Review: “Can’t Explain” by Leif Garrett (Vinyl, 1980)

Today’s Pop Rescue from an uncertain future, is the 1980 4th album Can’t Explain by American singer and actor, Leif Garrett. Will this album leave you lost for words, or is it an indescribable monstrosity? Read on…

Leif Garrett - Can't Explain (1980) album cover
Leif Garrett – Can’t Explain (1980) album

Side One of this 10 track LP opens with the flurry of guitars of Bare Trees, which swiftly serves us up with some wonderfully delicious bass. The track does feel musically fairly 1970’s, which is okay given that this is only 1980. The track works pretty well, and Leif’s vocals fit in well, as the song carries some wonderful piano towards the end. Not particularly catchy, but it does gently lure you in to what’s coming up.

Next up is the album’s sole single You Had To Go And Change On Me. The track feels like it is echoing the (out-going) disco sound, mixed with electric guitars and comet-esque synth whooshes thrown in. The track is pretty catchy and it seems to flow effortlessly from verse to chorus and back again, with some nice harmonies along the way. Despite it being a great song, it failed to touch the UK singles chart.

A cover of Stealers Wheel‘s 1972 hit Stuck In The Middle With You is up next, and Leif delivers a version that remains very loyal to the original. The slinky bass, up-beat tempo, and well-trodden lyrics make this an easy open goal for Leif, and he does a great job of almost replicating the song, but doesn’t particularly dare to make his own mark on it.

That’s followed by Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’ which takes a rockier sound led by electric guitars. These allow the song to bounce along pretty easily, carrying some simple lyrics and a flurry of piano. There’s a great guitar solo in the middle section but it seems to become a little too involved, and feels like it needed to be put back in its corner rather than dominate the final part.

This side of the LP closes with Love’s So Cruel, and the tempo takes a few steps down for this track, but manages to conjure up some kind of semi-reggae feel to it. This helps the track to remain bright, but the simplistic lyrics leave a hole in it that could have been used to make the track stronger.

Side Two opens with the titular track Can’t Explain which contains a guitar sequence that reminds me heavily of B&Q’s (a UK-based DIY store) instructional videos guitar riff in the background music, which would be wonderful irony if Can’t Explain is being used in explaining how to fit coving. The song itself reminds me a bit of The Rolling Stones here (okay, a bit) due to Leif’s vocal performance. The use of female backing vocalists here allows for some really nice harmonies, and a playful vocal interplay.

Next up is a cover of The Dave Clark Five’s 1964 hit Bits And Pieces. Again, Leif doesn’t attempt to tread any new ground in his version – sticking close to the original 60’s version. The track is catcy through its repetitive nature, and is pretty short. As a child of the 1980s, all I can think of is the wonderful Bitza Pizza crisps advert (they were delicious) throughout this song.

Thoughts follows this and now we’re into a soft ballad, which gives Leif a chance to show off some different vocals, but to be honest, I think he sounds better when he’s having a great time in the rockier songs. There’s some nice little guitar riffs in this track and it’s a nice enough song, but he sounds like a caged bird.

We’re aptly back to full gallop with Run Run Run and this lets Leif show off some more larger playful vocals… except, there’s very few lyrics in this track. It sounds great musically, and it really does have a great pace, but the vocals are just occasional, with some of them simply being ‘doo doo doos’. The energy here in this song does at least befit the title, but a few more vocals would have been great.

The album closes with track Rowena, and about halfway through it I felt that I was hearing one of those occasional songs that once you’re in the know, you can spot the hidden messages (see the less than subtle Shamen’s Ebeneezer Goode, and Britney Spears’ If You Seek Amy). Within the chorus I’m sure he sings ‘Hey Rowena’ and ‘My Rowena’ as in ‘Heroin’ and ‘Marijuana’ – an early indicator of the troubles ahead. The track itself, with drug references aside, feels tribal, with plenty of fun vocal play. It’s catchy, probably could have been a single (if they could get it past the censors as a lead track) but instead made it to the B-side of You Had To Go And Change On Me instead.

Leif’s lead single ‘You Had To Go And Change On Me’ (1980).

Verdict

Over all, this album is a bit of a mixture. The cusp of the death of disco, the progression of 70’s rock, and the birth of 80’s pop songs. It’s a difficult spot, and this album occasionally does well.

The highlights on this album are clearly the lone single You Had To Go And Chance On Me, but Stuck In The Middle With You is great too, even if it doesn’t tread new ground.

There are some great bursts of energy here, but Leif is sadly let down by stagnant or boring lyrics, or he’s shoehorned into ballads like Thoughts, or left replicating Bits And Pieces for not clear value other than filling a track hole on an LP.

Aptly, there’s a nice picture of Leif inexplicably with a horse on the reverse of the sleeve.

Sorry Leif, but I Can’t Explain it either.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1980 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart.
  • POP RESCUE COST: 99p from a Discogs.com seller.

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