The Sony/BMG ‘Extended Versions’ series has gotten a really bad name by repackaging old (previously released) live albums, shuffling the running order and releasing them under a misleading title to give buyers the impression they are getting an all new recording. This live recording by Foreigner has changed all of that, though. For one, it is a brand new show recorded in Las Vegas on November 26th, 2005. Unless you were there that night, you haven’t heard this one before. The show has never been released on cd before and it is the only widely available album of Foreigner’s current lineup in concert.
Say what you will about original members (i.e. Lou Gramm) who are no longer in the band. Mick Jones is the only original member left in Foreigner today. However, he has truly surrounded himself with some seasoned musicians who make you forget all about it. Checking in on lead vocals is Kelly Hansen, formerly of Hurricane and Heaven & Earth. He is joined by Jeff Jacobs on keyboards, Jeff Pilson (ex-Dokken) on bass, Jason Bonham (ex-Bonham/ex-U.F.O.) on drums and Tom Gimbel rounding out the band. All six guys are pictured on the front cover and their names are listed on the inside front sleeve. It sounds cliche to say but the new members inject some new life into the band. You’ll hear that when you listen to this particular live show. Like you may have already read on the reviews page, this is a fine showcase for Foreigner’s new lineup. The reviewers below will tell you that. The funny thing is that many people picking this up might go in with low expectations. At least until they listen to ‘Extended Versions.’ Even the most hardened Lou Gramm fan will have to admit that this band knocks out Foreigner’s greatest hits in a resounding fashion.
Nine of the ten songs featured on ‘Extended Versions’ are over five minutes long. A couple of them are over eight minutes. With the addition of Jason Bonham (John’s son) to the band, Foreigner even sneaks in a medley of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Like everything else on this album, it will knock your socks off. What becomes clear is that this lineup is arguably as good as the original lineup and they are having a lot of fun on stage. Listen to Kelly Hansen work the crowd all night long. Lou Gramm isn’t around anymore to fight over control of the band with Mick Jones. No unhappy members griping about the setlist or the musical direction of the band that later translates into tension on stage. These guys are happy to be on stage in front of a good crowd.
What helps matters, for some, is that Foreigner plays a generous set of their best known material. No filler tracks, new songs or ten minute drum solos. Highlights include Kelly Hansen’s energy, Jason Bonham’s drumming (particularly on “Jukebox Hero”) and obviously the lead guitar of Mick Jones. What is worth noting is that this new album was produced by Jeff Pilson, who played bass for Foreigner on this release. Not only did he play a mean bass this night but he did right by the band with a solid production job. There is not a dud in this live set. Every song rings true and many of them are as good as the studio versions. “Head Games” gets this one off to a fine start. From there, some of the best moments include “Starrider” and “I want to know what love is.” There are only a couple of bad points. New vocalist Kelly Hansen’s stage raps are laughable, dated, arena rock 101 crowd pleasers. Don’t get me wrong, though. He does more than make up for it with his powerful voice. Like it or not, he is sounding a lot better than Lou Gramm these days.
The other bad news is that ‘Extended Versions’ did not get a more proper release. As part of this low-budget cd line, you’ll find it for under $6 in every department store (i.e. Walmart) across the country. I can sort of see why the band did it, because it is easy distribution and a lot of people are likely to see it on the shelf. However, most journalists, critics and web sites will never bother to review it. No radio station will ever play it. They will all see the album title and cover only to assume it is some shoddy repackaging by the record company, ala ‘Super Hits.’ That is a shame. Let’s just hope that fans don’t make the same mistake. Unless you read the fine print on the back cover or closely study the band picture on the front, you’d be hard pressed to realize it is an all new release. This is too bad because ‘Extended Versions’ is already a vital addition to Foreigner’s discography, in my opinion. It has been many years since any given version of Foreigner has released anything relevant and this is it. The band should have at least considered keeping the show for themselves and releasing it independently with a more fitting title that could be promoted a little better. Releasing it online or selling it at concerts may have been a suitable alternative to selling the rights to Sony and having it get lost in the shuffle. Despite all of that, based on the Amazon ranking (as of the fall of 2006), this album has been selling fairly well considering its low profile and lack of coverage. It has already outsold many other titles in Sony’s ‘Extended Versions’ series that have been out a lot longer. A couple of Foreigner web sites online have been working day and night to get the word out about this release and they have to be applauded for it. Their message boards have been buzzing since the official release earlier in 2006.
‘Extended Versions’ may not feature the original lineup of Foreigner. Some of these temporary guys might not even be in the band a couple of years from now. None of that matters, though. Mick Jones has propped Foreigner back up with a red-hot lineup. This live album is clear proof. I think a lot of Foreigner’s fans may be pleasantly surprised with this one, if they don’t mind hearing someone other than Lou singing their favorite songs. Somebody has to sing them since Gramm chooses to ignore many of the Foreigner songs that Mick Jones wrote (including “I want to know what love is”) during his solo concerts, out of spite towards Jones. Lou has openly said in recent interviews that he has no intention of playing some of those Mick Jones tunes again as a solo artist, even though they helped Lou Gramm sell a lot of records. Foreigner ‘Extended Versions’ comes highly recommended. Given the low price and how easy it is to find, there is no reason why you should pass it up. Be forewarned that you may get the itch to see this lineup play live. It’d be very interesting to see what these six bandmates come up with if they ever decided to record a studio album together. I think it could work well.