In 1989 Reyne went into the Mayfair Mews Residential studios in London to record his much-anticipated second solo album., Hard Reyne, with producers John Hudson (Tina Turner, Bryan Adams, David Bowie, Aha) and Simon Hussey (Daryl Braithwaite, Craig McLachlan, John Farnham), Hussey had co-written six songs on Reyne’s debut album, and would contribute a further nine on Hard Reyne. The second album lacked the fury, energy and passion that had made its predecessor such a compelling experience, but several singles crept into the top 20 locally, House of Cards (#17 in ’89) and the traditionally bluesy One More River (#22 in ’89), which featured saxophone by Gary Barnacle (ex-Cutting Crew, and session saxophonist on Midnight Oil’s Power And The Passion) and backing vocals by Judy Cheeks. The promo clip was shot on the Gold Coast and featured everyday people at the beach, intercut with scenes of a casual Reyne performing the song in a summery beach house, the mondegreen here was mistaking the word “payphone” for “Batphone”, the album Hard Reyne went to #7 and occupied the charts for 28 weeks.
James Reyne’s 11th solo single, Slave, was lifted from his third solo album, Electric Digger Dandy, so-titled as a colloquial play on words about a racist description of Jimi Hendrix by John Morthland of Rolling Stone magazine as “the flower generation’s electric nigger dandy” in the 1960’s. The album was a genre-hopping affair which embraced pop, country, and the harmonious blending of acoustic and electric guitars, which Reyne used effectively here on Slave.Reyne’s earlier solo singles had been somewhat preoccupied with drug addiction and alienation (Hammerhead, Fall of Rome) as well as unhealthy/anti-social lifestyles (Motor’s Too Fast), and this song could also be construed as again focusing on the slavishness of dependency on other people, drugs and destructive habits and attitudes. The lyrics are however enigmatic enough to allow a more innocent interpretation about the ebb and flow of human relationships “When the feelings gone/ And you can’t go on/ Slave/ When thing’s ain’t right/ You wanna stay all night/ Slave.”The song is simple guitar pop with a subtle acoustic guitar refrain, courtesy of LRB’s Steve Housden, percussion at the intro builds to an electric guitar solo at the bridge which carries the song forward until the re-emergence of acoustic guitar at the outro. The song was co-written by Canadian Jim Vallance (below), who had worked closely with Bryan Adams and was the co-writer of Summer of ’69 and other hits by Adams, Vallance also wrote, produced and was “song doctor”, on records by Aerosmith, Tina Turner and Alice Cooper.The promo video features Reyne and Australian actress/model Peta Wilson from the TV series La Femme Nikita somewhere in the Californian desert, he plays acoustic guitar and mimes the song, and this is intercut with shots of the loved up couple in various bucolic settings.
Slave hit 10 locally and the Electric Digger Dandy album was a national #2 hit and Reyne’s best-selling solo album, he followed up with an engaging duet with James Blundell on the Dingoes classic Way Out West in 1992 and left the charts with this, his last top five hit, at #4.In 1993 he made a cameo appearance in the Tina Turner biopic, What’s Love Got to Do with It, playing the role of Australian Roger Davies who successfully managed the solo career of Turner after she split from her abusive husband Ike. Angela Bassett won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress with her performance as Tina Turner, Laurence Fishburne was similarly impressive in an unsympathetic role, portraying the menacing and abusive Ike Turner, Reyne didn’t have much to do but his brief performance opposite Bassett was lacklustre, and his movie career stalled.A Greatest Hits album in 1992 charted #17 and after a two-year hiatus and a major label change to rooArt, he released an album of new songs in 1994 titled Whiff of Bedlam, produced by American Stuart Levine (Simply Red, The Crusaders, Lionel Richie, Minnie Riperton, Peter Blakely). The album was well-named, critically praised for its re-invention of the singer musically, but criticised for the uneven quality of the tracks, where the emotional arc of his songs was at best soulful, confessional, and creative, and elsewhere mordant, tragic, indulgent, and harrowing, the only single to chart was Red Light Avenue (#34 in ’94) and the album peaked at #40 after six weeks on the charts.
The lyrics of the track No Secrets on this album would seem to be a particularly apposite coda for the life of James Reyne thus far and what he saw into the future “ “I’ve seen all these faces/Between the mountains and the beach/Looking out for happiness/Out of reach/Cars and women/Running rich and fast/Driving down the freeway/This fun it won’t last…Gonna cross that bridge.”
Over his career James Reyne has had 19 top 40 hits, seven with Australian Crawl, nine solo and three as part of Company of Strangers, a short-lived band with Daryl Braithwaite, Simon Hussey, and Jef Scott, he was also awarded an OAM for services to the performing arts in 2014.
Australian Crawl were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1996, and subsequently Glenn Shorrock (’04), Jimmy Barnes (’05), and Daryl Braithwaite (’17) have all been inducted as solo performers, so it would seem that James Reyne is now overdue to be accorded the status of a solo inductee at this time. James married Leeanne Woolrich on May 13th 2017 (above) and currently lives on the Mornington Peninsula (Vic).
4TR featured 15 songs by Australian Crawl and James Reyne in the period May 11-14, 2020, they’re all worth a look.