In 2009, the Milwaukee Brewers signed a journeyman outfielder named Frank Catalanotto for one (mostly unremarkable) year. I don’t remember much about him outside of the fact that he only hit singles and had a funny name, but one thing I did like about him was his walk-up music, “Your Love” by The Outfield. Now this is not exactly the most creative choice – Gordon Beckham was sort of famous for it. But Catalanotto had two things going for him; one, he actually played in the outfield, and two, he sort of looked like Tony Lewis, the singer of the band. (I do feel compelled to remark that in 2011, the Crew picked up Mark Kotsay who also used “Your Love” as his walk-up music. There’s just something about it that utility players at the end of their careers find compelling.)
Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite baseball writers, had a system called “movie plus-minus” for rating film. Basically the idea is to score a movie based on the difference between how good you expected a movie to be and how good it actually was. The idea being that whether or not you were satisfied with a movie is less about how good the movie is and more about whether it exceeded your expectations or let you down. In other words if you’re seeing an Adam Sandler or Michael Bay movie you should pretty much know what you’re going to get – for example I don’t understand what prompted someone on my FB feed to gripe about the new TMNT movie for being too over-the-top and brainless, when you should know that’s exactly what Michael Bay gives you every time out. By that scale I reckon The Outfield’s debut album Play Deep scores pretty well. “Your Love” got lodged in my head hardcore after a game and I figured I’d pick this up as it’s a one-hit band that sold a million copies and therefore can be had incredibly cheap. Surprisingly I wound up digging it quite a bit. Essentially the band was some kind of unholy mutation of The Police and Bon Jovi; in fact Lewis’s whiny, high-pitched delivery led a lot of people to believe they were The Police.
Even if their sound was hokey, Play Deep was one of those debut albums like Van Halen or The Cars that got by just through sheer consistency. If you heard any of these songs cold, you’d probably know right away, “this is the band that does ‘Your Love’ isn’t it?” Unbeknownst to me they actually charted four singles off this album and by my count they could’ve ran four more. The whole thing is rife with these big vocal hooks – Lewis has a decent range, is tuneful, and can multitrack with himself well. Instrumentally, it’s mostly about the guitars; often one big rock n’ roll riff paired with a shimmering and more agile one. The drums (like everything else) are reverb’d hard, giving it that 80’s “big rock” style that everything had then; though they (smartly) stay away from keyboards outside of some backing lines here and there.
That puts it in a league with say, Huey Lewis’s Sports or Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, though Play Deep comes with an extra layer of ham-fisted earnestness. One song (“All the Love”) contains all the following clichés: “I can’t believe the things that happen to me”, “Time after time I put my life on the line”, “I only live for today”, and “I’ll keep running away”. On “I Don’t Need Her” they rhyme “her” with “her” twice. Nearly every song has the same guitar riff + quick drum fill opening, and they all have the same sort of big, harmonized chorus. There are a few solos and bridges to fill time and several of them repeat verses; the thing doesn’t even hit 40 minutes and it’s so by-the-book that it can be difficult to make it through the whole album (and therefore miss the one song that bucks the trend a bit, the crooner “Nervous Alibi” – I’ll just say that if you started to dislike Tony Lewis at some point during the album, you’ll really hate him by the end).
Wait a minute, what I was trying to say is that I like this album. Quite honestly I picked this up just because “Your Love” was in my head; I was expecting something like that Tommy Tutone album where it really just was the one hit song and a bunch of bad bar-band blues rock. But Play Deep is all like that – maybe I could do without say “Taking All My Chances” but this thing is a clinic in how to write big, dumb, catchy rock songs. And that’s not exactly easy to do (as The Outfield themselves would prove later on in their career). But for this album at least, John Spinks – the band’s guitarist and primary songwriter – was rolling.
I decided to revisit this album upon finding out that Spinks had recently passed away at the age of 60. And as usual I find myself playing bits of it over and over again (particularly “61 Seconds”, my favorite song on here). Now that we’re in the frustratingly brief Wisconsin summer, sometimes you just wanna shamelessly blast something out of an open car window and in my mind there ain’t much better for that than The Outfield. I just recently discovered that the band was in fact British, which is odd because their music sounds so distinctly American to me. It’s brash and hokey and a little embarrassing, but fuck it because it sounds good. The Outfield represented a feeling; baseball games, blonde girls, grilling, tossing frisbees, big hair, and anything regularly used to sell light beer. And as long as “Your Love” remains on the airwaves, there will be something to bring us back. Somewhere out there, there’s a MLB journeyman in his mid-30’s still walking up it. Nick Punto, are you still out there?