I’m going to admit, this record has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I’ve listened to it once or twice, but I mainly bought it for “I Want To Know What Love Is,” and the fact that Foreigner is a legendary band. After I recently went through my entire record collection I decided this was an album that deserved a closer listen.
Foreigner has an odd dynamic. They started out with six members, 3 were British and 3 were American. One of the founding members, and the only original member remaining today, Mick Jones, named the band Foreigner due to the fact that no matter what country they went to 3 of them would be foreign. I found that pretty cleaver.
Although, it was not long that member shifts began in the band. By the time they got to Agent Provocateur in 1984, they were down to a quartet, and only three were founding members. Over time, turn over has proven to not be foreign to this band. I mean, when you still perform as a six man “Foreigner” with only one original member, are you even the same band? On top of that, Jones has been going through health troubles and isn’t always able to take the stage.
Back to 1984. This albums provides all the genius of the previous albums, a Mick Jones and Lou Gramm writing duo. There was tension during this album because Jones wanted to move to a more 80’s synthesizer feel, whereas Gramm wanted to remain pure rock. I think this is vocally obvious in many different tracks, especially on side B, for Gramm just seems distant and slightly forced. Ultimately Jones won, but Gramm’s vocals were an essential component.
I read that Agent Provocateur was to be a somewhat concept album. The definition for an agent provocateur is one employed to associate with suspected persons by pretending sympathy with their aims to incite them to some incriminating action. This fits the theme of the songs perfectly for each song seems to be a tad negative on relationships and love. I feel the members were the ones incited to an incriminating action, while their lovers were the agent provocateurs, luring them into a trap, an 80’s siren if you will. I’m not sure what exactly the incriminating action could have been in this situation.
There are some great songs on this album. For one, it produced their only number 1 single “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and the hit “That Was Yesterday.” There’s also some great 80’s hair feel in the songs “Tooth and Nail” and “Reaction to Action.” All these are on the first side of the record.
Then you flip the record and the songs begin to blend in together. The best song on this side is “Stranger in My Own House,” but the song that precedes it, “A Love in Vain” is basically the same concept, minus the elements of the former. This is where I feel Gramm was just not feeling the music.
The best part of this album is “I Want to Know What Love Is.” I’m sure that is no surprise. This has long been one of my favorite songs and I fully enjoy the original and its many covers. This song features Jennifer Holliday, who was signed to Geffen records. She was the original Effie in the broadway production of DreamGirls and her power house vocals, along with various others, provide the gospel feel of the song. Holliday is one of the best belters out there (have you heard “And I’m Telling You?”), and you can easily hear her wanting to know what love is.
The main artifact I pull out of this nearly 30 year old album is Lou Gramm’s voice. I believe I may have found another vocalist to add to my long lists of favorites. His vocals possess rock, soul, and many different emotions. I am not qualified to fully define his voice at the moment. More Foreigner albums and his solo recordings will be making their way to my vinyl collection soon.
I found this album a great definition of what many 70s bands were experiencing in the transition into the sound of the 80s (personally one of my least favorite decades in musical history). To remain popular they adapted, yet did they lose their original appeal in the process? Gramm made one more album as lead vocalist with Foreigner, rejoined in 1992 for two more albums, and has now since parted again. I’m suspecting artistic differences.
In the end, don’t let this album slip through your record sleeves. It has a defining purpose not only in Foreigner’s catalog, but in Gramm’s vocals.
All you have to do is check in for agent duty, grab your cape, and and stealthily listen to this recording. There won’t be much disappointment.