Had Foreigner’s debut album arrived in any other year than 1977 it might have been seen for what it was: a hook-filled masterclass in melodic pop-rock. As it was, FM rock staples Feels Like The First Time and Cold As Ice positioned these already seasoned Anglo-Americans (featuring former members of both Spooky Tooth and King Crimson) as everything punk wasn’t – despite both Johnny Rotten and Lester Bangs being closet fans.
Thirty-five years and eighty million sales later, this no fuss box – completists note, it includes the same extra tracks as the 2002 reissues – provides an opportunity to reassess their merits. With its crisp guitars, dry drums and economical synth, their debut sounds more in tune with the times than it did on release. A five-million seller, it’s still faultless radio rock, Lou Gramm’s versatile pipes and Mick Jones’ songcraft seeing them alternate between gritty blues rock (I Need You), acoustic balladry (Fool For You Anyway) and arenapop (Long Long Way From Home).
Hastily recorded follow up Double Vision was equally successful, if less fun; its mix of (mildly) horny rock-outs (Hot Blooded) and Macca-esque balladry (Back Where You Belong) coming with a whiff of contrivance. If – dodgy sleeve aside – the following year’s Head Games at least acknowledged the existence of the new wave, it’s 1981’s all-conquering 4 which will forever be their sonic calling card.
With Mutt Lange – fresh from Back In Black – in the chair, it’s soft rock at its comfiest. Urgent – featuring a sax break from Junior Walker – is the standout, but Woman In Black and Juke Box Hero are precision tuned exercises in pop-metal, while Waiting For A Girl Like You isn’t even the best power ballad – that’s Girl On The Moon.
Torn between double-cream AOR and hard rock, 1984’s Agent Provocateur, is a schizophrenic affair which nonetheless delighted their accountants – schmaltz-rock behemoth I Want To Know What Love Is was No.1 on both sides of the pond. 1987’s Inside Information saw diminishing returns, but to these ears sounds far fresher as Jones rolled up his (designer) sleeves on standout Out Of The Blue.
Following Gramm’s departure, 1991’s Unusual Heat is pleasant but innocuous, Jones’ melodic nous ensuring toe-tapping moments come at every chorus. Which is Foreigner all over, reliable and - yes - slightly dull, they’re rock’s Volvo. However, download the best tracks here and you’ll still feel like you’ve just stepped off a speedboat in Miami Vice.