Archive for Thursday, July 21, 2005

Raspberries back in season with new album

July 21, 2005

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— Everyone credits punk with being the first movement to give the finger to pretentious '70s rock.

But years before that belief was accepted as fact, a very different kind of genre was waging war against rock's self-satisfied set.

In 1972, as virtuoso "prog-rock" acts like Yes, Jethro Tull and ELP ruled the airwaves, the Raspberries stormed out of Cleveland with what became known as "power pop," a sound meant to slam rock back to earth.

"When AM switched to FM, the focus went from tunesmiths to technicians," explains Raspberries front man Eric Carmen. "We felt the music became less fun than what we grew up with. And we sensed a void."

The Raspberries - whose very name is a tiny blow against the empire - proposed to fill it with punchy three-minute songs, yearning harmonies and the kind of focused branding that launched the original British invasion. Over the course of four albums, they racked up several classic hits, such as "Go All the Way," "Tonight" and "Overnight Sensation." Later, Carmen had a No. 1 solo smash with "All By Myself," and an '80s comeback with "Hungry Eyes" from the "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack.

But for the most part, the Raspberries' innovation was met with derision, misunderstanding and an early demise.

Now, 30 years down the line, the four original Raspberries have reunited for a series of concerts.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about the group surrounded their look: They wore matching suits at a time when everyone sported the hang-dog hippie look.

"If I could take one thing back it would be those white suits," Carmen now laughs. "We wanted to make a statement visually." But audiences winced.

The band's first album cover also made a weird splash. It had a scratch-'n'-sniff strip that smelled like, you guessed it, fake raspberries. Retailers hated the stink. The group pleads ignorance. "We didn't see a cover of ours (in advance) until our fourth album," notes Carmen.

They blame their record company, Capitol, for generally mismarketing them. Carmen also says the band "had the worst sound systems, the worst stages and the worst management."

The resulting pressures caused them to split in '74. Promoters dangled money at them to reunite in 1999. But after several other '70s reunion tours failed to pay off, those offers vanished. A few band members (without Carmen) went through with a semi-reunion and released an album under the Raspberries' name in 2000, though few took notice.

Only now have the original four been able to come together, their differences smoothed by time and a love of the sound they started.

"A certain mythology has grown up around the band after 30 years," Carmen says. "We didn't want to come back until we felt we could play and not pop that bubble."

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