The lyrics sound very CCMish compared to later 77's songs, but at the time they were rather on the fringe - less direct and more thought-provoking (and artsy) than most bands.
The first cut, though a bit week compared to the rest, still starts the album nicely. It makes a statement, tells you who these guys are, and gives you an idea of the possibilities of Mike's vocals and the band in general.
The next cut, How Can You Love, rips apart the whole myth of love as so many people today see it (pretty much as the media prortays it), and rocks a little more.
It's So Sad and Falling Down a Hole make a great pair. For a long time I thought this was one song with a fadeout in the middle and a change of pace and apparent focus - from a synth-based pop song to a full-tilt rocker. Both deal with aspects of emptiness and despair in life in western society today. Falling Down a Hole is one of my favorites on the album; with a great sound and witty lyrics.
Someone New is a decent song about being left behind, from both sides, and about becoming someone new.
Renaissance Man was the first 77's song I ever heard. It parodies the whole concept of the modern Renaissance and the religious absurdities, dichotomies, and pseudo-scientific bable that have inundated the modern outlook. A basic song at the musical level, it's still one of my favorites.
One listen to Ping Pong Over the Abyss is usually enough to understand why the album was named for it. The beat remains pretty much the same, but the style wanders all over the map; it's kind of a mini-77's concert in one song: blues, new wave, rock, pop, pre-rap - everything but country-western. You can mosh, head-bang, or just dance. You won't keep still.
Time is Slipping Away is almost as good. It has a great rock-western style intro before settling into a solid new wave sound. Mike is again dealing with questions of destiny and destination. There are elements of both Springsteen and Stonehill in this one.
The final track on the original album, a slow, jangly, blues (with quite a bit of early Jackson Browne thrown in) sort of version of Denomination Blues, deals not with denominations per se, but more with attitudes and archetypes (such as televangelists), preconceptions, and so forth. It reduces the reality of our existence down to bare essentials.
The bonus version of It's so Sad is thinner musically, with a more prominent synth. Falling Down a Hole, meanwhile, does manage to come off more as a live version. Neither is excellent, neither is terrible.
The bonus Ping Pong track, while not quite as good as the one that made the grade, is a decent version with some good guitar sound.
The final bonus cut, Denomination Blue, is a slight change of pace from the album version, but both get old after a while.
Both the cover and the CD list the original cuts wrong; the cuts labeled 6-10 are first, followed by 1-5.
Which is fine, because Caught in an Unguarded Moment (which contains the line from which the album title comes) is the perfect song to start this off with. A good, solid, early 80s new wave/rock song with more of those western sounds, brilliant vocals, and great lyrics. This song sounds like it escaped from a big name somewhere in England, but it's our heroes. The simple lyrics make their point quite well. One of the songs everyone wants to hear live - but you have to catch them in concert bacause there's no released live version.
Next is my favorite version of Someone New. I suspect this is what they meant for it to sound like to begin with.
Something's Holding On is your basic danceable song with typical 77's double-edged lyrics. It's one of those songs that doesn't stand up well to analysis and critique, but is a great song, anyway. Hey, music's as much about feeling as anything!
A slow, song about a young woman's unwanted pregnancy, Your Pretty Baby would probably have been Top 40 material if it had been from a PC band. I tend to skip this one about half the time, only because it drags a bit.
Another Nail is all about the hurts we all go through in relationships (and those we put others, including people and God) through). A plaintive tune with great impact.
Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba is the other song everyone wants to hear a live version of, that hasn't made it to disk in a live format. Another simple, simply excellent song.
Arguably their most intense song, Under the Heat is an urgent, rocky song bouncing between dark and lilting, from the perspective of a marine in the minutes after the suicide bomber drove into the barracks in Lebanon. Few rock songs have dealt so well with what soldiers must feel in battle situations, far from home, without being judgemental (in either direction).
The 77's best ``real'' blues/rock song, this version of Mercy Mercy is way too short. It's a wonderful version, I just happen to like the live version on 88 if only for the fact it's 3 - 4 times as much of a good thing!
You Don't Scare Me is the perfect song to play for all your Satan-worshipping friends. If a blues song can cast out fear, this is it. Again, a wonderful version, with an even longer live version available on 88. This is every bit as good as the Stones do the blues, and a great answer to some of their lyrics.
The final original song on this album, Make a Difference Tonight is another song right in the groove, bopping back and forth between new wave and ``real'' rock and roll. (If you're getting the idea Mike Roe is a master at this sort of thing, you're right!)
Both bonus versions of Locked Inside This Moment have a strong Police flavor. Both are love songs about timeless moments with the one you love. It's a shame some version of this didn't make it onto the original album, and I'm glad to have these. But I wouldn't have put either version on the album, either (sic); they need more work.
While flawed slightly in a few places, this slightly faster version of Someone New is well done.
Jesus, which appeared later on Mike's More Miserable than You'll Ever Be and on Voice of the Beehive's first album (as an unlisted bonus cut) is a plain, bluesy song about the basics. This is a side of Mike we don't see much.
Tattoo eventually showed up on More Miserable than You'll Ever Be. This version is almost as good, with the music buried more than usual.
The final bonus track is too much! It's not a song, it's a story told by Charlie Peacock, Mike Roe, and some others playing parts, about a Hollywood agent trying to get a friend of Charlie's to do a strip scene in a movie. I won't say more, except that you definitely want to keep the album on the player for this one (skip all those empty tracks between 13 and 85).
This album was a new direction for the 77's, with a sparser, cleaner sound and (on many of the songs) real, personal, introspective lyrics. It's sometimes hard to tell when Mike is singing about his own struggles and feelings and when he's singing about people in general, prople he's known, or people he's observed.
Elements of Elvis Costello, Steve Taylor, The Police and similar bands are present, but mostly the sound is all the 77's own. The first three songs have a kind of musical urgency to them. The next cut, the live version of Pearls Before Swine makes a nice change of pace with its laid-back-but-can't-relax bluesy feel. They flirt with a Doors sound throughout the track.
The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes, and the Pride of Life is a wonderfully plaintive song dealing with how we feel and how we perceive others expect us to feel, how things around us affect us, and how we deal with it. This is one of the most powerful songs (lyrically) on this album.
Frames without Photographs is sort of a laid back, electrified acoustic rock song. This sound reoccurs years later on the Drowning with Land in Sight album.
Don't Say Goodbye returns to the urgent feel, and deals with (surprise!) leaving and being left.
The next track is probably my least favorite on the album. I like the S&S version of Bottom Line better, but neither really grabs me.
Another live cut (I Could Laugh) is a brilliantly insightful song into a highschooler/collegiate's take on life when noone understands. A great acoustic cut, this is the sort of thing groups like the Who built a career on, albeit from a slightly different perspective. Not quite as perfcet as the version on 88, this is still a very good cut.
The next three bonus tracks are generally slightly more intense versions of the first three cuts on the album.
The bonus version of Frames without Photographs has a stong Police feel to it, but doesn't quite have the energy a Police song usually had.
The live demo versions of Don't Say Goodbye and MT sound similar to the versions that showed up on S&S, but are different if you know S&S or compare them back to back. The bonus version of The Lust... is similar to that on S&S, but with more of a funky bass and lots of reverb on the vocals. These versions are generally ``looser'' than those on S&S. The final bonus cut, Don't, This Way, is a slightly faster version of what appeared on S&S.
It's nice to have the extra versions here, but after several listens, I still think they picked the right versions for S&S (a true masterpiece).
Copyright 1995 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved. Electronic reproduction for personal use via the Internet is explicitly allowed. Miles O'Neal <roadkills.r.us@XYZZY.gmail.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514