"Zoom" (Rhino Records; 1998)knack.jpg (20745 bytes)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Everyone's entitled to their guilty pleasures and one of mine has always been the peppy, guitar-driven pop of The Knack. This collection of all new tunes by the "phony Beatlemania" band is another terrific collection of energetic, poppy and damn entertaining radio-friendly songs. All boast that punchy guitar and sly vocals sound that somehow really works for this band. Add to that the clever, humorous lyrics (i.e., from "Smilin'": "You tell me you're the second coming, but you come once and then you're done.") and the hook-laden choruses and verses and you've got another successful Knack album; one that falls between their hit-swollen debut album and "Serious Fun," their shot at art rock. 

Too bad the Knack's meteoric rise and fall and their instant labeling as a bubble gum band prevented them from selling more records than they really should have.

THE KNACK: Trent Bozzio - drums; Doug Fieger - lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Prescott Niles - bass guitar; Berton Averre - lead guitar, keyboards, vocals.

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"Serious Fun" (Charisma Records; 1991)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

The Knack's first album in ten years was appropriately entitled. Some of the songs were still fun ("Rocket O' Love") but the band seemed to take the music more seriously.

This was a problem for some, who wanted The Knack to have the same goofy attitude and jauntiness of their first two records. "Serious Fun" showed the band was still capable of writing some seriously addictive songs, and the musical performances captured herein remain some of the band's best.

The aforementioned "Rocket O'Love" starts things off with a bouncy, pop rock feel while the title track boasts some crashing, wall-of-sound guitars (as does the Joe Walsh-like "River of Sighs.") "I'll Be Your Mau Mau" is just as goofy as the title implies and "Doin' The Dog" could have come off the first Knack album.

There are four bonus tracks on this 24-bit remastered re-release including the bluesy "Down w/ The Blond (Pts I & II) and its stunning guitar work; "The Spinning Song," which the band claims they'd completely forgotten; a cover of Martha and the Mandells' "Nowhere to Run" and a too-serious "A Prayer" which closes the CD out.

Perhaps not the best Knack CD but certainly a worthy entry in their discography, "Serious Fun" proved that the success of the Knack was no fluke.

THE KNACK: Billy Ward - drums; Doug Fieger - lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Prescott Niles - bass guitar; Berton Averre - lead guitar, keyboards, vocals.

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"Round Trip" (Capitol Records; 1981)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

As mentioned elsewhere on this page, The Knack has always been one of my guilty pleasures. The band's peppy, guitar-driven pop still appeals to me. 

After the unparalleled success of their first CD, and the desperate, greedy and near fatal rush of their second, The Knack took a couple of years off to contemplate and re-group and finally get around to recording "Round Trip." Sadly, the damage done by "...and the Little Girls Understand" had been done and the band never re-gained a hint of their original popularity. In fact, the band broke up just three weeks after "Round Trip's" release.

It's too bad that had to happen because "Round Trip" is arguably the band's best album. The songs contained on this CD are far more adult, far more well-written and, yes, even sophisticated. They still have the pop sensibilities that made the Knack an instant favorite, but "Round Trip" avoids the repetitious clichés and carbon copy soundscapes of their ultimately disastrous second CD. 

From the very Knack-ish "Radiating Love" to the rich tones of "Africa" to the sly funky sound of "Soul Kissin'" and "Sweet Dreams," "Round Trip" proved that the Knack certainly had the talent and the originality to continue making good music. There isn't a bubble-gummy track on this entire CD (although "Just Wait and See" comes close).

Brilliantly produced by the great Jack Douglas, "Round Trip" was The Knack's last record for ten years, until "Serious Fun" was released in 1991. The CD reviewed here is the 2002 re-release, crisply remastered via 24-bit digital and featuring five bonus tracks, including alternate versions of "Art War" (which has been called the first rap/rock song) and "Pay the Devil (Ooo Baby Ooo), a live version of "Lil' Cals Big Mistake" from 1981, a rehearsal recording of "On the Beach" and a previously unreleased track entitled "Go Away, Stay Away." Interestingly, Doug Fieger, in the liner notes, claims to like the cassette mix of "Art War" included herein better than the version that wound up on the original CD. Frankly, so do I. It's got a much rougher edge that works better for the tune.

