TOMMY SHAW – Girls With Guns / What If [2-in-1 BGO digitally remastered]
At the beginning of the Eighties TOMMY SHAW departed Styx to pursue a solo career focusing on commercial Melodic Rock, AOR and rock&pop with the radio-friendly approach so in vogue around the time. First it was “Girls With Guns” in ’84, and then “What If” (1985), both including cheerful melodious tunes but more deep lyrically than it may seem at first glance.
These discs have become quite hard to find since then, specially “What If” – fortunately BGO records ha sput out a great 2-in-1 package including “Girls With Guns / What If ” in a remastered form.
Some of the songs contained within “Girls With Guns” were written for Styx but rejected by other band members, and Tommy recorded them together with fresh compositions to create a sometimes eclectic, often amazing and always wonderful album.
The absolutely ’80s sounding, top synth hook title track was a top-40 (also featured in Miami Vice TV series), but it should be noted that Shaw was writing not necessarily about girls carrying actual guns, but about strong, independent women. This may sound a little naif today, yet not in 1984 in a musical business ruled by a harsh maleness.
An interesting trait about the video for “Girls With Guns” single is that it is all one take; there are no cuts, which is quite different from the frenetic editing typical of the era.
From the nearly overly-sweet “Little Girl World” through the haunting emotional exploration of “Kiss Me Hello”, to the spirited “The Race Is On”, Tommy shows his penchant for diversity within this album, while holding on to remnants of the Styx stylized sound that propelled his rise to stardom.
“Free To Love You, “Outside in the Rain” and “Fading Away” all meld into a wonderful album that emotionally ebbs and flows to take the listener for a roller coaster ride of phonic delight, while holding court with subtle autobiographical self-analysis; “I left the band, steadied my hand and learned a trade” – woven throughout the songs.
One of my favorites is the wonderful “Lonely School” (with provoking subtle lyrics) the second single off the record, musically a strongly keyboard-filled power ballad yet with key changes aplenty. The guitars (Shaw’s stock in trade) mainly provide bits of color here and there, until the solo break after the second chorus. The background vocals give the overall track a kind of feel that Mr. Mister would develop later.
Following album “What If” is even much more ‘Tommy Shaw’ itself displaying the emotional struggles during this period of his life; addictions and aching over the marital turmoil with his then wife, Pamela (featured on the album cover) and showing some hints of what would be his best – and one of the top albums from the 2nd half of the ’80s – Ambition.
“Reach For The Bottle” is a terrific bluesy rocker dealing with the confusion and torment of despondency and alcoholism. The agonizing rhythm of the song, the dire vocals and the anthemic yells all tell the tale of Tommy’s ‘bohemian side’ that he acknowledged he wanted to reveal in Styx but never did.
“Jealousy” rocks with a melodic turbulence in the vein of future Damn Yankees, while dynamic numbers such as “This Is Not A Test”, “True Confessions” and “Friendly Advice” are true mid-Eighties children.
I love the bouncing AOR harmony vocals and keyboards in “See Me Now” and the perfect verse-building of “Nature Of The Beast”, while the achingly ballad “Count On You” offers some really classic Styx atmospheres. Last track “Bad Times” features a scratch at the beginning on purpose, because Tommy was not pleased with the song but the label insisted to be included in the album.
Of course the melodic rock&pop bliss of “Remo’s Theme (What If)” is a highlight. It was the theme song for the character Remo Williams in the movie The Adventure Begins, but incredibly the song was not included into the soundtrack due legal reasons.
“Girls With Guns” and “What If” were reissued by Absolute Records in 1996 but become out of print really soon. There was a limited 2007 GWG second press by American Beat Rec., but really expensive and deleted now.
So this BGO Digitally Remastered 2-disc set at the price of 1 is a must have, both sounding truly outstanding.
You’ve seen it first at 0dayrox
CD1: Girls With Guns remastered
01. Girls With Guns
02. Come In And Explain
03. Lonely School
04. Heads Up
05. Kiss Me Hello [CD/cassette long version]
06. Fading Away
07. Little Girl World
08. Outside in the Rain [CD/cassette long version]
09. Free to Love You
10. The Race Is On
Tommy Shaw: Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin
Steve Holley: Drums, Percussion
Brian Stanley: Bass
Peter Wood: Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer
Richie Cannata: Sax solo on “The Race Is On”
Molly Duncan: Sax section on “The Race Is On”
Carol Kenyon: Duet Vocal on “Outside In The Rain”
Eddie Wohlford, Jimbo Jones: Backing Vocals
Produced & Recorded by Mike Stone
CD2: What If remastered
02. Remo’s Theme (What If)
03. Reach For The Bottle
04. Friendly Advice
05. This Is Not A Test
06. See Me Now
07. True Confessions
08. Count On You
09. Nature Of The Beast
10. Bad Times
Tommy Shaw: Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Steve Holley: Drums, Percussion
Brian Stanley: Bass
Richie Cannata: Sax, Keyboards
Mark Marshall: Drums on “Bad Times”
Gary Myrick: Guitar on “Count On You”, “Friendly Advice”
Jobell Yonely, Kim Criswell: Backing Vocals
Produced by Shaw/Cannata – Mixed by Greg Ladanyi