THE DOOBIE BROTHERS “Cycles.” Capitol **: POP STARS ***** Great Balls of Fire **** Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Ain’t That a Shame
The big problem with this reunion album is the absence of singer/songwriter Michael McDonald, who was responsible for the Doobies’ best late-'70s material, including “Takin’ It to the Streets” and “What a Fool Believes.” Tom Johnston--the main singer-songwriter before the McDonald era--is the star of the new album.
Johnston’s contributions--mainly those distinctive, down-home, bluesy vocals--while admirable, are not enough to lift the album’s pedestrian, middle-of-the-road pop-rock. McDonald might have been able to juice up this collection of medium and up-tempo songs with some badly needed soul--and better material.
Before McDonald came in with his slick pop-soul approach, the Doobies were basically a first-rate bar band whose songs, paradoxically, featured pretty melodies and harmonies. This edition of the Doobies, made up of musicians who haven’t recorded together since 1972, vainly tries to recapture that old excellence and revitalize that old sound.
Most of “Cycles” sounds recycled, primarily due to tired old arrangements. Even the best songs--like “The Doctor” and “One Chain"--feel like retreads. That’s because echoes of the old Doobies’ tunes are littered throughout. For instance, “The Doctor” rips off riffs from “China Grove.” With a reunion album, you don’t expect innovation or stylistic overhauls, but you do expect some new ideas.