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Head Games
Foreigner

Atlantic 29999
Released: September 1979
Chart Peak: #5
Weeks Charted: 41
Certified Double Platinum: 10/30/84

Lou GrammMick JonesOn Head Games, Foreigner tries hard to forget they're a phenomenon -- a self-contained economy with their own Gross Platinum Product -- and gets down to the unfinished business of being a rock & roll band.

Admittedly, they could have tried harder. "Head Games" sounds too familiar -- e.g., the swirling synthesizers, Gothic keyboards and multitracked guitar parts from Foreigner's "Cold As Ice" and "Long, Long Way from Home" -- to be much more than AM-radio insurance. "Blinded by Science," on the other hand, suffers from an overdose of ecological sincerity compounded by tired rhythms and a conspicuous lack of hooks.

But hard as it is to root for a group that's amassed as much precious metal as this one (at last count, Foreigner and Double Vision had sold a total of 9 million copies), Head Games presents a very persuasive case that these guys can rock with spirit and conviction. Powered by guitarist-songwriter Mick Jones' jackhammer riffing and Dennis Elliott's ham-fisted drumming, "Dirty White Boy," "Seventeen" and the presumably tongue-in-cheek misogynous chant, "Women," are refreshingly free of the pomp-art, heavy-metal flourishes that made the band its fortune. Punchy organ fills, spare vocal harmonies and fast, guerilla guitar breaks challenge but rarely upstage the cock's crowing of lead singer Lou Gramm.

Foreigner - Head Games
Original album advertising art.
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After reaffirming their roots with a passing nod at the New Wave forces yapping at their heels, Foreigner trots out the English art-rock trappings that have always worked for them in the past. But the difference between Double Vision or Foreigner and the new LP's "Love on the Telephone," "Rev on the Red Line" or even the surprisingly poppish "Do What You Like" is an urgency that transcends the group's reliance on the tried-and-true. "Love on the Telephone" may bear more than a distant resemblance to "Cold as Ice" in Al Greenwood's rhythmic and melodic deployment of synthesizers against the tune's guitar-piano axis, yet its crisp and immediate "live" sound (the contribution of coproducer and sonic architect Roy Thomas Baker) is a real attraction.

There are still some chinks to be hammered out in Foreigner's armor. Jones' boyish tenor in "The Modern Day" is no match for Gramm's throaty howl, and the cliched macho stance of songs like "I'll Get Even with You" and "Seventeen" intimate an underdeveloped lyrical imagination. But Head Games is Foreigner's best album because they're finally willing to admit there can be a distinction between making hit records and making good rock & roll, platinum be damned.

- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 11-29-79.

Bonus Reviews!

Foreigner plays its full throated, rich brand of hard rock again on its third album, which may wind up being the most successful of the lot. The band has all the commercial riffs down pat, but this time around there seems to be more excitement and a sense of energy, missing from much of Foreigner's previous work. This revved up style, probably due to Roy Thomas Baker's contribution, enables Foreigner to make the switch to the more basic styles demanded by today's audiences while retaining its traditional choral dynamics. This LP could have been overblown and pretentious to no end, and it is to the band's credit that it isn't. But the hooks are still there. Best cuts: "Dirty White Boy," "Seventeen," "Head Games," "Blinded By Science," "Rev On The Red Line."

- Billboard, 1979.

This isn't as sodden as you might expect -- these are pros who adapt to the times, and they speed the music up. I actually enjoy a few of these songs until I come into contact with the smug, stupid woman-haters who do the singing. I mean, these guys think punks are cynical and anti-life? Guys who complain that the world is all madness and lies and then rhyme "science" and "appliance" without intending a joke? C

- Robert Christgau, Creem, 3/80.

By the time Head Games hit the shelves of record stores around the world, Foreigner had overcome their initial trepidation at having seen their career take off in a rocket-like fashion and were now firmly established as one of the biggest arena rock acts in America. Having suffered at the hands of the critics for entertaining a sound that was too polished, the band made an effort to sound rougher at the edges, more "street." The album's opener certainly fits the bill; and as Mick Jones puts it, "we started to serach for a little more earthiness and that's how 'Dirty White Boy' came about." Jones also had to field accusations that the song had racist overtones, claims that Jones was adamant had no foundation whatsoever.

While there are gritty songs such as "Dirty White Boy" -- a Top 20 hit in the US -- and "Women," elsewhere the album reverts to type, with a typical grandiose rocker, "Love On The Telephone," the good-feeling "The Modern Day," and the title track, another Top 20 US hit, which exudes everything "big-sounding" that Foreigner fans had come to expect. The record sees the Foreigner debut of bassist Rick Wills (ex-Roxy Music, Small Faces) following the departure of Ed Gagliardi. The album peaked at Number Five on the US album charts, spending 41 weeks in the chart, but failed to make the Top 40 in the UK.

As of 2004, Head Games was the #38 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

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