78. SPYS – s/t

When you part company from one of the biggest selling AOR acts, the only way is down. However, when Ed Gagliardi and Al Greenwood teamed up with fellow East Coast musicians to form SPYS, they crafted a debut record to rival alongside their old Foreigner employers, artistically at least if not sadly in terms of sales.

Their new band did not particularly sound like FOREIGNER; for one, exuberant singer John Blanco is notably higher pitched than Lou Gramm. Moreover, the anthemic opener (and minor hit single) ‘Don’t Run My Life’ and closer ‘No Harm Done’ have a synth driven, spiky feel incorporating some of the new wave influences of the time, in a manner similar to the early works of LOVERBOY, ORPHAN and HONEYMOON SUITE.

Yet while all but one song weighs in at four minutes or less, they are more musically adventurous than many of their contemporaries with elaborate arrangements that hint at pomp. ‘She Can’t Wait’ boasts a great intro as all instruments crash in in turn and is like a mini symphony with several changes of mood and QUEEN-like harmonies on the chorus. ‘Ice Age’ is even better with some incredible keyboard work and lyrics out of the ordinary about an environmental apocalypse and name checking Ronald Reagan and Carl ‘Cosmos’ Sagan.

However, one classic stands out even further in ‘Over Her’. Opening with a brief bass solo, this time the guitar of John DiGaudio drives the melody line. The arrangements cleverly build tension in the story, and there are two choruses, the first including the classic AOR lyric “losing her, isn’t as bad as wanting her, the only way out is over her” and the second the song title sung with great harmony backing vocals.

They can do conventional AOR just as well – ‘Desiree’ (one of the most used girl’s names in song!) has an air of TOTO and FRANKE AND THE KNOCKOUTS, and ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’ a perfectly layered chorus. The album is one hook after another, nearly all up tempo, with the exception of one class ballad in ‘Hold On (When You Fear You’re Falling)’, and expertly produced by Neil Kernon.

Sadly, after a second (and inferior) album Behind Enemy Lines, SPYS were dropped by EMI America and faded away for good – there can be no justice sometimes.