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The Knack Joins Rock's Lazarus Brigade

POP EYE

July 29, 1990|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Is this what the Righteous Brothers meant by rock and roll heaven? All of a sudden bands we thought were long gone are coming back to life.

The Zombies are coming back from the crypt, putting together a new album in England called "The Return of the Zombies." Seals & Crofts are back in the studio, writing songs again. The Eagles, as noted here earlier, are plotting a 1991 reunion tour. The Allman Brothers have gotten back together and put out a new album. Even Asia (England's answer to Toto) has re-formed, with a new single out called "Days Like These" and a Geffen album due to follow.

And guess who else is reuniting? Would you believe . . . the Knack? That's right--the original princes of skinny-tied power-pop have signed a deal with Virgin Records' hip sister label, Charisma Records, and are making a new album with hot producer Don Was.

What makes the Knack reunion so fascinating is that it presents Charisma with a knotty dilemma. Is it possible to revive the career of a band who rocketed to the top of the charts with the 1979 hit "My Sharona," but went down in flames almost as quickly, blasted by rock critics as arrogant one-album wonders?

The Knack had such an image problem that when its reps first played the band's tape for Charisma A&R vice president Jeff Fenster, they wouldn't even reveal the group's identity.

"It's true--I didn't know who they were the first time I heard the tape," Fenster said. "In fact, Danny Goodwin (another Charisma A&R exec) and I played the tape for (Charisma chief) Phil Quartararo and (Virgin chiefs) Jeff Ayeroff and Jordan Harris without telling them who the group was either.

"Of course, being smart guys, they knew we must've had a good reason why we didn't tell them. One of them--and I won't tell you who--actually guessed that it was the Knack."

Fenster acknowledges that bringing the Knack back to life is a marketing challenge. "They obviously came to represent things--like the whole skinny-tie thing--that heaped a lot of baggage on them that they really didn't deserve. We know they'll receive a lot of scrutiny, but we're convinced their music is so good that they'll hold up under it."

Fenster insists the band has one key pop institution in its corner--rock radio. "We've talked to a lot of radio people and they still love the Knack. In fact, both AOR and classic-rock stations still play Knack songs all the time."

The band, which consists of original members Doug Fieger, Berton Averre and Prescott Niles (with Billy Ward replacing drummer Bruce Gary), isn't worried about the rock-crit reaction this time around. "I really don't have any trepidations," said Feiger. "That was a long time ago. We're a music group trying to entertain an audience and I just hope people will judge on the merits of the music."

Not everyone is so optimistic about the Knack's future--or the other pop comebacks. "Most of these people are desperate," said Cliff Burnstein, who manages Metallica and Def Leppard. "You have to believe all this is just motivated by money. I mean, what can Don Henley say with the Eagles that he couldn't say by himself?"

Concert promoter Brian Murphy also gives long odds for these comebacks. "A reunion has to be an event for it to really work," said Murphy, who runs Avalon Attractions. "If the Eagles do a tour, that would be an event. But the Knack? They were the Bobby Shermans of their age--they had one hit and they were gone. Without any kind of strong audience loyalty, it's definitely going to be an uphill climb."

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