Without synthesizer, ’80s Hits’ falls flat


Various Artists, “’80s Hits Stripped” (Sidewinder Music)

There’s nowhere to hide on “’80s Hits Stripped,” which features acoustic versions of some of the most popular songs from the most awesome decade, like, ever.

Without the protection of overproduced, synthesized sounds, the artists either prove they can sing, or they can’t – and the songs themselves either withstand the test of time, or they don’t.

Most of them don’t.

“Down Under,” which Men at Work lead singer Colin Hay performs solo, was so gimmicky and peculiarly of its era, it still sounds dated despite an updated arrangement. Same with Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” and Tommy Tutone’s one-hit wonder, “867-5309/Jenny.”

Other songs, though, come off better than ever and inspire nostalgic pangs for the innocence of the time. “Jessie’s Girl” makes you fall in love with Rick Springfield all over again. He sounds so intimate and cute and sexy, it’s like it’s 1981 and Dr. Noah Drake from “General Hospital” has come to make a house call – and he just happened to bring his acoustic guitar!

“No One Is to Blame” by Howard Jones, one of those great teen-angst tunes you’d play over and over just to torment yourself – surely I’m not the only one who did this – surprisingly becomes warm, reassuring and inclusive in concert. It’s just you and hundreds of your closest friends, singing along with Jones on the piano.

Conversely, John Waite’s “Missing You,” which was already melancholy to begin with, sounds even sadder here as it’s softened and slowed a bit. It’s also among the songs on the album that reveal the strength of the vocals in stripped-down form. We already knew Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart could flat-out blow – to borrow a phrase from Randy Jackson – but that fact is clearer than ever on a live performance of “These Dreams.”

But then, Asia never should have touched “Heat of the Moment”; its kitschy bombast was on ideal display in its original form in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Naked Eyes’ perky “Promises, Promises” just feels anemic accompanied solely by Spanish-styled guitar.

And on Berlin’s “The Metro,” one of the disc’s most synth-heavy songs in its original state, singer Terri Nunn could be any wannabe at any coffee house on open-mike night. She’s alone – sitting with her broken glass, and an acoustic guitar – and you can just imagine customers milling around in the background, sprinkling cinnamon on their lattes and trying to ignore her.