It's the 80's--Let's see what these keyboards sound like
It was a familiar story, back in that wackiest of musical decades, the 1980's: Guitar band goes hog wild with the keyboards! Sometimes, wealth and fame ensued; usually it didn't. With Shoes, it didn't really matter, because they were never hugely popular, and this release was originally available only as an import anyway. Shoes have made better albums than this one, yet somehow I find myself coming back to "Silhouette" time and time again. I like hearing the band operating just outside of its comfort zone, even if the results are mixed.
Each songwriter contributes at least one great song. The best, without a doubt, is John Murphy's "Turnaround." Nostalgic and lyrical, there is nothing else like it in Shoes' entire catalogue, and this album is worth owning for this song alone. While "Turnaround" is characterized by chiming guitars, John's other offerings are thick with keyboards, and not nearly as good. "Twist and Bend It" is a jagged piece that lives up to its title in the sense that it seems about to break apart, and it sort of does at the end. "When Push Comes to Shove" and "Bound to Fade" are bouncy little numbers--not worldbeaters, by any means, but enjoyable.
Gary Klebe's best song is the opener, "Get My Message"--the perfect example of Gary's taut, rhythmic songwriting style. I defy anyone to listen to this song without tapping their fingers or toes. Klebe fares the best of any of the three songwriters on this album, as his songs are all guitar-oriented and get right to the point. It is a sign of his strength here that he not only provides the album-opener, he provides the closer as well (on the original 12-song vinyl version). "Suspicion" chugs along with a slow, menacing guitar riff and a keyboard undertow--the perfect way to end this off-kilter album.
Jeff Murphy's songs are the most difficult ones here, but he has one great moment, "Oh Angeline," a reggae-ish number which is maybe the only example of the keyboard-oriented approach working perfectly. Also, the lyrics are more heartfelt than was usual for Shoes at this time; maybe he was inspired by John's "Turnaround." "Will You Spin for Me" may be the closest Shoes ever came to recording a dance song, and it succeeds thanks to a clever arrangement of keyboards, guitars, and drum machine (this is the first Shoes album in which Skip Meyer is not given band member status). Jeff's other two songs are both built around frantic rhythms and very fast singing. Honestly, I still don't quite know what to make of them.
The CD reissue of "Silhouette" improves considerably on the original vinyl, with 3 additional songs that are well-matched with what came before. The highlight is John's "Pieces of Glass," which was good enough to find a place on the "Shoes Best" compilation. The CD also features lyric sheets, song-by-song credits, and an additional photo of the band. If you've read this far, you probably own most of Shoes' albums anyway, so go ahead and give this one a try. I can't guarantee that you'll like it, but if you are a fan, you will probably end up considering it essential.