John Waite – Rough and Tumble (review)

John Waite – Rough and Tumble (Frontiers) CD review On the cover of his new CD Rough and Tumble, John Waite looks like he’s ready to knock some heads in.  Yes, he’s the same singer who gave us two of the most enduring ballads of the Eighties in “Missing You” (1984) and “When I See You Smile” (1989, with Bad English).  Yet, for his eleventh solo disc, Waite has chosen to strip away the gloss that’s mired his recent releases, and in doing so, he’s created a true rock album and his best work in years.

The opening title track completely sets the stage: a simple, raw guitar riff, then joined by bass and drums, and finally Waite, sounding 28 (not the 58 that he actually is).  There’s absolutely no studio trickery here – it sounds like the guys, sitting in their garage, cranked their amps to eleven and rolled tape.  This is followed by the soulful “Evil,” accented with a nice Rhodes piano, and a great “na na na na na na na” chorus.  After those two heights, Waite gives us his best ballad since Bad English with “If You Ever Get Lonely.”  This guy still has a hell of a knack for writing songs that give you goosebumps.

And, just to show how far he’s come, Waite revisits a track from his very first solo album 30 years ago, “Mr. Wonderful,” and blows the original to shreds, both in bluesy power and passionate delivery.  “Better Off Gone” has an opening riff that reminds of “Life in the Fast Lane,” then goes into one of those choruses straight outta 1985 that you want to sing again and again.  The fact is, Waite sounds rejuvenated; his voice hasn’t lost anything over the years.  Great songs, top to bottom.  A true triumph.  –Tony Peters