Talas – 1985 Review
When last seen in this parts, I had made the n00b mistake of being rude enough to call a flute-bearing Alunah track the worst song of the year. As punishment, the comments section righteously kicked me back into the skull pit. What was most unexpected, however, was the follow on punishment. While I rode home from a concert late at night, an unseen force seized ahold of my bike and violently tossed ol’ Crispy’s ass to the pavement, shattering my leg and ultimately sidelining me from work. Given the proximity to my faux pas, I can only assume that one of you maniacs is responsible. If this applies to you, dear reader, I applaud your dedication to guarding the integrity of this website. But please, for all that is unholy, destroy your cheese simulacrum of me posthaste; my broken body, mothballed bank account, and insurance company thank you. For my first review back, I’m thrilled to review a reformed Talas’s new album and unfortunate swan song, 1985.
As old heads will know, Talas emerged from Buffalo as east coast contemporaries of late-70s hard rock acts like Van Halen. Following two solid records and a live album, Talas threatened to break into the mainstream with a proposed third album in 1985. After Diamond Dave ditched Van Halen, however, he recruited prodigious bassist Billy Sheehan for his solo band. Talas sat dormant for nearly forty years until Sheehan announced the original members of Talas—with new axeman Kire Najdovski—were finally finishing the songs that would have appeared on that third album. Appropriately titled 1985, could Talas breathe new life into these tracks?
Particularly for the tight and diverse first half of the album, the answer is a resounding yes. Talas never was a band to overstay its welcome within an individual song, and this continues to be the case on 1985. Opener “Inner Mounting Flame” powers forward with a hallmark lead bassline from Sheehan and Mark Miller’s syncopated attack in lockstep with only the briefest of bridges. Late vocalist Phil Naro soars and bites throughout the three-minute track that’s over in a blink. Subsequent banger “I’ll Take the Night” continues to channel trad metal and would be a highlight on any High Spirits album. Although it could have been jarring, the transparent Police influence on “Crystal Clear” comes off far more as an inspired pastiche than ripoff in the hands of these talented songwriters. If anything, releasing these tracks in 2022 makes them feel far more vital than had they been released in 1985, where they would have risked being subsumed by the glut of mid-80s AOR.
As good as the first four tracks on 1985 are, the back of the album does drag more often than not, which is surprising given the tight 41-minute runtime. “Do You Feel Any Better” comes off as a more generic hard rock track. Sole newly written song “Black & Blue,” meanwhile, echoes a stagnant latter-day Aerosmith. Both unfortunately waste impressive performances from Naro and Najdovski. Elsewhere in the back half, Talas fails to develop musical ideas to their fullest extent, as with the poor vocal synth patch that crops up in “On the Take.” Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is the album’s closer. The calculator-speak “7lHd h” (4 Phil) is ostensibly intended as a tribute to the recent passing of Phil Naro. But a bass solo from Sheehan? The bass work is—as always the case with Sheehan—undeniably impressive, and the whole composition is fun. Yet, I can’t help but get the sense that one of the earlier bangers would have been best positioned as the album closer. Naro offers up a consistently fantastic performance throughout, and given that Phil’s son, James, provides backing vocals, the most fitting tribute to Phil would have been to showcase the Naros one last time.
Hard rock fans of veteran bands like Y&T and Van Halen and more recent acts like High Spirits will find much to enjoy on 1985. The band have been faithful to the compositions mid-80s roots wherever possible, but with excellent modern production. Although occasionally inconsistent, 1985 is a touching sendoff to Phil Naro and one of hard rock’s most overlooked bands.
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