The Doobie Brothers' 1989 album "Cycles" marked an official comeback for the group. For the first time since the 1982 "Farewell" Tour, the Doobie Brothers would be reunited and produce a new studio album. This comeback album would be minus two core members of the Doobies: Vocalist and Keyboardist Michael McDonald and drummer Keith Knudsen. However, this comeback would be significant because it would mark the return of guitarist and lead vocalist Tom Johnston. McDonald had originally been brought in to replace Johnston when Johnston was unable to tour. Eventually Johnston would leave the group and McDonald would become a regular. As most people know, the Doobies started out out as a Southern Style Rock band. The Doobie Brothers have always shown a great ability to integrate country, folk, blues, jazz, and even gospel style into their music (especially with the addition of McDonald which saw a trend more toward R&B and Jazz). With Johnston back and McDonald gone, "Cycles" continues this integration - although now with Johnston playing guitars with vocalist/guitarist Patrick Simmons, there are times when the old Southern Style guitars continue to surface. There are also times when the R&B style is in the forefront. Also, McDonald and Knudsen might not be musicians on the album - but there are still some pieces that were co-written by each of them included on this collection. "Cycles" wasn't a lame comeback by any means. The Doobies put together one solid comeback album.
The title of the album is called "Cycles". The name comes from the Doobies love of motorcycling - and in particular Patrick Simmons love of it. But perhaps the title talks about how the Doobies go the "full cycle" in their music. Songs such as "The Doctor" and "South of the Border" show that they still haven't abandoned their Rock and Roll roots. While other songs like "One Chain (Don't Make No Prison)" and "Take Me to the Highway" show they can still integrate R&B into their music.
The best song on the album is the opening song "The Doctor". This was the first and the most successful single released from "Cycles". This was a song that should have garnered some consideration for Record of the Year and it didn't. It is one of the best songs I've heard the Doobies do. The opening guitar and keyboard sequence is as good as I've heard in any song. This song was co-written by Tom Johnston and it shows that Johnston can still be a contributing force to the band. The other thing that I find amazing about this song is that it appears to be a semi-autobiographical song about the Doobies themselves. Lines such as "Music is the Doctor" and "When I'm out there on the Road - The Freedom I Need is the Freedom I Leave" really sum up the Doobies and their philosophy on life.
The second single released shows the Doobies can still tap into their R&B roots, but do things - Doobie Brothers style. This single "Need a Little Taste of Love" takes an Isley Brothers tune and the Doobies put a nice Southern Rock spin on it. The rendition comes off beautifully. Johnston and Simmons are on their "A" game on guitars. At times, the guitart chords of this song remind me of an older Doobie Brothers classic "Listen to the Music".
The third single from "Cycles" continues to showcase the Southern Rock flare - this song "South of the Border". While I think it's the collection's weakest track, I do like how the Doobies incorporate some R&B style background vocals - particularly as they sing "oooh South of the Border". It is the guitar work of Johnston and Simmons that will give this song an outstanding Rock and Roll edge.
One thing that is terrific about "Cycles" is that there are other songs that weren't released as singles that are outstanding. The second song "One Chain (Don't Make No Prison)". This song has much more of an R&B feel to it. Like in "South of the Border", the Rock edge isn't lost. In fact, some of the opening chords remind me a bit of Ted Nugent's "Catch Scratch Fever". The song "Tonight I'm Coming Through (The Border)" is a song co-written by Michael McDonald. This has much more of an R&B feel to it - including some saxaphone. I also think the McDonald-less Doobies pull the song off very well. However, the Doobies prove they don't need Michael McDonald to pen a good R&B style tune - the song "I Can Read Your Mind" has a solid R&B feel with some good guitar work. This might be one of the most underrated tracks on the collection.
R&B is not limited to what dimensions the Doobies can do. "Too High a Price" is the perfect song to close the album. This song showcases the Rock side - and in this song it slightly leans toward an "Arena Rock" sound. On "Take Me to the Highway", there is another great blend of fusion. The vocals start out almost Dan Fogelberg-like and then song moves toward a sound that almost reminds me a bit of the rock band Journey. "Wrong Number" is a Tom Johnston written song that has more of a Rock edge to it. Finally, "Time is Here and Gone" (the Keith Knudsen co-written song) is another song that has the Southern Rock style. Terrific harmonies with all of the vocalists really make this song something special.
This comeback album proves one thing - The Doobies were back. In the late 70s and into the early 80s, there weren't many bands out there that could produce a good fusion of music. Despite some band member changes and time passing, the Doobies still prove they can do this - and do it well. This album is highly recommended for the Doobie Brothers fan or the fan looking to explore the music of the Doobies.