Admittedly, I came to this album after hearing the ubiquitous Sports throughout the latter part of 1983 and all of 1984. But Picture This, released January 29, 1982 has a sophomore charm all its own.
Huey Lewis & The News released their self-titled debut in 1980 and both the album and its singles failed to chart. With Picture This, the band was growing into its own while including other musicians’ songs on the record and inviting Tower Of Power in to play horns. It’s not a perfect pop album like the following year’s Sports, but it’s a solid document of a band finding its own place in the pop/rock pantheon.
I have to just get this out there right away – no discussion of any of this band’s records is complete without mention of the “Huey Lewis” clip from American Psycho, so let’s get that out of the way and then talk more about this record. (NSFW)
I don’t know that I’d characterize Picture This as New Wave. While they do have a keyboardist, this is not a synth-pop band and the guitar work is front-and-center. (Also, the contention that Huey Lewis has a darker, more sardonic sense of humor than Elvis Costello is just wildly off the mark.) Furthermore, the music itself is straightforward pop/rock leaning more toward the classic rock sounds than the burgeoning new wave scene. A song like “Tell Me a Little Lie” stands out as a slight misstep, sounding as it does more like a Men At Work song than a Huey Lewis classic. Then there’s the piano ballad, “Is It Me” that seems, in retrospect, so foreshadow mid-’90s shoegaze alt-rock – it really is that far ahead of its time.
But, to my previous point, the band really shines with straight-up fun-time rockers like “Workin’ For A Livin’” and their version of the oft-covered “Buzz Buzz Buzz,” a 1950s hit for The Hollywood Flames but which I first heard on this album. For me, the best cuts on this record are its breakthrough hit, “Do You Believe In Love” and the slower “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do” which features the aforementioned Tower Of Power horns to great effect. These songs give us a glimpse of the pop powerhouse that Huey Lewis & The News would become within a couple years when they released their multi-platinum Sports album.
I remember having a conversation with a friend back around 1985 or ’86 about how Huey Lewis songs didn’t seem to have the staying power of some of the other bands that we liked at the time (discussed, as you can imagine, with all the depth and worldliness of a couple of fourteen year old boys). I think about that conversation almost every time I hear one of their songs and realize, thirty years later, that we were wrong – it’s not that the songs don’t have staying power, it’s just that we lacked the perspective to appreciate the value of their music. They’re never going to be cited as an inspiration, as the voice of a generation, or as musicians who forged political activism within their works, but damn if they’re not fun to listen to. And that’s among the most worthwhile attributes of a rock-and-roll band.