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.