As covered in a previous review, future songsmith to the stars Desmond Child began his career as a performer, collaborating with a trio of female singers known as Rouge.  They cut an album in 1978 that spawned a disco crossover hit with “Our Love Is Insane,” did a club tour that attracted critical attention and even performed on Saturday Night Live.  Unfortunately, success didn’t follow the interest they stirred up.  They returned to the studios with the pressure of making another album as intra-group tensions simmered and Child wrestled with demons of a personal variety…

The one good thing to come out of this turmoil was the second Desmond Child & Rouge album, Runners In The Night.  It’s got the pop hooks, powerful vocals and arena-ready guitar riffs a rock fan would expect from an AOR effort of this era but it delivers much more.  The songs have an unusually intense edge because of what Child was going through at the time: he had come to the realization that he was gay yet was afraid to go public with it, partially due to the fact that he was in a relationship with fellow group member Maria Vidal.

As he result, he pours his heart out in the songs.  Titles like “The Truth Comes Out” and “Imitation Of Love” hint at where Child was at emotionally and psychologically during this time.  He marries the soul-searching tone of these lyrics to accessible, hook-filled melodies that act as the pretty roses hiding the thorns of his dark narratives.  Even the less personalized tunes here play for keeps.  Case in point: the devastating album closer “Rosa” utilizes a delicate melody topped off with a lullaby-like chorus to offset harrowing lyrics about a doomed, abusive marriage.

The heightened sense of drama flowing through these tunes fits the group’s intense vocal style perfectly.  The ladies of the group lay into their solo spots with appropriate power – “My Heart’s On Fire” is a hard-rocking highlight – but it’s Child who dominates the proceedings with his anguished, deeply felt vocals on confessional, piano-driven power-ballads like the title track and “Scared To Live.”  That said, the women consistently make their presence felt in a Greek-chorus style: note the excellent Ronettes-style vocal harmony frills that adorn the tag of “Imitation Of Love.”

Runners In The Night also has a tougher instrumental approach than its predecessor.  The orchestration and soft-rock affectations of the first album are gone, replaced by a rocked-up sound that places an emphasis on heavy guitars and tub-thumping drumwork.  G.E. Smith, of Hall & Oates and Saturday Night Live band fame, handles the lead guitar slot with aplomb, peeling off staccato stun-riffs one after the other to flesh out the piano-plus-vocal-harmonies core of the group’s sound.  The combination of power and melody offered by this blend really captures the ear.

Simply put, there’s a storm brewing in the grooves of Runners In The Night, a combination of overheated emotions and quasi-operatic musicality that threatens to explode at any moment.  Anyone interested should check out Rock Candy’s fantastic reissue CD, which offers a sonic punch that lives up to the album’s AOR-gets-tough sound and fantastic liner notes that tell the group’s tormented tale in high style.