Find: Ambrosia, Life Beyond L.A.M
Place: 17th Street Goodwill
Price: 32 cents
I’ve written previously about my affection for soft rock. To date, I have exactly zero converts to my basic view of soft rock, which is nothing more complicated than that it sometimes is enjoyable to listen to. A few hipster manqué readers and friends insist that having a fondness for Bread, Firefall, and Orleans means also having a weakness for Clay Aiken, Celine Dion, and Barry Manilow. It doesn’t, of course, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d rather listen to The Best of Bread than any John Lennon album. Seriously, listen to “Some Time in New York City” and then tell me how stupid I am to enjoy a little England Dan and John Ford Coley or Christopher Cross now and then.
Ambrosia is best known for the top 40 hits “Biggest Part of Me,” “You’re the Only Woman,” and the soft-rock behemoth “How Much I Feel.” The latter song is on this album. It’s hardly representative of what’s here, however. “Life Beyond L.A.,” “Art Beware,” “Apothecary,” and “Not as You Were” are light progressive rock songs with hints of Yes, King Crimson, and mid-career Genesis. Ambrosia thankfully stray from the standard prog-rock playbook by keeping their songs short and punchy, and by avoiding pretension. Indeed, for all its acrobatic musicianship and angularity, “Life Beyond L.A.” is just a love song: “I’m out here waiting, praying, trying to keep from sayin’/That I don’t miss you, though I do.” And the musically challenging “Apothecary” is about Ambrosia’s drug dealer. There are also elements of jazz and world music here, the latter most obvious on the percussion-dominated “Angola,” and the former most evident on the soulful “Dancin’ by Myself.” These songs lead off side two, which is reminiscent of Toto in their heyday. The closest thing to “How Much I Feel” is “Heart to Heart,” a lush and slick ballad with swirling strings and sweet harmonies. Ambrosia comprised two undeniable talents in David Pack and Joe Puerta, whose voices—Pack’s sweet and fragile, and Puerta’s deep and soulful—blend together beautifully throughout this record. The harmonies alone make the album worthwhile (especially for 32 cents).
Unfortunately, this album is remembered (by those who remember it at all) almost solely for “How Much I Feel.” The song, with its undeniably catchy refrain and its tight, heavenly harmonies, is a soft-rock touchstone. Sadly, it’s about as creepy as the execrable “Love the One You’re With” (wherein our hero Stephen Stills tells women everywhere that because his regular lady is not around, he will, in an act of selfless transcendence, have intercourse with someone else). In “How Much I Feel,” the similarly smarmy Pack offers this telling detail to his ex-lover about his new, unlucky wife: “Sometimes when we make love/I can still see your face.” “How Much I Feel” is not a sweet love song. Rather, it’s a paean to a long-gone ex whose face shows up in a thought bubble over poor David Pack’s head when he fulfills his grim obligation to service his spouse. But try as I may to hate the song, I just can’t do it. It’s just too damn good. The rest of the album is pretty damn good too.