You can sum up the water mark for rock and roll music in one word:
Passion. In the beginning it was there in Elvis' growl and Little
Richard's trademark wail; it's what made Chuck Berry's anthems to after-school
hedonism so dangerous. It could be sussed in the visionary lyrics
of Bob Dylan and John Lennon, the souled-out voice of Van Morrison, the
rebellion of the Stones and in the gut-bucket roots of the Band exploring
America's history and terrain. Passion also wrote its name in the
rage of the Sex Pistols, the ad hoc politics of the Clash and the beautiful,
barely contained sorrow of Joy Division. And in the midst of the
tumult we could hear passion sing a new song in the heart-on-a-sleeve proclamations
of U2, Peter Gabriel's quest for new musical languages and in the searing,
pulse of the Call's urgent melodicism, a passion that sought truth at any
price while employing rock and roll as its gorgeously tattered vehicle.
And while it's true that the Call may well be the least recognizable name on that list, they did more than anybody else to embrace all of rock and roll's lineage in their sonic mission. Over 10 years and seven albums, the Call forged a virtual poetic that sought to include not only everything fine and rare in the music's pantheon, but each of humanity's qualities and flaws as well.
From the release of their self-titled debut in 1 982, the Call, hailing from California's Bay area, established themselves as a breed apart. Led by Michael Been's songwriting and voice, they burst on the scene like they knew everything was up for grabs--because it was. They understood that punk's promise was a jaded one and that nihilism, excess and corporate greed were swallowing popular music wholesale. They didn't wade into the water, they charged. And with only one personnel change in their history, Been, Scott Musick, Tom Ferrier and Jim Goodwin kept on charging all the way through to the band's disbanding in 1 990, where the mantle was picked up again by Been in 1995's "On The Verge On A Nervous Breakthrough".
This collective gift, this melding of mood, emotion and technical skill, won the Call many critical accolades and the praise of their peers who often guested on their recordings. Musicians such as Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson from the Band, Gabriel, T-Bone Burnett, U2's Bono and Simple Mind's Jim Kerr, all participated in recording sessions at one time or another. In fact, the Call were celebrated by their peers, which is an achievement not so easily come by in this
hypercritical age. What you hold in your hands is an historical document of a great rock and roll band to be sure, but it is also a social, spiritual and aesthetic one. What is contained in these 1 4 songs is a chronicle of passion's many faces as exemplified in the vision of a particular group of people at a certain place in time who remained true to their collective muse in the face of doubt, success, turmoil and pleasure.
In Been's clear and jarring baritone voice, we hear the emotional landscape of the human heart as it shapeshifts its way across different territories where love was so intense it threatened to consume itself to gardens of stark confusion to the seemingly endless desert of doubt. With a band that could swirl itself into a fury or whisper like a southwind, Been walked the tightrope as the group's frontman; he descended into he shadows willingly because he believed resolutely in the hope that there was indeed light and grace on the other side. The Call's sonic echo and rhythm were compelled by human bloodlines reaching out from their longing for something more.
While it is easy to hear the earth shake in the band's anthems such as "The Walls Came Down" and "Let The Day Begin," it is in the more subtle material that listener finds the depth and dimension that defined the band's spirit, and in particular Been's muse. From the intricate guitar lines woven into the resolution of "I Still Believe" to the faltering yet hopeful questions of "What Happened To You?" driven by keyboards and stuttering guitars to the haunted, textured elegance on "To Feel This Way," the many faces of Been and the Call reveal themselves to listeners, bringing them into a soundworld where images and colors are alive, and the answers to questions are never easy.
In this writer's memory, never has a band so courageously put its vulnerabilities so close to the foreground in its music. In the Call's brand of rock and roll, there wasn't room for screening personality from presentation, it was simply all loaded into the mix with shadings, angles and frays all given equal room to express themselves. Whether a pounding beat, a futuristic funk a soaring melody or a restrained chorus, all one had to do was listen to be able to grasp, even for a moment, a glimpse of everything.
True, the call, despite a few hit singles never became megastars. But it didn't matter, they were a band that sought the role of working musicians and playing with each other as more important than mass acceptance. They were always aware that the music they were playing wasn't for everybody, but it only furthered their reason to create it. And as consummate musicians who sought balance, they knew when it was time for restlessness to have its due when they disbanded in 1990; they called it a day after painting their masterpiece with "Red Moon."
But the story doesn't end there, or with Been's celebrated solo album. At this juncture, this collection stands only as a summation to part one of the Call's story. Been and company are planning a reunion to explore what they left unfinished. What we have here, then, in this stellar and provocative collection, is a testament to be sure. But it is also a door; one that opens out onto a new day, where rock and roll's prime element--passion--can be adorned and displayed by men who understand the divine secrets embedded in its name. One which takes us, indeed, to heaven and back. --Thom Jurek