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Bonnie Raitt: Nick Of Time - Album Of The Week Club review

Bonnie Raitt's redemption came in the shape of the multi-million selling Nick Of Time after splitting with her original label and hooking up with Don Was

Bonnie Raitt: Nick Of Time
(Image: © EMI)
Bonnie Raitt: Nick Of Time

Bonnie Raitt: Nick Of Time

(Image credit: EMI)

Nick of Time
Thing Called Love
Love Letter
Cry on My Shoulder
Real Man
Nobody's Girl
Have a Heart
Too Soon to Tell
I Will Not Be Denied
I Ain't Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again
The Road's My Middle Name

Typically for someone who has enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, such a lengthy career, Bonnie Raitt has had her fair share of highs and lows. The lows include alcohol abuse, as well as a messy, soul-destroying split with original label Warner Brothers in the 80s. 

In 1989, salvation arrived. Raitt headed into the studio with producer Don Was to record what would be Nick Of Time. The result was a five-times-platinum-selling album that also won the now-sober Raitt three Grammys. At the age of 40 and after having been a recording artist for almost 20 years, her hard work had finally paid off. It marked the beginning of a second, rewarding, phase of her career that has earned her an armful of Grammy awards.

“In the early days a lot of people said it was a problem because you couldn’t pigeon-hole me,” says Raitt. “They said I should stick to one kind of music. I appreciate that people do get like that. It took a while. Nick Of Time features the same kind of material as I had on my first album, but after twenty years people thought it was a worthwhile thing to be eclectic, so I’m proud to have people like it. I would get bored doing just one style."

“It was wonderful to get that kind of validation from my peers,” she says. “I was really honoured to be recognised and break through and get some airplay."

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in March 1989

  • When Dream and Day Unite - Dream Theater
  • Mr. Jordan - Julian Lennon
  • Extreme - Extreme
  • Shine - Mother Love Bone
  • Make Them Die Slowly - White Zombie
  • Brain Drain - Ramones
  • Alannah Myles - Alannah Myles
  • Energy - Operation Ivy

What they said...

"After a strong start, the album wears thin. For almost any other pop singer, Nick of Time would be a solid victory. For Raitt, who is clearly capable of being great, it is another beautiful near miss." (Rolling Stone)

"Nick of Time plays like autobiography, which is a testament to the power of the songs, performances, and productions. It was a great comeback album that made for a great story, but the record never would have been a blockbuster success if it wasn't for the music, which is among the finest Raitt ever made." (AllMusic)

"Unfortunately, Don goddamn Was refuses to leave well enough alone and turns most of Nick of Time into a mediocre, overproduced mess. Between the flimsy drums and guitars so smooth that they might as well be samples, the album goes down like the most watered-down highball." (The RS500 Ptroject)

What you said...

Mike Bruce: Just before David Watts by The Kinks kicks off, Ray Davies says "Nice and smooth." which is exactly what this album is. Musically you can't really fault much apart maybe from some of the rather 80s keyboard sounds.

Not every rock or blues influenced album has to sound like it's clawed it's way up out of the gutter but I would prefer Ms Raitt with a bit more dirt under her fingernails and fire in her belly. Well worth a listen though.

Greg Schwepe: A prime example of a good late 80’s “Adult Contemporary” album. 8 out of 10 for me on this one.

For those like me who hung out in “Rock World” on the radio, and that section of the record store, this may have been the first time you heard Bonnie Raitt. I knew who she was, but I swear before this I had never heard anything of hers. Again, nothing was played on the rock stations I listened to. My guess is that those who followed the blues circle of musicians had heard much of her music before. I can envision her being played on the local jazz and blues radio station before this album came out. Again, something I either did not have access to or listen to. So, this album got Bonnie on the radio (and VH1) where many people also finally found out about this talented vocalist and slide guitar player.

This record is just a smooth and groovy album you can listen to on a long drive (or a long run!) and just get lost as you go track by track. I’m big on “vibe” with albums (and reviews) and this one just keeps giving.

The album kicks off with the title track, then John Hiatt’s Thing Called Love. I only wish the album had more uptempo songs throughout.

I have no need for a long drawn-out review this time. Just a great album by an artist that had paid her dues. After listening to this for my review “homework”, I headed to the follow up Luck Of The Draw and found another album to my liking.

Cameron Gillespie: This is why I love this page! Every week I've been in this group there has been a good solid album choice that I can appreciate and enjoy.

This week has been no exception!

I will admit it's not my normal cup of tea, and the "dreaded" classic 80s sound production could have been stripped back a bit in areas in my opinion. I just have a passion for that raw blues feel, just simple guitar, bass, and drums.

Nonetheless this album is as smooth as smooth. Definitely an album that has made the regular blues playlist! 8/10

Bill Griffin: I heard more Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac than I did blues on this record. That's not a good thing for a blues singer. She does have a great voice and if this was what she was billed as, I would give it higher marks but it isn't.