The Knack: Doug Fieger - lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Berton Averre - Lead guitar, keyboards, vocals; Bruce Gary - drums, percussion; Prescott Niles - bass.

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"...But the Little Girls Understand" (Capitol; 1980)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

There's a saying in rock'n'roll: "You get your whole life to write your first album, and only six months to write your second." What that means is that bands work for years and years to develop their sound, write a bunch of songs before they finally make a record deal. Then, if their first record is successful enough, the label always wants the next record yesterday. Too many bands to count have suffered the fate of a dismal second album, an album they were forced to write and record in far too short a time.

Nobody knows that better than The Knack who, after the huge success of their "Get The Knack" debut, rushed into the studio on a wave of famous "phony Beatlemania," to record "...But the Little Girls Understand" which was released a scant eight months later.  The result was a record that not only sold poorly compared to their debut, but it nearly destroyed the band's image and tarnished their reputation for years afterward.

Still, as mediocre as "...But the Little Girls Understand" can be, it does have its highlights. "Baby Talks Dirty" is a naughty, peppy little number and "The Hard Way" rocked in a modern way in much the style of Devo's most successful CD, "Freedom of Choice." But most of "...But the Little Girls Understand" is just one notch above filler. The band's unique energy and charisma just don't ring true. Instead, this CD often sounds like a collection of bad Roy Orbison tunes.

The recently re-mastered edition also includes two tracks performed live at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, CA ("Alabama Song/Whiskey Bar" and "Soul Kitchen" featuring guest Ray Manzarek), a demo version of "Revenge" and the very strange "Daughter of the Law." The bonus tracks may be curiosities, but they're hardly worth buying the CD for alone. The live tracks are especially iffy, sounding as though they were taken from a cassette tape.

I won't go so far as to call "...But the Little Girls Understand" a bad record, but suffice to say I'd listen to any other CD in the Knack's catalog before spinning this one.

The Knack: Doug Fieger - lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Berton Averre - Lead guitar, keyboards, vocals; Bruce Gary - drums, percussion; Prescott Niles - bass.

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"Get the Knack" (Capitol; 1979)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Capitol Records has done fans of The Knack one terrific favor. They have released the band's first four albums ("Get the Knack," "But the Little Girls Understand," "Round Trip" and "Serious Fun")  in new, 24-Bit digitally remastered editions complete with unreleased tracks and extensive liner notes. 

As noted in the review of "Zoom," The Knack aren't even close to heavy metal and it'd be a hell of stretch to call them hard rock. But they are a guilty pleasure of mine and I still believe their unique sound deserves a little recognition. Obviously, enough people agree with me to make Capitol think it was worth the effort to re-issue these CDs.

"Get the Knack," the band's first and most successful release, contains the classic Knack tunes "Good Girls Don't" and "My Sharona" and ten others as they appeared on the original album. Here, with the digital re-mastering, they sound fresher and cleaner than ever. Also included are five bonus tracks including the previously unreleased track, "Don't Look Back," which was written by Bruce Springsteen and given to the band in 1978 to cover. Originally scheduled for the "Get the Knack" album, legal hassles kept it off until now. Also included are four "songwriting/band demos" which are rough, in-progress versions of "That's What the Little Girls Do," "Maybe Tonight," "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock And Roll)" and "My Sharona." All of these demos are interesting, particularly "My Sharona" because of its place in rock'n'roll history.

The Knack are a quirky, different kind of band and you probably have to be a fan to appreciate these new releases. Those who have enjoyed the band in the past, however, will be thrilled with these re-issues.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright © 2007 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.