You might not know him by name but you’ve most like­ly heard the work of song­writer Desmond Child.  Starting with Kiss’s “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” in 1979, Child has lent his song­writ­ing mag­ic dust to hits by Bön Jovi (“Livin’ On A Prayer”), Joan Jett (“I Hate Myself For Loving You”), Ricky Martin (“Livin’ La Vida Loca”) and count­less oth­ers.  You might not always like what he’s dished out but he’s had enough suc­cess to become part of the American pop­u­lar-cul­ture sound­track.

And like many future plat­inum song­smiths, Child’s hit-writ­ing career was pre­ced­ed by an unher­ald­ed career as a per­former.  His vehi­cle was Desmond Child & Rouge, a quar­tet (Child plus three leather-lunged femmes) that record­ed two albums at the end of the 1970’s before drift­ing apart.  A lis­ten to either will reveal why they didn’t take off com­mer­i­cal­ly — basi­cal­ly, they were too eclec­tic for pop-chart suc­cess — but both albums are fas­ci­nat­ing lis­ten­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly for those who enjoy the more adven­tur­ous extremes of AOR music.

The sound of Desmond Child & Rouge is as dif­fi­cult to describe as it is to cat­e­go­rize but here is an attempt:  the group takes old-fash­ioned, hook-con­scious pop song­writ­ing and applies it to a sound that blends hard rock, Latin rhythms, hints of dis­co and a larg­er-than-life sense of Broadway the­atri­cal­i­ty.  This musi­cal gum­bo is topped off with intri­cate four-part vocal har­monies mar­ried to lusty, grit­ty lyrics that explore urban life in a melo­dra­mat­ic style that recalls Bruce Springsteen cir­ca Born To Run.

The album divides its time nice­ly between uptem­po fare and bal­lads but every­thing has a twisty-turny arrange­ment: del­i­cate piano-led vers­es erupt into bursts of trib­al drums when the cho­rus arrives, heavy rhythm gui­tars creep into bal­lads, con­gas duel with con­ven­tion­al rock drum­ming, etc.  “Westside Pow Wow” and “City In Heat” sound like vignettes from an Andrew Lloyd Webber redux of West Side Story and Kiss fans will want to take note of “The Fight,” a hyper-dra­mat­ic box­ing opus co-penned by Paul Stanley (it sounds like a Rocky the­me as envi­sioned by Jim Steinman).

The high­light in the bal­lad area is “Lazy Love,” an ode to bed­room fire­works that sub­verts its soft-rock bal­lad style via the con­vinc­ing­ly over­sexed mood cre­at­ed by its lyrics and the las­civ­i­ous vocals of Maria Vidal.  Straddling the uptem­po and bal­lad camps is the album’s minor hit, “Our Love Is Insane.”  This moody tune out­li­nes a tale of all-con­sum­ing pas­sion that is lit up by a pul­sat­ing dis­co groove and a plush string arrange­ment that nice­ly off­sets the fever­ish vocal har­monies.  Like the rest of the album, it over­flows with a pas­sion that is played to the hilt.

The one down­side of this debut is Richard Landis’s overt­ly slick pro­duc­tion, which tends to pull the punch­es thrown by the vocals and arrange­ments (the group lat­er said that Landis remixed it with­out their con­sent).  That said, the eclec­tic and impas­sioned sounds shine through his Linda Ronstadt-style “lite” sound­scape and the results are nev­er dull.

More impor­tant­ly, Desmond Child & Rouge offers an intro­duc­to­ry glimpse of Child’s abil­i­ties and pet song­writ­ing obses­sions.  It’s easy to see the roots of future suc­cess here and this bit of musi­cal anthopol­o­gy offers some hot-blood­ed fun in the bar­gain.