Of course, Miller has always relied heavily on deception; his mid-Seventies best sellers, Fly… Read More
like an Eagle and Book of Dreams
, are examples of a stylish surface deftly concealing a near-total lack of substance. Miller's best work over the past decadeas opposed to his meatier output with the original Steve Miller Band never had much to say, but it was a triumphant conglomeration of borrowed licks, second-generation hooks and the polished sheen of a savvy professional who's not much of an inventor but one hell of a craftsman.
On Circle of Love, even the craftsmanship was missing. Amazingly, the ten songs on Abracadabra were recorded at the same time as Circle of Love, which makes you think that Miller temporarily lost his canny commercial instincts. Now, they're unquestionably back: just as "Fly like an Eagle" and "Rock 'n' Me" fit neatly between Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton on radio back around 1976, so should such new tunes as "Give It Up" and "Cool Magic" sound nice sandwiched between, say, Hall and Oates and Haircut 100. In other words, this is slight but infectious pop, as trifling, inconsequential, bright and tuneful as "I Can't Go for That" or "Love Plus One."
According to most of his lyrics, Miller finds hanging onto love something of a struggle, but there's really no sweat evident. This guy sings "Don't let me hear you won't come through tonight" with all the passion most of us would use on the pizza delivery boy and not a fading love. But that's always been the name of Miller's game: crafting shining, dispassionate, radio-oriented pop tunes that are so catchy and tuneful that their calculation doesn't much matter.
Miller is still borrowing the elements that make up these songs from an impressive variety of sources, including old hard-rock songs, blues tunes and even his own back catalog. "Goodbye Love," for example, begins with a speeded-up version of the riff from Fly like an Eagle's "Serenade" before running through a half-dozen other influences in its three minutes. And he's even tried to update his sound somewhat: on songs like the title track, he's turned what once would have been a typically bright guitar line into a très nouveau synthesizer part. But those embellishments aren't important. What really matters is that on Abracadabra's best tunes, Steve Miller as infuriatingly dispensable, meaningless and catchy as ever has rebounded from last year's missteps and once a