Last week my colleague Tim Newby wrote a great piece on Billy Strings which finished with a live version of ‘Oh, the Wind and Rain’ and now being tasked with continuing the chain it seemed an obvious jump (to me at least!) to move to Bob Seger’s 1980 release ‘Against The Wind’, an album that is a little critically under-loved compared to the three blockbusters (‘Beautiful Loser’, ‘Night Moves’ and ‘Stranger in Town’) that preceded it. Despite the odd poor track such as the opening clunker ‘Horizontal Bop’ which contains some of the worst lyrics that Seger has ever written, the album still manages to surprise and delight, albeit if it feels a little stylistic and functional at times, certainly compared with ‘Night Moves’, the breakthrough album with which he is probably most associated.
If the first track was a clunker, it makes up for it immediately with the brilliant ballad ‘You’ll Accomp’ny Me’ and in fact throughout the album the ballads are more memorable and of a higher standard than the rock tracks. That’s not to say tracks like ‘Betty Lou’s Getting’ Out Tonight’ and ‘Her Strut’ are poor, but they don’t quite reach the standard achieved on his last three classic releases. The cynic might say that tracks like ‘Fire Lake’, which is certainly an album highlight, are edging perilously close to sounding like something The Eagles would have released around then, and maybe that’s not surprising given that Don Henley, Tim Schmit and Glenn Frey provided backing vocals, and since The Eagles were almost certainly the biggest band in the world at that time, who can blame others for cashing in on that sound.
If you listen closely to the lyrics on ‘Against The Wind’, you’ll find an almost schizophrenic album with the title track mourning the loss of what could have been contrasting strongly with the certainty imbedded in ‘You’ll Accomp’ny Me’ while ‘Shinin’ Brightly’ is full of full-on optimism for both the present and the future. ‘Against The Wind’ reached Number 2 on the Billboard 100 chart and sat there for five weeks before replacing Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ at Number 1, a position it held for a further six weeks but despite the commercial success, many critics at the time felt that the album was something of a sellout with rock critic Dave Marsh, writing in Rolling Stone that the album was “…not only the worst record Bob Seger has ever made, but an absolutely cowardly one as well.” and while other commentators weren’t as harsh in their criticism, few at the time lavished it with deep praise. Over 40 years have passed since the album was released and looking back at it now, the criticism is unfair and they seemed to miss the obvious fact that Seger was mellowing and his music changing and although the critics may not have shown universal love it remains Bob Seger’s most commercially successful album and is as fine a piece of work that he ever produced.