Brian Carr: My love for Bonnie Raitt began with my music retail days in 1991 when I became smitten with that year’s Luck Of The Draw, an exquisite album that I would still rate a 10. Ironically, I never spun her breakthrough Nick Of Time more than once or twice and never thoroughly like I did this week.

Ms. Raitt certainly paid her dues and deserved the awards. Her voice speaks to my soul, but here it pushes me into the “singing the phone book” test. The voice, production and playing are excellent, but the songs just came up a bit short for me compared to Nick Of Time’s follow-up. But moving is moving, so Nick Of Time lands in the 7 to 8 range and makes me thankful that the Club inspired me to take a deeper dive into her catalog, which I hope to continue over the next few days, if not longer.

Gary Claydon: It would seem churlish to be critical of someone like Bonnie Raitt. By Nick Of Time she had more than paid her dues and thoroughly deserved any and all success and acclaim that would come her way.

However, this crossover hit comes across like blues for people who don't really like blues. Too polite, too smooth. If this sort of thing appeals to you then you'd be hard put to find it done better. Personally I prefer her earlier stuff. Wonderful voice, superb slide guitarist.

Robert Dunn: When I see the words 'commercial breakthrough', I don't quite reach for my gun (mainly because I don't own one) but I do have to fight the instinct to negatively pre-judge things. I have nothing against commercial success, but in rock music it often comes at the expense of something. 

In this case, as someone has already commented, this album is so highly polished that it is not so much the blues as the cyans, or ceruleans, or azures. More bluesy than Shania Twain but more country than anything else, the voice and guitar playing are still excellent but in my opinion, not showing them off to their full potential. I did like Too Soon To Tell and The Road's My Middle Name hit the mark, but for me this is the kind of thing to listen to when you aren't really that fussed about hearing it. If that makes sense?

Mike Canoe: During the time period that Nick Of Time was climbing the Billboard charts, I was getting knocked on my butt moshing at Soundgarden and Jane’s Addiction shows. That’s a name dropping way of saying that I was not Bonnie Raitt’s primary market back then, and I’m not sure I’m her primary market now. However, while I was playing the album at home this week, my wife kept singing along to songs I was only hearing for the first time… so target demographic reached!

The one word I would use to describe this album is “gentle,” both in terms of music and general sensibility. She gently admonishes former lovers in I Ain't Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again and Too Soon to Tell, she gently admonishes a potential lover in Real Man. She is the gentle friend in Cry On My Shoulder and the gentle narrator gently telling the story of Nobody’s Girl. I exaggerate here for effect, but Raitt leaves me the impression that she would be a good friend and a good listener, and I can understand the appeal of that.

She is also a very talented singer with a voice equal parts torch and twang (thanks, k.d. lang). Her voice is beautifully aching on the reggae-lite Have a Heart and wonderfully aching in a very different kind of way on the unabashedly horny Love Letter. Raitt adds some swagger to her voice on I Will Not Be Denied and Thing Called Love and can sing sad with the best of them on the multiple ballads.

I didn’t know it without reading the credits, but Raitt also plays slide guitar on a few tracks, guitar on a (different) few tracks, and electric piano on a couple more.

This realisation leads me to the production of Don Was, who strikes me as the kind of producer who, for good or bad, leaves nothing to chance. There are almost thirty musicians credited on the album, many on just one or two songs. Looking at his discography, it helps explain why he tends to work with solo artists or receptive bands eager for a comeback album.

In fact, it was the success that Don Was had with Nick Of Time that encouraged one of my musical heroes, Iggy Pop, to seek him out, resulting in Brick By Brick, a star-studded comeback album and the one with Candy, a Top 40 duet with Kate Pierson of the B-52's (a band Don Was also helped resurrect with the album Cosmic Thing, which contained the ubiquitous hit, Love Shack).

The funny thing for me is that Nick Of Time may have been a few years ahead of its time. This album sounds like the blueprint for the kind of country crossover that became big a few years later when a lot of rock and pop fans fled from the general downer that was grunge.

Ultimately, I applaud Bonnie Raitt for the success of Nick Of Time and everything that meant for her in terms of both musical success and personal recovery. I am also happy to read that Nick Of Time was no fluke and the Raitt/Was partnership stayed strong throughout the nineties. I like Nick Of Time but I love the redemption arc behind it.

Daniele Purrone: The moment I started listening to it, with those 80s keyboards on Nick Of Time, I thought: "Oh, crap... I might love the music, but I'm going to hate the production!" Actually, it wasn't that bad. I had never listened to this record before, and I ended up enjoying it. Not something that I'd listen to every day, but the voice is amazing and the songwriting is fantastic. Nick Of Time, Cry On My Shoulder, Too Soon To Tell and I Ain't Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again being probably my favourite. And yes, at times I would have preferred a less 80s-sounding production, but that happened a lot less than expected. Great record!

Jason Fenderson: It sounds even better to my 52-year-old ears than it did to my 20-year-old ears, and that's saying something.

