Foreigner – 40 (Atlantic/Rhino)

The Jukebox Heroes celebrate 4 decades of rock with new 2-disc best of

Look around at the current rock landscape – there’s not many legendary bands left. But, count Foreigner as one of those still standing.  The group is celebrating 40 years together with a current tour, and a brand-new collection, 40, their first-ever career spanning retrospective.

Outside of Led Zeppelin, nobody wrote more killer guitar riffs than Foreigner.  Disc one is an air guitar marathon, kicking off with the band’s debut single, “Feels Like the First Time,” then grabbing ferocious rockers like “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Dirty White Boy,” and the anthemic “Juke Box Hero.”  There’s even lesser-known cuts like “Headknocker” and the incredibly un-politically correct “Women.”

It was Foreigner’s versatility that set them apart from just about every other rock band.  They pretty much invented the power ballad with first “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” (with keyboards by none other than Thomas Dolby!), and then “I Want To Know What Love Is,” yet neither come off as contrived – they’re both still great soulful slow tunes that hold up, while those hair metal guys’ copies just sound stupid.

“Urgent” may be the band’s most underrated song.  The pulsing, insistent guitar riff is augmented by clever keyboards and a guest appearance by Junior Walker on sax.

Disc two highlights include the rocker “Heart Turns to Stone,” and the moody “Can’t Wait.”  The final album to feature original singer Lou Gramm, Mr. Moonlight, is represented by some surprisingly good material.  Both “White Lie” and “Rain” make you wonder why these two weren’t chosen as singles – they should’ve put Foreigner back on the map.  Instead, it signaled Gramm’s exit. His replacement, Kelly Hanson, does an amicable job trying to capture the signature vocals on the remaining tracks.

“Too Late” comes off sounding like Maroon 5 instead of a legendary rock band, while  “Can’t Slow Down” is better, a rocker with a great chorus.  They get into trouble when they do new versions of classic songs – here is where you really appreciate Lou Gramm, when he’s no longer there.  Hanson certainly has the pipes to fuel the rockers, like “Say You Will” and “Break it Up,” but fails to impart the proper soulfulness on the more delicate material, like “Girl on the Moon” and “I Don’t Want to Live Without You,” although, the Philly-soul treatment of “Fool For You Anyway” is interesting.

The set ends off with two, recently recorded songs – “Give My Life For Love” is a bland ballad, but “The Flame Still Burns” is Hansen’s finest moment – it’s a great acoustic number that turns into an epic rocker, and here’s the real surprise, he’s not trying to sound like Lou Gramm.

40 tracks celebrating 40 years (and even revisiting the classic Foreigner “4” logo for the cover art), 40 celebrates a band that’s still continuing to rock, long after most of their contemporaries have hung it up. —Tony Peters