Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams left his mark during the 80s and, boy, was it a big one. 1983’s Cuts Like A Knife threw him into US and homeland recognition. 1984’s Reckless detonated the Bryan bomb over the Western world, selling over twelve million copies worldwide and reaching number one on the Billboard 200. Three years later, Into the Fire spawned six singles and hit the top ten, too. The eighties were, undoubtedly, a great time for rock, and a great time to be a Bryan Adams fan.
But, remarkably, the train didn’t stop there, and Adams continued his worldwide success into the new decade. 1991 marked the next step in the guitar-strapped rocker’s career. Waking up the Neighbours. Released at the perfect time – just before the imminent decline of rock as the public’s favourite – it peaked at number six on the Billboard 200 and boasts a diamond certification (or some million units sold) in Canada alone.
And it’s not to see why. There’s a clear influence of producer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange’s trademark sound here, famous for his work with several big names in the rock industry, especially Def Leppard’s 1987 beast, Hysteria. Waking up the Neighbours was really a sign of things to come with Leppard’s subsequent record a year later, Adrenalize. The track listing on this album is full of ‘Mutt’ touches. ‘Don’t Drop That Bomb On Me’ is basically a Def Leppard song with Adams on vocals, ‘Depend On Me’ has the background shouts synonymous with glam, and the Sheffield boys in particular. The stomping rockers, ‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’ and ‘All I Want Is You’ have that grand, polished sound to them. There’s even been rumours that the ‘Tuck Back Twins’ credited for background vocals on the album were none other than Joe Elliott and Phil Collen of Leppard fame (this has since been confirmed to be Adams and Lange himself, however).
Still, Bryan nails that husky tone and adds his own touch enough to make this album entirely his own. There are no gimmicks here; none of the big hair or glittery outfits of the Sunset Strip scene. Just a straight-forward rock album. And what an album it is, too. Hit after hit. Every song, every instalment on this record – much like Reckless – either was a single, or could have easily been one. In fact, at one point there were so many Adams anthems doing the rounds on MTV and the radio, that some had to be missed altogether. Lest it be 24/7 Bry. The titanic ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’, aforementioned ‘Can’t Stop…’ and ‘All I Want…’, ‘Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven’, ‘There Will Never Be Another Tonight’, ‘Do I Have to Say the Words?’ and ‘Touch the Hand’ were all released as separate singles. Even album tracks like ‘Not Guilty’, ‘Vanishing’ and ‘House Arrest’ stand the test of time, propelling Waking Up… to legendary status, at least for me. This is a timeless record that never gets old, and never warrants a skipped track; impressive given it’s admirable fifteen-song length.
The drumbeat and simple riff of ‘Is Your Mama Gonna Miss Ya?’ remain a perfect way to open such a record, all these years later. ‘I might as well be blind, thought I owned this world and all it’s time…’ – Bryan surely would soon enough, with the mammoth ‘Waking up the World’ tour spanning two years after. It’s an album track, sure, but a colossal opener, with all the tongue-in-cheek humour Adams can muster. ‘’Cause mama’s little girl ain’t goin’ home. Yeah, she’s goin’ with me!’ is trademark BA. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like putting this in the CD player for the first time in late ’91. Spectacular, one assumes.
‘Hey Honey – I’m Packin’ You In’ has a slight bluesy tinge to the hook, but a pure arena rock piece through and through, with Bryan hardly lamenting the loss of a once-treasured partner. ‘I don’t wanna be the joke of the party, I just wanna be back where I started!’ says it all. Admitting to placing your ex into the boot of your car like a second-favourite piece of luggage is a bit ridiculous, but Adams pulls it off with gratifying ease.
The album then gives us one of the biggest singles, ‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’, hitting number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbing the top ten in multiple other countries. Something about the opening – like a rocket preparing to launch – is so 80s (remember this record was barely a 90s album) and it just sounds great. The verses are propelled into the musical stratosphere by a driving beat and Adams’ vest vocals yet. It’s a perfect cocktail of guitar and enough mainstream spin to please anyone. The record’s next tune, ‘Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven’ is one of the slower ballads of the whole piece but treads the line somewhere between the previous track and ‘Everything I Do…’. That bassline in the background is a telltale sign of an impending crescendo only Adams can pull off. The chorus is epic indeed, and overall remains a highlight of an already landmark record.
A trio of heavy rockers befall our ears next. ‘Not Guilty’ is a trademark Bryan song. Love and passion, but with a powerful backbeat and impressive guitar. The metaphors of law come thick and fast here (‘take it to the jury…’, ‘nail it to the wall…’, ‘…witness…’, ‘lock me up…’, among others). ‘Vanishing’ is a kind of middle ground between ballad and rock tune once more, but the bridge is really what takes the song to a whole new level. The lyrics are simple but effective and establishes the song as a personal favourite.
‘House Arrest’ is the source of the album’s title; a playful anthem on staying up late and partying hard. Until the cops come, that is. The chorus is infectious and, like pretty much everything else on here, deserves to be played loud.
The album powers through another ballad with ‘Do I Have To Say The Words?’ – not a standout track but listenable all the same – before barraging into ‘There Will Never Be Another Tonight’, the song that made me explore this record in the first place. Made for warm summer nights or cruising down a deserted highway. Catchy riff, timeless lyrics and memorable chorus. Once again, the ‘Mutt’ magic works its charm.
‘All I Want Is You’ must be one of the best rock tracks ever put to record. From the shimmering intro, the entire song reeks of glossy production, but that’s hardly a cardinal sin. It’s okay for rock to not be raw and edgy, and Bryan is a prime example of that. This stomping anthem of love is nirvana for a solid five minutes.
‘Depend On Me’ is another great tune with that tinge of something bigger about it. Even for Adams, it’s a touch cheesy at times, but infectious all the time. Then Waking up the Neighbours hits us with ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’. It’s a bit corny, a bit slow, and was made for middle-aged wedding dances. All the same, it was written for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and released on its soundtrack the same year. It also hit number one on the UK Singles Charts and stayed there for sixteen weeks – the longest in British chart history.
‘If You Wanna Leave Me (Can I Come Too?)’ is a favourite of mine, with crunching guitar from Keith Scott and the ever-Leppard vocals behind it. Adams could have quite easily gone glam if he so wished (and had more hair) ‘Touch the Hand’ is a catchy – if dated – track on reversing the age-old roles of a relationship. Still, the message is well-meaning, and it proves a stomping rocker that should have done better as a single. Sounds killer live, too.
The album closes with the worthy ‘Don’t Drop That Bomb On Me’, though, at this point, it could have been any of the previous tracks on repeat and you might not have noticed. But the stomping drumbeat and Adams’ booming vocals signify the climax of an already eventful runaway train ride. The blistering solo at the end only emphasizes my point.
For me, Waking Up the Neighbours has to be my favourite album Adams has ever done. I absolutely love ‘Run To You’ – and most of that album – and Cuts Like A Knife holds a special place in my heart. But this one is wall-to-wall over-the-top pop rock perfection. There are great riffs, great lyrics and great choruses. And that’s all I need.