Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘On The Front Line’
August 13, 2012
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By the mid-80s, country music had moved decidedly in a more traditional direction, but Dan Seals’ albums continued to follow the same basic template of combining pop and AC-leaning songs with a handful of more traditional fare. It appears that Seals and producer Kyle Lehning were not fixing what wasn’t broken and with little wonder; 1985′s Won’t Be Blue Anymore had reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. The following year’s On The Front Line didn’t sell quite as well, but it did produce three #1 singles, just as its predecessor had.
Seals had a hand in writing seven of the album’s ten songs, which are mostly ballads and mid-tempo numbers with typical 80s style pop-country production which may have seemed very cutting edge at the time but hasn’t aged very well. This is most evident on the title track (my least favorite in this collection) and “I Will Be There”, which was written by Jennifer Kimball (who had also co-written Seals’ smash it “Bop”) and Tom Snow. “I Will Be There” is a very good song, but I’d really like to hear it without the heavy-handed synthesizer. It was the album’s second #1 hit single, following the ballad “You Still Move Me”, a Seals original composition, to the top of the charts. Though it did not cross over to the adult contemporary charts, “You Still Move Me” sounds like Seals and Lehning might have had a crossover hit in mind when they recorded it. It’s a beautiful song that has held up better than some of the album’s other tracks. Dan also wrote the collection’s third #1 hit, “Three Time Loser”, one of the album’s few uptempo numbers. More rooted in traditional country, it’s my favorite of the album’s three singles.
As far as the album cuts are concerned, there are a number of gems, including “I’m Still Strung Out On You”, a simple traditional number that Dan co-wrote with Wendy Waldman, which seems like it would have been well received by country radio at the time. “Fewer Threads Than These” is a very nice ballad that Holly Dunn would cover the following year, and “Guitar Man Out of Control” is a rockabilly-flavored number that sounds like something that Travis Tritt would have — and should have — recorded. The album ends on a high note with “Lullaby”, written by Seals and Rafe VanHoy, on which Dan is brilliantly paired with Emmylou Harris. Their voices work very well together and it’s a shame that they didn’t collaborate more often.
On The Front Line was Dan Seals’ last album for EMI America before that imprint was folded into the larger Capitol label. CD copies are hard to come by and tend to be expensive; however, it is available for download and is worth a listen despite the sometimes dated-sounding production.