the band. Brisebois’ backing vocals gives a nice counterpoint to Alexander’s lead vocals in most of the songs, while her keyboard playing is a highlight throughout the album.
Alexander’s songwriting goes back to the Hall & Oates well for a great ballad called “Gotta Stay High.” As if to say that he knew their whole catalog, Alexander seemed to be dipping into Hall & Oates’ 1978 Along the Red Ledge album for inspiration. Next, New Radicals go back for some Utopia inspiration to come up with what might be the album’s weakest song “Technicolor Lover.” But, I’d much rather listen to this song than a whole album by Master P. Just sayin’.
Not to be forgotten, Alexander gives us a “1979”-styled Smashing Pumpkins-influenced song called “Flowers,” which only enhances the band’s alternative nation credentials. This song would have fit perfectly on the Pumpkins’ magnum opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Once again, Alexander is not just displaying his influences but is improving on the original artists’ sounds. The album concludes with the gospel-like “Crying like a Church on Monday.” Whenever I hear this song, I simply wish Aretha Franklin had covered it and just torn it all apart. This song is a fantastic way to end the album, but in the hands of Franklin, or even George Michael, this song would have become the transcendent album that it is screaming to become. Hell, even Whitney Houston could have done the job too. Wait a second! If I were producing Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson or P!nk, I’d tell them to just cut the crap and get down the emotional basis of this song and let ‘er rip! It just tells me to become a gospel-tinged song. Or, I could even hear Richard Manuel, God rest his soul, painfully singing this song in his falsetto while the rest of The Band plays the hell out of it.
Regardless, this album that New Radicals created is a masterpiece and should be required listening for anybody who wants to know what real pop/rock sounds like so they don’t get the wrong idea from Adam Levine and his posers Maroon 5. The question is what happened to this band? Well, after the success of “You Get What You Give,” Alexander broke up the band so they would always remain a one-hit wonder. Was he afraid to follow-up a masterpiece? Who knows? The man said he wanted to be a songwriter and producer, eventually earning an Oscar nomination for a song he wrote for a movie a few years back. Regardless of his motivation to break up this band, he left us one fantastic album that I am still playing to this day. And, for an album from the Nineties, that says a lot!