September 8, 2015 Chris Isaak Forever Blue 2 Decades Later
Everything about modern Rockabilly singer-songwriter Christopher Joseph Isaak is smooth; his voice, his delivery, as well as his composing. Black velvet, warm Summer breezes, and melting butter is the entirety of his music. Signed by Warner Brothers Records for his debut album, Silvertone, in 1985, Isaak was joined with friends Kenney Dale Johnson on drums and Rowland Salley on bass. They continued playing with Isaak and still do today. His sophomore album, self-titled Chris Isaak (1986), just continued proving to the listeners, something very special was going on here; unique and quite wonderful. Isaak managed to compose music and lyrics that blended together in a way that they seemed to melt into each other. Whether or not the beats were hard-hitting or slow, the smoothness was ever present, along with his sultry, sexy voice, chords, and swirling harmonious backgrounds. Then, in 1989, Isaak exploded with Heart Shaped World, featuring the Pop mega-hit “Wicked Game.” Amidst developing an acting career with roles in films like Married to the Mob (1988), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Little Buddha (1993), Isaak put out San Francisco Days in 1993 with charted positions in a variety of countries. At this point, a decade into his career, Isaak was looking to match or top the success of Heart Shaped World, and on May 23, 1995, he did so when he released his fifth album, Forever Blue via Reprise Records. Now celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2015, Forever Blue remains a constant in the music lover’s collection.
When listening to this twenty year old album, Forever Blue, one is reminded of all the greatness Chris Isaak possesses. Each song tends to tie into the previous one with overloaded emotions, and that Roy Orbison-like cry in his voice that pierces the heart, but in such a tender way. Country influences are undeniable as are the old time Rock-n-Roll beats and percussion. The crying guitar that often harmonizes to a perfect pitch with Isaak’s voice, is addicting. On “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing,” the opening track, the Country beat of the guitar, solo at first, is slow and easy with fast-paced vocals and perfectly in sync percussion. The return to a solo guitar fits like a puzzle piece.
Then there is the album’s lead single, “Somebody’s Crying,” which is a beautiful, gentle ballad using the heart-breaking lyrics, “I know when somebody’s lying.” As it repeats, the listeners feel the pain, as we do in most of the tracks. Including the same technique is “Graduation Day” and “Don’t Leave Me,” where the words echo, “I stay up late now/cause I’ve been crying/I’m ok/But I’ve been lying.” There are numerous similar examples on tracks throughout this phenomenal album that continues to display a man who can take his bare soul and synchronize it to lyrics and music that swirl and mix into the suave style of Chris Isaak. The title song, “Forever Blue,” is the forerunner of them all, with lyrics such as, “The stars have all stopped shining/The sun just won’t break through/each day’s the same/more clouds ,more rain/You’re left forever blue.” When added to the haunting vocals of a soul drowning in a sea of pain and turmoil, Isaak could not have possibly exemplified a tortured heart any better. Superb and genius is his technique.
There are tracks on this album that display the perfect marriage of Rockabilly, old time Rock-n-Roll, and a mix of Country with good, strong beats that steer the listener to upbeat moods and fast paced lyrical content. These include the songs “Go Walking Down,” “There She Goes,” “Goin’ Nowhere,” and “I Believe.” A strong rich Rockabilly beat drives the lyrics to a good foot-stomping place in “There She Goes.” In fact, one can almost watch the girl leaving as Isaak sings his words. The mix of electric and acoustic guitar in many of these tracks is a great blend of styles and genres that once again, give a truly unique touch to Isaak’s music. In the song “I Believe,” the lyrics and music fit so well together that one could not possibly imagine the song any other way. The catchy words, “I believe in a beautiful day/And I believe it’s gonna be ok/ But not for me and not for you/I believe/I believe/I believe,” is a full example of Isaak’s genius way of getting the point across while almost laughing to himself as he does it. He has convinced the listener of his stand.
Furthermore, there are many moments on Forever Blue where the listener can feel as if Isaak is sitting with them telling his heartache, just the two of them, privately. It is easy to understand his enormous connection to the everyday guy and girl that Isaak has, due to his vulnerable way of expressing emotion and pain. It is also easy to understand how twenty years later, Isaak and Forever Blue can still sell out stadiums, get new fans continuously, and be heard on many iPods. Forever Blue is perhaps one of Isaak’s most successful records to this date. There is no time limits or out-dating romantic torture of the soul, pain in losing that special one, or feelings of desperation and despair. We are all human and go through these ordeals, and Isaak is there to remind us, to sit with us, and to share with us in it all. This all-American boy from Stockton, California has done it all, and the world is grateful for his smooth, sexy style while doing it. Here is to another twenty years of greatness for Isaak and Forever Blue.