Conjuring the old musical magic Partners clear the air, hoping Foreigner again conquers the airwaves

December 18, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Musical partnerships are like marriages in a lot of ways, requiring a similar degree of intimacy, intensity, compatibility and trust. And, as is often the case with marriages, the very qualities that bring two people together are just as often what drives them apart.

Take Foreigner's Mick Jones and Lou Gramm. On a musical level, these two seem perfectly matched, with Jones' well-sculpted melodies providing the perfect platform for Gramm's keening, muscular voice, which in turn adds enough fiery passion to warm the sometimes chilly contours of Jones' perfectionist productions.

Between them, they turned out some of the most memorable hard rock singles of the late '70s and early '80s, including such album-rock classics as "Hot Blooded," "Juke Box Hero," "Urgent" and "I Want To Know What Love Is." But that success came at a price, with tensions between the two rising; by 1990, Jones and Gramm called it quits, with Gramm going solo as Jones made Johnny Edwards the new voice of Foreigner.

So how is it that Lou Gramm is on the phone from Toronto, talking about how happy he is to be back in the band?

"I missed what we had," he says simply. "After spending a little time away from this, I missed the kind of accomplishments, musically, we had when we were really working together."

He admits that, for a while, things weren't working at all between the two. "Some of the later albums were a little bit forced," he says. "The chemistry wasn't there. But when we were at our best, we were really onto something. I wanted to do that again, and I think Mick did too."

Listen to "Soul Doctor," the duo's comeback single, and you'd swear time had stood still for the band. It really does feel like the first time.

"It wasn't difficult," says Gramm modestly. "It really did happen immediately."

But that may have been in part because he and Jones sat down to talk before they got together to write. "We really cleared the air," he says. "We spent a lot of time talking, and really got old grievances and old resentments out.

"I think we had the basis for a revived friendship, and we were anxious about testing our writing chemistry. It didn't feel like it did three or four years ago; it felt like it did 10 years ago, when the ideas were very vibrant and there was no hesitation about baring your soul to your writing partner.

"It was really good to work that way again."

Gramm seems glad to have finally reached an understanding with his partner. "I think at the end . . . our relationship actually deteriorated to the point where we couldn't even communicate," he says, "let alone find that area where creativity is at its best."

Ironically, some of the group's problems stemmed from its own success, and the way the rules seem to change once a band reaches the top of the heap. "Because when you get [to the top], you kind of have a defined sound," Gramm says. "You have something that people want to depend on, and it increasingly becomes something you don't want to maintain. Maintaining is not good enough. You want to keep striving forward.

"What we fell into was not keeping our own relationship sharp, so we could give our best. And when our relationship deteriorated, everything sounded like B-sides to me."

Gramm adds that getting their relationship back into shape wasn't simply a matter of kiss and make up. It had more to do with respect and understanding than mere affection.

"We don't have to be best friends, you know," he says. "I don't think we'll ever be. But we are friends, and we understand each other. There's a lot of mutual respect -- and, in this incarnation, a lot of room for us to express ourselves personally within these songs. This time there's going to be a little more creative equity, and when I look back over our best songs, to me, they're the ones that are true collaborations."

But even if Gramm and Jones recapture the creative chemistry they had 10 years ago, that doesn't necessarily mean Foreigner will achieve the same measure of success. Radio has changed a lot in the last decade, and Foreigner may not as easily fit into the current mix.

"Maybe," says Gramm. " But I have a feeling that there's room for us. I think our stuff is still pretty relevant -- it doesn't sound dated by any stretch of the imagination. It's still pretty uniquely Foreigner.

"We're not fat cats, really. We're underdogs, and we're in the trenches. We've got a struggle to re-establish ourselves. But Mick and I are both up for this fight. I think we still have something to say musically. If radio and our fans are still kind of rooting for us, if they're still in our corner, I think we're going to be all right."

Meanwhile, the band is eager to get back into the studio and pursue some of the ideas developed during the "Soul Doctor" sessions. As Gramm puts it, "This band is back for real, and I think we're going to stay busy boys over the next three or four years. We've got a lot of ground to cover, and a lot to say musically. Our time is going to come around again."

Foreigner

When: Tonight, 8 p.m.

Where: Hammerjacks

Tickets: $12.50 in advance, $13.50 at the door

ACall: (410) 659-7625 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets

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