Daryl Hall & John Oates

Daryl Hall & John Oates

Do It For Love

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Hearing this album makes me again think, as I often do, about the chemistry of collaboration.

Writing with each other or joined by frequent partners Sara and Janna Allen, Daryl Hall & John Oates always had an alchemy that lent a sophisticated melodiousness to their music.

As they began to produce themselves, the records took on a deceptively facile but not superficial sound. Perhaps the most immediately satisfying thing about the duo at the peak of their popularity was their ear for a commercial hook. Their most winning singles — “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” “Maneater” and “Out of Touch” — were consistently radio-perfect. This inclined many critics to dismiss them at the time, but as the generation that grew up with Hall & Oates on their car stereos enters their 30s, a renaissance, or a least a reconsideration of critical opinion, may be in order.

For those who wished to dig a little deeper, there was always more to Hall & Oates than met the ear. Impressionistic, thought-provoking lyrics ran through their songs: “Broken ice still melts in the sun and times that are broken can often be one again.” “We like to be the strangers at the party, two rebels in a shell.” And informing what they were saying was the way they were saying it; what the late Timothy White called “an enticingly spooky undercurrent” to their music which can be heard even on their biggest hits.

This brings me to this new album, Do It for Love, some 20 years after the peak of their careers, (headlining at the Apollo with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, 1985). Not to go all VH-1 on you, but where are they now?

Well, first, their songwriting has suffered. The most likable song on the new CD — “Getaway Car” — was written by others. However, it is a most enjoyable, gentle groove of a song. Daryl Hall can still be as good a singer as rock or soul has produced when he delivers, which is most of the time. “Intuition,” also written outside of the duo, adds further evidence to this. “Miss DJ” is another good track; again, its only one-fourth written by Hall.

Although Hall & Oates have recorded covers before (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,” “Family Man”), their bread-and butter was always the songs they wrote themselves. It is not for me to speculate here about the current nature of Hall & Oates’s relationship or that of Hall with longtime lover Sara Allen. And I know that Janna Allen has sadly died. Nevertheless, digging into the credits of this album suggests a conclusion to be drawn.

There are no one on one (to coin a phrase) collaborations between Daryl and John, and Sara receives co-writing credit on only one song. Perhaps just as tellingly, neither Hall nor Oates plays on each other’s songs (they do contribute background vocals to some) and Oates hardly plays at all, leaving the guitars to others. It’s as though “Holland Oates” as some unobservant listeners called them in the early years, had divided for the last time into Daryl Hall and John Oates, but continued to release records as a duo for the honest reason that their work together is more profitable than almost anything they have achieved alone.

I do not say that to be cynical, and I do not mean to be dismissive. Besides the aforementioned songs, “Life’s Too Short” is worthy of consideration. But from top to bottom these songs lack the peculiar feel I associate with Hall & Oates. Anyone from Mike + the Mechanics (remember them?) to Bonnie Raitt could have recorded or written most of these songs. And too many of them have a soundalike quality in the production that Hall & Oates’s best albums did not.

Maybe my memories of Hall and Oates’s youth (or mine) are drowning out their mature voices. But this still sounds to me like nothing so much as a bunch of base metals waiting for some catalyst to transmute them into gold.

Hall & Oates used to be able to do that, but change comes to everyone and I cannot begrudge these men for howling at the moon as individuals if they wish. It’s happened to bands from The Beatles to The Go-Go’s.

But I do miss the chemistry of the collaboration.

Hall & Oates: http://hallandoates.com/

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