What does one do when dealing with six songs that range from okay-plus to very good, while the remaining five are flat-out awful? That is the conundrum posed by this 1979 LP now being issued for the second time on CD (it first appeared on CD twenty-five years ago).
Getting the awful out of the way first, I'll start with the worst song Roy Orbison ever recorded, the crotch-oriented "Warm Spot Hot." If you doubt me, here are the opening lyrics: "You make my warm spot hot / You make my bell ring too ding ding..." (This does not appear to be an intentional joke.) "Lay It Down" has our longtime vocal hero making his dance-funk début at the age of 43; and let's just say for the sake of understatement, it doesn't go well. The LP's biggest "hit" was its lead single, "Easy Way Out" ("Lay It Down" was the second and went nowhere), which crested at #109 (below the Billboard Hot 100) and achieved the ranking of #562 single of the year. The problem: except for a bit of superimposed electric guitar, this is full-on, four-to-the-floor-with-sound-effects, stereotypically synthetic-sounding disco, pandering to a commercial craze that was already showing signs of fatigue in 1979. Some of this stuff is beyond merely seeming hopelessly anachronistic now, it is borderline offensive, making one feel resentment 35 years later toward whoever persuaded Roy to record it.
On the plus side, Roy's three co-writes are all among the top five tracks here. He really hits his stride in "Poor Baby," as he sings, "Now you're the one who's crying / You lost at your own lonely game..." That is pure Roy reminiscent of his old Monument days. He didn't write "Love Is a Cold Wind," but it's another good one -- a metaphoric ballad that allows his voice to soar a bit (which is what we really long to hear after all). His album-closing tribute to Elvis (who passed away the previous year), "Hound Dog Man" (which he didn't write but feels personal nonetheless), is a melodic, warm and nostalgic mid-tempo one that deserves to be heard (again).
[The preceding is my three-star review. The following quibble plays no part in my rating of this CD: FridayMusic is calling this a "limited edition" product, which to me implies that it should at least be an upgrade over its original 1989 issue on CD (which I bought used). I didn't really notice any difference in sound quality, but what they did to the accompanying booklet is an insult: It was shrunk in half, from eight pages to four, rendering the lyrics and credits (there are no liner notes) impossible to decipher without the aid of high magnification. Not only that, this reissue has Orbison shrunken and discolored (darkened and reddened) in the front cover photo (the back cover is discolored as well). Shoddy graphics!]