Who would've ever guessed that Mike Murphy coming along and serving as a replacement would actually be a really nifty move? While T.W.O. better illustrates and captures the early period of REO Speedwagon with a taste of the arena rock they'd later find worldwide success with, the temporary mid 70's period does NOT disappoint with songwriting that's *almost* as good as the previous album.
Even though this version of "Ridin' the Storm Out" is probably not as good as the more famous live version we'd hear later due to being restrained and better suited as a live track anyway, the vocals and guitar playing are mighty fine regardless. Yes, I miss the aggressive and more energetic (and superior) live version, but what we here is a suitable mid-tempo version that's definitely able to stand in the same league. My first impression with "Whiskey Night" is that Mike Murphy has a voice not at all appropriate for REO Speedwagon, but you know, by the second time I played the song I was already enjoying it tremendously. Sure, it's an oddly sung power ballad with gospel vocals, and the verse closely resembles the Band's "Life Is a Carnival" and it's nothing like the stuff one would find on T.W.O., but I love it nonetheless.
"Without Expression (Don't Be That Man)" has exceptionally hoarse vocals courtesy of Murphy, but the melody is unbelievably heartfelt and wonderful. Easy to sing along with as well. "Start A New Life" is a soulful and downbeat piano ballad with slide guitar. It's memorable too. "Son of a Poor Man" has an intro similar to Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" before morphing into an upbeat, chugging-paced tune with fun lyrics that nicely captures the party atmosphere of the early 70's (and the early days of the band). Great song overall. The lyrics about a woman packing her bags and starting over are really spectacular as well. "Open Up" is another upbeat song with a more frantic pace perhaps. It's just as good as "Son of a Poor Man" with an *awesome* guitar solo at the end.
"It's Everywhere" has an oddly sung verse melody leading into an optimistic chorus with lyrics that reveal a touch of sadness. At least to me they sound sad. "Movin" sounds a little incomplete with the less than stellar verse and tacky gospel vocals, but the lyrics about moving to California and getting a taste of the lifestyle there are really nice. "Find My Fortune" has a Donny Osmond-like vocal melody but it's really melodic so nobody can complain! "Oh Woman" is REO's brand of rockabilly, and the results are wonderful.
I seriously wasn't expecting a near classic with this album. I was convinced it'd be a letdown judging the reviews. I was wrong. I highly recommend it. No it's not really the arena rock we associate with REO Speedwagon (well, except for the title song) but it makes up for that by laying down some really good songwriting the entire way through.