Album Review — Piper: Piper/Can’t Wait

By  John M. Borack

Best known as the major label launching pad for early ’80s arena rock hitmaker Billy Squier, Boston-based Piper was a tuneful quintet whose two albums — compiled here on one CD — balanced power-pop smarts and hard-rocking swagger, sometimes with quite memorable results (The discs were previously only briefly available more than 15 years ago as pricey Japanese imports).

1976’s self-titled effort was praised heavily by Circus Magazine upon its original release, where it was called the greatest debut album ever produced by an American rock band. While it certainly does not live up to that extreme level of hype, it’s still a solid record, with most everything written and sung solely by Squier.

The highlights are two of the poppier numbers, the power-pop classic “Who’s Your Boyfriend? (I Got a Feelin’)” and the crunchy “Telephone Relation.” “Who’s Your Boyfriend” is slightly reminiscent of CCR’s “Hey Tonight” in spots and was an undeservedly unsuccessful single, while “Telephone Relation” boasts one of those insidiously catchy lead guitar riffs that’s impossible to shake.

Even though they were helmed by KISS’s management team, perhaps one reason why Piper never hit it big was due to the fact that it was difficult to discern if they wanted to grow up to be a power-pop act, a bluesy rock outfit (its version of the Stones’ “The Last Time” is decent, though no great shakes) or a standard-issue hard rock combo (flashy Eddie Van Halen-esque lead guitarisms abound on tracks such as “Sail Away” and “Can’t Live With Ya/Can’t Live Without Ya”). They mine the last two fields decently on Piper, but a bit more focus might have been helpful in the long term.

1977’s Can’t Wait found Squier and Co. delivering another timeless power-poppin’ jewel with the glorious title cut (also released as a single back in the day), while the simple-yet-effective ditty “Drop By and Stay” sounds like it could have worked as a single as well. 

Elsewhere, it’s the same back and forth between hard rock and blues, which works better on some tracks (“Comin’ Down Off Your Love” is an enjoyable, in-your-face rocker that sounds oddly familiar) than others (“Little Miss Intent” is a horrible, clichéd mess). 

The ante gets upped a bit on “Now Ain’t the Time,” a stately ballad that adds keys, horns and strings to the mix (although the out-of-place female backing vocals could’ve been axed), while “Bad Boy” harkens back to the band’s British invasion roots with its irresistible melody. Of course, to highlight the band’s state of confusion, Can’t Wait ends with the dated, hammy and altogether silly “Blues For the Common Man.”

Still, for fans of Billy Squier or for those who like to unearth cool ’70s power-pop, this reissue is worth owning.

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