St. Paul Pioneer Press
December 25, 1983
by Bob Protzman
Singer offers a "Lifetime Guarantee"
"This album is for me."
That brief sentence on the back of Twin Cities singer/guitarist Michael Johnson's new album Lifetime Guarantee says a lot about how Johnson feels about his latest effort. "Because albums usually are dedicated to other people, I thought it was about time I did one for me," said Johnson, who is home in Minnetonka with his wife Sally and sons Stan and Leo (born just a year ago Dec. 21).
Since it's Christmastime, that means that Johnson is home not only to be with his family, but also to perform. On Monday night in Orchestra Hall, he will give a concert in his hometown for the 10th consecutive Christmas.
Johnson dedicated Lifetime Guarantee to himself for the simple reason that there's more of him in the album than in many of his eight LPs. He selected all 10 songs from some 1,500 he listened to. "I did six months of research before we even started on the record," he said.
It was hard to do, he said. He worked with a number of different producers, recorded on both coasts, there were a lot of delays, and it took a year and a half to complete. "There was lots of intense work," he said. He also feels that he played more guitar on this album than on any of this others, and that he really stretched his voice.
The result of all that effort is that he feels better about Lifetime Guarantee than any of this other albums with the exception of Dialogue, which came out in 1979 and contained his last U.S. hit "This Night Won't Last Forever" as well as his last hit of any kind, "I'll Always Love You" which was high on the charts in the Philippines. "I enjoyed the doing of it," he said of his new album, "regardless of what it does (in sales).
Listeners are going to hear a new Michael Johnson on Lifetime Guarantee without losing the "old" Michael Johnson they liked so much on his 1978 and '79 hits "Bluer Than Blue" and "Almost Like Being in Love". Instead of the folk-based pop sound, Lifetime Guarantee has a more contemporary and punchier pop sound with touches of rock, soul and funk. The album brings the 39-year-old Johnson in line with most other male pop singers of the day.
In fact, Johnson used as producers Michael Colina and Ray Bardani after he heard their work on fusion jazz-pop singer Michael Franks' recent album "Objects of Desire." I knew when I heard it that it sounded different from Franks' other albums. I knew he had run into some new people (to work with) because it sounded really fresh," said Johnson.
When he chose the songs for Lifetime Guarantee, he said he selected songs he could believe in - musically and lyrically - and songs that he felt could be produced by Colina and Bardani in "the way" they'd done Franks' album. What did he mean by "the way"? "Clean, crisp, more synthesizers, a short reverberation, computer drums," said Johnson. "I wanted to have the human side - me and my guitar - juxtaposed with this computer/synthesizer environment. I thought the result of that would be nice - or some other word."
I think Lifetime Guarantee, Johnson's first LP since Home Free in 1981, is a quality album, a fine blend of ballads and rhythmic, upbeat, danceable numbers. If the album can get some airplay, Johnson should have his first hit in four years.
A standout tune is "Q.T.", a lean, slightly funky number written by Randy Goodrum, who wrote Johnson's "Bluer Than Blue", Anne Murray's "You Needed Me," and four songs on Michael McDonald's new album "If That's What It Takes."
Another is the danceable "City of the Angels", a tribute to Los Angeles written by the inimitable and unfortunately underrated Bill Withers. This ode to LA with the funny line "When it rains, I understand the skies are clear all day," is politely funky and features the slick keyboard work of the estimable Richard Tee.
Of the ballads, there's a simple spare little song titled "I Still Love You" that has no background vocals, no "layering" of sound, and doesn't have a chance to get much attention. But it's wonderful. That still leaves two ballads with hit potential, although Johnson thinks "I'm Gone" by Eric Kaz and Wendy Waldman is too arty. It's perhaps the most soulful thing Johnson's ever done, and features some fine alto sax playing by the king of pop-jazz saxophonists David Sanborn.
Johnson thinks there's more of a commercial chance for "Who's That Look in Your Eye", a very slow love song on which Johnson's voice is as warm as I've ever heard it. Again, Sanborn contributes nicely. The record company already released the title tune as a single. A Chris Montan song, "Lifetime Guarantee" is another of the strong tracks. It's got a big, full sound with four backup singers and with Johnson singing with perhaps more power than ever before.
But the tune didn't create any excitement and already has been withdrawn. "Maybe we should have titled it 'Limited Warranty,'" kidded Johnson.
Now the record company is waiting to see what radio stations decide is the cut with the most potential. "I'm lobbying for "Q.T."," said Johnson.
Too bad radio station KTWN-FM is no longer in business. The pop-jazz station likely would have jumped on four or more cuts from Lifetime Guarantee. "I've been thinking of that, too." said Johnson, who's wondering what radio format will play the album. That will have a lot to do with whether or not Johnson can get a hit out of Lifetime Guarantee.
"I think the album has really fine moments on it," he said. "The producers, the players and I really like it a lot. And EMI likes it. I think there's music on this record that could be on the charts; I just don't know if it will be."
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