4.5 out of 5 Stars!
Back in 1980, after the “leaders” of the band Foreigner dumped its more creative and adventurous founding members to further commercialize its already commercial sound, I stopped listening. Without these members (especially keyboardist Al Greenwood), the group became way too bland for my tastes, and no amount of wimpier fare such as “Waiting for a Girl Like You” or “I Want to Know What Love Is” could lure me back into the fan base.
Anyway, in 1981, when I learned a new group was being formed in New York featuring both Greenwood and original Foreigner bassist Ed Gagliardi, I couldn’t wait to hear the end results. Thankfully, that came soon afterward when the debut from Spys appeared, and after hearing the platter just one time, I realized the band that had incorrectly spelled its name (like the Babys) had correctly executed its music.
The album’s opening track (and first single) “Don’t Run My Life,” along with other tunes such as “She Can’t Wait,” “No Harm Done,” “Danger,” “Hold On (When You Feel You’re Falling),” and “Don’t Say Goodbye,” delivered solid and energetic AOR/Pomp Rock, highly melodic with grand and layered vocal harmonies, often complex instrumentation, and inventive song arrangements. Better still, I found that Greenwood’s contributions—generally front and center in the mix and more dynamic and creative then they had ever been with Foreigner—added intriguing chills and thrills to songs such as “Ice Age,” “Desirée,” and “Into The Night,” making sections of these tracks almost Prog-oriented in their keyboard complexity. Moreover, Gagliardi is also given the occasional spotlight on many tracks, his melodic bass lines popping through crisp and clean thanks to Neil Kernon’s stellar production magic.
As far as the other “non-famous” band members, John DiGuardio performs tasty guitar leads throughout, giving the songs a powerful punch, while Billy Milne proved himself a formidable drummer, his work with Gagliardi extremely tight, especially when including unexpected breaks and twists in the tempos. Meanwhile, vocalist John Blanco belts out the lyrics with the self-assurance of a pro, his tone, range, and delivery enjoyable and fairly distinctive.
Overall, the album impressed the hell out of me upon initial hearing, and even today stands out as something special in the AOR/Pomp Rock genre, a forgotten masterpiece. With the music being an interesting mixture of groups such as Foreigner and Toto with more than a touch of Asia, Styx, and Angel, thanks primarily to Greenwood’s bombastic keyboards, I can think of no other band from this era that had quite the same spark or zest or promise.
That’s why it was woefully unfortunate that the group’s sophomore effort (1983’s Behind Enemy Lines) paled in comparison, with a noticeable dip in songwriting quality and a slight change in direction. With the band’s fortunes swiftly diminishing, it truly came as no great surprise when Spys broke up shortly thereafter. And although Greenwood immediately went on to work with legendary Rainbow/Deep Purple vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, the other talented guys basically vanished off the scene. A sad twist of fate, especially for a band that could create such a stunning debut, one I still regularly enjoy all these decades later.
(RIP Edward John Gagliardi—February 13, 1952 – May 11, 2014)