If the second part of Fore! doesn't have the intensity of the first, there are some real gems that are actually quite complicated. "I Know What I Like" is a song that Huey would never have sung six years back - a blunt declaration of independence - while the carefully placed "I Never Walk Alone," which follows, actually complements the song and explains it in broader terms (it also has a great organ solo and except for "Hip to Be Square" has Huey's strongest vocals). "Forest for the Trees" is an upbeat antisuicide tract, and though its title might seem like a cliche, Huey and the band have a way of energizing cliches and making them originals wholly their own. The nifty a cappella "Naturally" evokes an innocent time while showcasing the band's vocal harmonies (if you didn't know better you'd think it was the Beach Boys coming out of your CD player), and even if it's essentially a throwaway, a trifle of sorts, the album ends on a majestic note with "Simple as That," a blue-collar ballad that sounds not a note of resignation but one of hope, and its complex message (it wasn't written by anyone in the band) of survival leads the way to their next album, Small World, where they take on global issues. Fore! might not be the masterpiece Sports is (what could be?), but in its own way it's just as satisfying and the mellower, gentler Huey of '86 is just as happening.
Small World (Chrysalis; 1988) is the most ambitious, artistically satisfying record yet produced by Huey Lewis and the News. The Angry Young Man has definitely been replaced by a smoothly professional musician and even though Huey has only really mastered one instrument (the harmonica), its majestic Dylanesque sounds give Small World a grandeur few artists have reached. It's an obvious transition and their first album that tries to make thematic sense - in fact Huey takes on one of the biggest subjects of all: the importance of global communication. It's no wonder four out of the album's ten songs have the word "world" in their titles and that for the first time there's not only one but three instrumentals.
The CD gets off to a rousing start with the Lewis/Hayes-penned "Small World (Part One)," which, along with its message of harmony, has a blistering solo by Hayes at its center. In "Old Antone's" one can catch the zydeco influences that the band has picked up on touring around the country, and it gives it a Cajun flavor that is utterly unique. Bruce Hornsby plays the accordion wonderfully and the lyrics give you a sense of a true Bayou spirit. Again, on the hit single "Perfect World," the Tower of Power horns are used to extraordinary effect. It's also the best cut on the album (written by Alex Call, who isn't in the band) and it ties up all the album's themes - about accepting the imperfections of this world but still learning to "keep on dreamin' of livin' in a perfect world." Though the sang is fastpaced pop it's still moving in terms of its intentions and the band plays splendidly on it. Oddly this is followed by two instrumentals: the eerie African-influenced reggae dance track "Bobo Tempo" and the second part of "Small World." But just because these tunes are wordless doesn't mean the global message of communication is lost, and they don't seem like filler or padding because of the implications of their thematic reprise; the band gets to show off its improvisational skills as well.
Side two opens smashingly with "Walking with the Kid," the first Huey song to acknowledge the responsibilities of fatherhood. His voice sounds mature and even though we, as listeners, don't find out until the last line that "the kid" (who we assume is a buddy) is actually his son, the maturity in Huey's voice tips us off and it's hard to believe that the man who once sang "Heart and Soul" and "Some of My Lies Are True" is singing this. The album's big ballad, "World to Me," is a dreamy pearl of a song, and though it's about sticking together in a relationship, it also makes allusions to China and Alaska and Tennessee, carrying on the album's "Small World" theme - and the band sounds really good on it. "Better Be True" is also a bit of a ballad, but it's not a dreamy pearl and its lyrics aren't really about sticking together in a relationship nor does it make allusions to China or Alaska and the band sounds really good on it.
"Give Me the Keys (And I'll Drive You Crazy)" is a good-times blues rocker about (what else?) driving around, incorporating the album's theme in a much more playful way than previous songs on the album did, and though lyrically it might seem impoverished, it's still a sign that the new "serious" Lewis - that Huey the artist hasn't totally lost his frisky sense of humor. The album ends with "Slammin'," which has no words and it's just a lot of horns that quite frankly, if you turn it up really loud, can give you a f**king big headache and maybe even make you feel a little sick, though it might sound different on an album or on a cassette though I wouldn't know anything about that. Anyway it set off something wicked in me that lasted for days. And you cannot dance to it very well.