Rock

Published on November 10th, 2015 | by Andy Sedlak

‘Waking Up the Neighbours’ – Bryan Adams [1991]

‘Waking Up the Neighbours’ – Bryan Adams [1991] Andy Sedlak

Summary: After a four-year hiatus Bryan Adams returns with Mutt Lange in tow. “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” becomes the album’s bread winner and suddenly Adams is linked with a soft, emotionless perception.

2.5

Mediocre


User Rating: 4.9 (1 votes)

Released: Sept. 24, 1991

Length: 74 minutes

Producers: Bryan Adams, “Mutt” Lange

Label: A&M

Peak Billboard album chart position: 6

Top 40 U.S singles: 5

When we think of musicians who are “lifers,” Bryan Adams doesn’t necessarily come to mind. 

But his 13th album, Get Up, was released last month. A major label (Universal) backed it and a top-shelf producer (Jeff Lynne) hitched his name to it. 

Most people don’t realize Adams has toured every year since 1996 and has only taken a few years off since 1981. One of the most significant stretches spent away from the road was in 1989 and 1990. Even then, Adams’ hands were anything but idle. He used the time to write and record an album that would sell 16 million copies worldwide. 

Next year, that record turns 25 years old. 

Waking Up the Neighbours, released in 1991, featured one of the most successful singles of all time in “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” The colossal achievement came by way of a newly cemented alliance between Adams and co-producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Fresh off of producing Billy Ocean (Tear Down These Walls), Def Leppard (Hysteria) and the Cars (Heartbeat City), Lange’s credibility and influence in the studio was at an all-time high. He co-wrote every song on Neighbours and nearly twenty-five years later, I still wonder if Neighbours is a Bryan Adams record featuring Mutt Lange’s work … or the other way around.

WUTN - Mutt Lange

Producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, in 1989.

One thing’s for sure – the snapshots of suburban restlessness and sweeping romantic gestures featured in this record can seem like a PG-13 version of Lange’s work with Def Leppard. Adams tries to make the Joe Elliot-style sneer his own, singing his lines with one eyebrow raised.

If you wanna leave me,
Can I come too?

That’s Canadian deviance for you.

Neighbours is an hour and 14 minutes in length and those 74 minutes don’t go by in a flash. Seven of the album’s 15 tracks are over five minutes long. Virtually nothing is under four minutes. Adams, unfortunately, spreads his wings when you’re wishing he’d opt for brevity.

After not releasing an album since 1987, Adams must have been licking his chops in anticipation of a comeback. To do so, he and Lange set their sights on newfound commercial real estate (CDs offered more space than traditional LPs). And while lucrative, Neighbours feels generic, repetitive and thematically middle of the road. 

It’s also fabulously ironic that the record’s massive hit, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” sounds wildly out of place within the context of the album. Imagine a wannabe Michael Bolton cut plopped down in the middle of a record that takes its cues from Def Leppard. 

The video for “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” A chart topper for seven weeks.

The album opens with the brawny yet straight-laced “Is Your Mama Gonna Miss Ya?” Yet after a passionate testament in the first track, Adams is bizarrely adamant about dumping the girl in the very next cut, “Hey Honey – I’m Packin’ You In!.”

From “Hey Honey – I’m Packin’ You In!”
I’ve had enough of your hand in the till
I’m sick and tired of your credit card bills
Go back to you next of kin
Yeah … I’m packin’ you in!

Then … stagnation. The first five songs on the record all have similar tempos. 

It would have helped if “Packin’ You In” would have been dropped so listeners wouldn’t have to wait to get to “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started.” The charmingly jingoistic tune peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991.

Another forgotten single — “Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven” – showed Adams could rival Jon Bon Jovi for ownership of an Oh-Oh-Oh backing vocal. It ascended to No. 13 in 1992.

The Stones-y “Not Guilty” squanders time until the album’s first proper ballad, “Vanishing.” With a descending keyboard line, Adams and Lange lay out the kind of splashy tough guy sentimentality that Meat Loaf made a career of. The track – which had single potential – is more convincing that the schmaltzy “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.”

The clip for “Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven,” the album’s fourth single.

