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Album Review

The bane of many a band from Boston is the curse of bad record production, and that curse struck Robin Lane & the Chartbusters perhaps more than any other group. Where the Atlantics and Private Lightning only got one opportunity, Warner afforded the Chartbusters two albums and a five-song live EP. All three featured phenomenal songs that were not recorded by the label with the love and care that the artist deserved. The three-song EP, released on manager Mike Lembo's Deli Platters label, had all the elements that pointed to stardom for Robin Lane. A great original entitled "The Letter," not the song performed by Alex Chilton and the Box Tops, did not get re-recorded by Warner Bros., and the sound is dramatically different from the slick treatment "Rather Be Blind" gets on this album, Imitation Life. "Solid Rock," resplendent in Flaming Groovies riffs and girl group possibilities, gets lost in Gary Lyons souped up engineering. Tim Jackson's drums sound lightweight, and there are more references to angels, like the very Patti Smith-sounding first track on this album, "Send Me an Angel." Where the bands self-titled debut the year before should have had more of the lush Byrds twelve-string guitar sounds, this album takes the group even further from that format. The guitar solo on "Pretty Mala" is almost heavy metal, so far removed from what this group was all about. The band had its own identity, but the attempts to get it to sound like the Patti Smith Group by way of the Pretenders strips away the heart and soul of a truly creative entity. Drummer Tim Jackson co-writes "Idiot" with Lane, and it is one of the strongest tracks on the disc. With better production it would have hit single written all over it. It has a neat little guitar riff, summery pop melody, and easy vocals by Lane. Just a year later she would put backing vocals on Andy Pratt's superb Fun in the First World album produced by the Chartbusters' guitarist Leroy Radcliffe, who was also Lane's significant other for awhile. Radcliffe's production of Andy Pratt is everything this album needed, exactly what is missing on songs like "For You," the moody final track with Lane's beautifully melancholic vocal set somewhere between the instruments and not far up enough in the mix, too many effects keeping the words from being distinctive. The first album's inner sleeve contained all the lyrics, and this second LP has etchings by guitarist Asa Brebner, which, although humorous, might've been better as a promo. Brebner's solo album, I Walk the Streets, released almost 20 years later, contains the sounds that should've been inserted into these grooves. "Rather Be Blind" is a driving pop tune with guitars that cry to sparkle and sound so subdued and lost in some reverb quagmire. This album is a heartbreaker, such a great performance lost in the mix. Producer Gary Lyons worked with Foreigner, Queen, and the Outlaws, a prescription that makes for an album as hard to take sonically as Extreme's first major label disc. "What the People Are Doing" has a great spy movie guitar riff and haunting vocals, the guitar bursts at the end of the song really striking. It's an epic that fades into the Ramones-ish title track, "Imitation Life." Robin Lane's vision was stifled by poor recording and imitation art that the band and she cannot be blamed for. Imitation Life, by producer Gary Lyons, and Joe Wissert's ideas for the first album, Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, were forces that did nothing to further this important group's career. The song "Say Goodbye" is classic Robin Lane, and Warner Bros. should invest in remixing both these potentially classic albums for compact disc. There are great songs here that could be rerecorded decades later by artists in need of hits.

Imitation Life, Robin Lane & The Chartbusters
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  • $9.99
  • Genres: Rock, Music, Alternative, New Wave
  • Released: Apr 1981

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