America’s seventh studio album, ‘Harbor’, which was released in 1977, was a return to form after the disjointed ‘Hideaway’. It is the final album in their canon to feature the original line-up of Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek. After its release, Peek would leave to pursue a different path, so these songs represent his final contributions to ‘America’. Overall, this is a much more coherent sound, which is in part influenced by the changing musical fashion of the late 1970s, with influences of disco interspersed with their customary folk rock output. It is produced by longtime Beatles’ maestro, George Martin. Music on Vinyl is releasing a limited edition run of 1500 individually numbered copies of America’s ‘Harbor’ on translucent yellow vinyl.
‘God of the Sun’ is the first track, and one of the singles from the album. Written by Beckley, it has all of the hallmarks of great ‘America’ songs including fantastic harmonies, a memorable chorus and a distinctive Beatles-esque influence brought in by the band’s legendary producer. The feel-good ‘Slow Down’ has a saxophone accompaniment and a disco beat that draws comparisons with the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack that was all the rage at the time, which popularised the output of the Bee-Gees. The ear worm songs for me is ‘Don’t Cry Baby’, which is penned by Dan Peek. A flourish of strings lifts the song out of a purely acoustic sound, but the chorus sticks in the head for a long time afterwards. There is a rockier edge to ‘Now She’s Gone’, which sees the influence of ‘The Beatles’ very clearly evidenced.
The cynical lyrics of Bunnell’s ‘Political Poachers’ sees a different, or at least rarely-glimpsed side of ‘America’, and it pairs with the downbeat end-of-love ‘Sarah’: a classic break-up song if there ever was one. Those two songs provide a dour end to the first side, though the orchestration gives the latter a satisfying big band style.
The second side gets off to an equally melancholic start with ‘Sergeant Darkness’. It is another song where full orchestration and electric guitars provide it with an expansive sound, though its short duration suggests this could have been taken further. ‘Are You There’ is marked out by an unusual speak-singing vocal delivery that doesn’t fully convince, but a gutsy rock electric guitar accompaniment gives the song interest. ‘These Brown Eyes’ is one of the less standout songs on the album and doesn’t grab the attention even after a few listens.
Beckley’s ‘Monster’ is the shortest song on the album and one of the gloomiest. In direct contrast, Peek’s final song, ‘Hurricane’, is upbeat and feels like a tribute to ‘The Beach Boys’ and ‘The Beatles’ (specifically ‘Day Tripper’), and is another catchy number of the type he wrote so well. The final song, ‘Down to the Water’, ensures that a periodically melancholy album ends on a positive note. Bunnell’s song is simply constructed and isn’t especially memorable, but the harmonised vocals are typical of the group and, as always, are pleasant on the ear.
Despite having some very good songs on the album, ‘Harbor’ was a commercial failure at the time of its release. Although ‘Harbor’ presents a more heavily-produced and musically diverse output, for many fans of their music, ‘America’ were at their best for their earliest albums which had an earthy acoustic sound. It is worth persevering with ‘America’ and following their musical journey, because overlooked albums such as ‘Harbor’ have a lot of promise and strong musicality. The slightly darker turn that ‘Harbor’ takes will be embraced by some, though it is a matter of taste. It lends the album an urgency and an interest that has perhaps been lacking in the previous few. Although much of the music is immediately accessible, ‘Harbor’ is also a grower, and rewards repeated listens.
‘Harbor’ is released by Music on Vinyl on translucent lemon-yellow 180g vinyl. Contained within the sleeve is a replica of the original poster depicting the band playing to the packed Anaheim Stadium in July 1976. The original evocative album cover is reproduced, and there is a full-colour insert with excellent photography including one of the band in Hawaiian shirts. Something of a neglected gem.
Track listing: 1. God of the Sun 2. Slow Down 3. Don’t Cry Baby 4. Now She’s Gone 5. Political Poachers 6. Sarah 7. Sergeant Darkness 8. Are You There 9. These Brown Eyes 10. Monster 11. Hurricane 12. Down to the Water Record label: Music on Vinyl Release date: 23rd September 2022 Buy ‘America – Harbor’