"Provocative" is not the word most people would use to describe the shrewd AOR strategies of platinumminded Foreigner. Guitarist and main keyboard player Mick Jones, the band's musical director and de facto boss, deals in the familiar hammering thump-rock clichés into brassy Top Forty hooks, revving up his weepy ballads with expansive progressive-rock gestures. But the reliability of Jones' chart attack doesn't negate the fact that he's found a lot of room to maneuver in the middle of the road. Although Agent Provocateur lacks... Read More
a wild card like "Urgent," the funky metal bulldozer from Foreigner's previous album, 4
, it highlights Jones' ingenuity in using little surprises to enhance the obvious.
In "That Was Yesterday," Jones uses a shiny synth backdrop and metronomic drumming to incorporate the fashionable U.K. techno-gloss of Duran Duran and the Thompson Twins (Jones' coproducer, Alex Sadkin, has worked with both groups) into his own hybrid metal-pop. The album's shot at Big Ballad Theater, "I Want to Know What Love Is," also relies heavily on electronics, but as a soft cushion for the gospel choir and singer Lou Gramm's earnest delivery in the chorus. Even standard FM-radio roarers like "Stranger in My Own House" and "Tooth and Nail" get a strategic makeover, the use of electronic percussion effects and high-speed guitars and Gramm's warpath screams suggesting the old 3-D dizziness of Led Zeppelin II.
The expert homogeneity of Foreigner's sound can sometimes work against the band. Song sequence probably seems secondary on a record sure to be picked clean of potential singles by Atlantic, but side two of Agent Provocateur slopes into a melancholy stretch "A Love in Vain," "Down on Love," "Two Different Worlds" that is heavy on the brooding beats and gray synth drapery. To Foreigner, this album is another way of testing the limits of Mick Jones' commercial acumen. All you have to know is that he always wins. (RS 440)