John Davidson: This is blues with all the rough edges sanded off and polished to a sheen. That's not to say it is badly executed but it lacks any punch.

It didn't make me sad, nor more importantly did it put a comforting and familiar arm around my own emotions, and if the blues don’t move you are they even really the blues?

Compared to more recent blues guitar artists like Joanne Shaw Taylor or Susan Tedeschi the guitars are pretty muted too, with the emphasis heavily resting on Bonnie Raitt’s admittedly pleasant voice.

And that's my problem, the music is pleasant rather than affecting and comes across as very intentionally commercial - Thing Called Love could be a Shania Twain or Alannah Miles song (not that that’s a bad thing per se) - and even though it has some decent slide guitar the chorus has that overly corporate countrified rock and blues feel.

The rest of the album has a similar vibe. It's very professional & competent but rather like the output of Sting and Phil Collins from the same period the songwriting and artistic talent gets lost beneath the late 1980s arrangements and production values.

Previous 80s albums Nine Lives and Green Light, although also very commercial, had at least a bit of chug about them from time to time and an occasional emphasis on Raitt as a guitarist as much as a singer.

This one is too super smooth and commercial for me, I'm afraid. A companionable lapdog of an album rather than a howlin' wolf. 4/10.

Roland Bearne: Whilst I know Ms Raitt by reputation and from her contribution to John Lee Hooker's wonderful The Healer collaboration, I've never really explored her work. As soon as Nick Of Time oozed out of the speakers, I thought; ok, so that's the airplay-friendly lead single out of the way, let's get cracking. 

Unfortunately to my ears it never did. This felt like "Establishment" blues, nice and comfy, Bonnie and the likes of Eric smiling smugly across a carpeted stage at each other as they trade easy licks at the sort of gig where young women in pearls sip bubbly while their boyfriends in chinos, a pink polo shirt with a Ralph Lauren sweater tied loosely around the neck, tap a well shod foot and self consciously nod their heads. 

There's no doubt she plays beautifully, some great textures and excellent slide, but it's all too beautiful(!). The whole sound is just very easy, inoffensive to all but as John Davidson mentioned; "all the rough edges sanded off." She has a lovely voice, sweet and soulful but even when called for, lacking in the the kind of grit you want to hear when she states that she needs "a real man, not a little boy". She seems to be asking for a "nice chap, must run own business and have a paid up pension" rather than a weatherbeaten, done-it-all, boot-wearing man. Yes it's... nice. Very nice. Tasteful, safe, comfy. I think my Auntie's birthday present is sorted.

Alex Hayes: I think it's pretty safe to say that Nick Of Time was an album that resonated much more deeply with the American public than it did with us lot on this side of 'the pond'. At roughly the same time as Bonnie Raitt's commercial breakthrough (and then some) was topping the US Billboard charts, eventually racking up sales of 5 million plus over there, it was missing out on the UK Top 50 entirely.

Of course, commercial success should never be the sole barometer that music is judged by. My opening point there was more to illustrate that, frankly, I can't see many UK-based members of the Club being too familiar with this album. I certainly wasn't before this week.

Now that I've listened to the album a couple of times, I really can't help but view it as a kind of less 'in your face', 80s equivalent of Come On Over by Shania Twain. That comparison could probably do with a bit more context. What I mean to say there is that Nick Of Time, although obviously superior and more refined than Twain's commercial behemoth of the late 90s, still similarly comes across as being as airbrushed and 'middle-of-the-road' as possible. Both albums seem to have been 'engineered', if you will, to achieve maximum success.

This is easily the slickest and 'poppiest' album that I've been tasked to review for this club so far. That's not to say that I didn't get any enjoyment out of it though. As background music goes, it was pleasant enough. The biggest selling point for me personally here was Raitt's voice itself, which I found to be absolutely delightful.

I'm usually much more lenient than other reviewers are when it comes to 80s albums and how well they hold up today. However, even I have to concede that, production wise, some of this music is very much of its time. It's an album that conjures up mental images of being played very late on at some kind of 80s (or early 90s) cocktail party/wine bar, full of yuppies strutting their stuff. Very safe, very warm, and very radio friendly. After this album finishes, they'll probably stick something like Clapton's Unplugged on. Or even worse, shudder, The Beautiful South or Simply Red. God help us all.

After many years of struggling with mediocre album sales and personal issues, the huge success that Nick Of Time generated (at least in the US) must have felt like an enormous vindication to Raitt at the time. That it was achieved with music of a far more mainstream nature than was usual for her shouldn't be allowed to detract from that. It now feels churlish to have pointed that out earlier.

Ultimately, for me, this was a bit of a saccharine and somewhat calculated album that exists well outside my normal 'classic rock' parameters. I did enjoy parts of it though. It was blessed with way above average vocals, and also benefits from having that feel-good success story attached to it.

Final Score: 6.94⁄10 (98 votes cast, with a total score of 681)

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