Classic Resurrects Semi-Classic

At a time when glam “hair bands” reigned, and “synth bands” waned, two guys named David and a producer named Davitt decided to make a grittier sound—a rock-roots kind of album—yet one that didn’t stray completely from the synth strains still permeating pop music.

The visual image they created for themselves in the self-conscious black and white art-work was dark leather and flannel shirts. David Ricketts’s image on the back cover could put him in Seattle 1991, or Foo Fighters, 2004. You could say these guys presaged the “grunge” movement by about five years—at least visually.

Musically, this spacious sounding, meticulously produced album was more like Sting meets John Mellencamp in the tropics. Listening in retrospect only adds to the original admiration I had when I first heard Welcome to the Boomtown back in 1986. The opening track and title song presents a hardscrabble view of Los Angeles; the seamy side of the glamorous “boomtown.” As my "like affair" with the place had recently ended and I was planning my move back to the east coast when the album was originally released, it was easy to identify with the sentiment, but beyond that, it was a brilliantly crafted tune featuring mini-descriptions of some of the town losers: a dope dealer who holds court at the back of a Denny’s, and a wealthy, self-satisfied gal with a coke habit. One “keeps his ear to the ground,” the other “her back against the wall.” The song’s precedent is clearly Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”

The next tune, “Swallowed By the Cracks,” is another apt description of what can happen in Los Angeles, and alas, it’s what happened to this audacious album. It defied classification and though the single got some airplay, the album didn’t sell well and David + David split up. The other David, David Baerwald made an equally audacious solo-album which also was not a commercial success, though critics like it. They also liked this album. I’ve seen Baerwald's name in film credits as a music supervisor.

Baerwald does the singing here, and he’s got a big, powerful voice that delivers the lyrics with great articulation, yet maintains an attractively raw quality.

There’s really not a bad tune on the album—not a throwaway track musically, or production-wise, though, inevitably, the songs vary in musical quality. “Ain’t So Easy,” for instance, a love song, is a bit stiff and somewhat sappy.

Though there’s more guitar here than on most popular albums of the time, there’s also an abundance of glossy synthesizer licks. Slick studio tricks abound, with the drums and other percussion (provided by Paulinho da Costa) being particularly well recorded. Overall A&M spent plenty of money, and they spent it well: this is a really fine sounding recorded production, but it is also an artificial one, which is what it’s meant to be.

Though the original was also mastered by Bernie Grundman, this 200g reissue from Classic is vastly superior in every regard and if you have an original, you will be shocked by the far greater transparency, immediacy, frequency extension and especially dynamic range. It’s a fairly “hot” cut, but that’s appropriate to the music and this LP will really get your system going if you crank it up.

If you’re a fan of this album, you’ll want to make the investment for this edition. If you know nothing about it, you may be able to find an original in the dollar bins. I’ve gotten a few that way, though that was some time ago. Then if you like it, you’ll want to move up to this.

Look, while this isn’t a true “classic” in the sense that some other albums issued by Classic are, it is an unheralded gem that deserves the attention. It also harkens back to a time when being a record producer meant something, when being a recording engineer did too, and when being an art director helped craft a group’s image, and an album’s identity (you could see a 12" X 12" album cover). Hell, you could say it also harkens back to a time when being a friggin’ record label meant something! A&M meant something back then. It was a family of sorts and everyone pulled together to make a project like this work. Conceptually they succeeded. Those days are long gone. Welcome to the Boomtown.