Sometimes Adams’ longtime songwriting partner, Jim Vallance, is brought in to round out the primary songwriting team. Predictably, results were mixed. The trio turned out “House Arrest,” a devastating outburst of corn that smacks of a Warrant B-side. But they also put together the torchy “Do I Have to Say the Words,” which suited Adams better.

Through it all, Adams bends over backwards to show us he’s anthemic. He wants to be the guy who moves you. These intentions reach bizarre lows in “There Will Never Be Another Tonight,” a carbon copy of Bruce Springsteen’s “Out in the Street.” 

What Adams and Lange forget are the nuances. Anthems, after all, are nuances magnified. Without them, sweeping but emotionless tunes are the result. 

Adams avoids the trap on “All I Want Is You,” a swaggering cut the Knack or Rick Springfield would have killed for. 

From “All I Want is You:”
Don’t wanna argue, don’t wanna fight
Don’t want no politics, babe, all thru the night
I told ya before — gonna tell ya once more
For the last time baby, open up your door
All I want is you all I want is you
Not any old girl will do

“All I Want is You” was released as a single in 1992, which was the year after Neighbours came out. By then Adams’ light was fading. Two more singles followed – “Do I Have to Say the Words” and “Touch the Hand.” The former would be the second-to-last pop hit his career.

The music video for “All I Want is You.”

His final Top 40 hit, “Let’s Make This a Night to Remember,” would arrive in 1996. Yes, Lange was a co-writer. It capped a nice stretch of pop vitality that, again, is lost on many of us. Keep in mind Adams’ first hit, “Straight from the Heart,” was released way back in 1983.

Neighbours’ most lasting commercial contribution comes toward the end of its sequence. Only numbers can contextualize “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.”  Seven weeks atop the singles chart, selling 15 million copies worldwide. That’s a high point for not only the artist, but for commercial music in general. The song is one of only about 12 singles to ever sell 15 million copies. Others include Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (50 million), Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” (33 million), USA For Africa’s “We Are the World” (20 million) and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” (15 million).

The song, featured in the Kevin Costner vehicle, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, also earned an Oscar nomination. It would lose to “Beauty and the Beast.”

When I told my co-editor Clint Davis the song was included on this record, his response was telling. 

“That’s horrible,” he said. “Someone sang it at a wedding I was at and I’ve never been able to hear it since without wincing.” 

Associations like that no doubt hurt Adams’ credibility in the long run.

Bryan Adams Younger

Bryan Adams, pictured in 1984.

Prior to its release, Adams was a fun-loving rock ‘n roller. A Canadian John Cougar. After “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” your aunts dug Adams. And your devotion probably wasn’t strong enough to stick up for him. 

Adams was asked recently if he’s tired of that song yet. “Of course not,” he replied. For his sake, I hope that’s true. Because he paid a price for it. After the song was released, that was the last most of us heard from Bryan Adams. 

It’s a shame. I think in his heart, Bryan Adams is a rocker. He’s not the most talented. Definitely not a natural. Distraction is a problem. 

But, at the end of the day, I do believe he’s sincere. 

And that feeling carries through Neighbours. Although it ends with a succession of three forgettable tunes (“If You Wanna Leave Me,” “Touch the Hand” and “Don’t Drop That Bomb on Me”), his music is never pretentious. 

For reasons likely beyond his control, he can’t live up to the expectations he sets for himself. He’s Bryan Adams, not Springsteen. Or Def Leppard, for that matter.

But there was a time when being Bryan Adams was enough. Reckless, released in 1984, was about a rock ‘n roll dreamer’s long-shot chance in the title fight. “Summer of ’69” and the Tina Turner-assisted “It’s Only Love” felt authentic because Adams wore his love of music on his sleeve. 

In 1991, Adams wanted desperately to make a big sound. Yet in the midst of chasing that sound he became associated with soft, emotionless music that alienated his core audience. 

He’s been on the road every year since 1996, but you’d never know it. 

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About the Author

Andy Sedlak is a former television reporter who lives in Dayton, OH. He grew up in a household that pumped Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel every weekend. He instantly became a new man when he discovered Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in junior high.



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