Blackfoot were in a tough situation in 1984. Despite the quality hard rock they had been making, the commercial success was just not there. Desperation and pressure from their label (Atco Records) were likely responsible for Vertical Smiles — an album that sounded nothing like the Blackfoot of old. Their southern rock mojo went out the window, and it was replaced with overly-simplified pop rock. Poor Blackfoot. They basically had to undergo a complete musical lobotomy to make themselves stupider. The drumming and guitar playing on this album are far below Blackfoot standards. It’s sad they had to dumb everything down to try and survive. This album was a “Hail Mary” pass that landed incomplete. Vertical Smiles was a critical and commercial bomb that lead to the break-up of (the original) Blackfoot.
Is Vertical Smiles as bad as they say? Well, if you’re expecting a Blackfoot album — the answer is probably “yes”. But let’s pretend the name on the album cover isn’t Blackfoot. Let’s pretend the album was a one-off by some other band and try to wrap our heads around Vertical Smiles from an objective angle. While overall Vertical Smiles is rather dull and stiff, there are a couple of positives to take home. First of all, the vocals of Rickey Medlocke are good — as usual. That aspect remains. Second, there are some good, summertime melodies to be found (re: A Legend Never Dies). It’s too bad the melodies are obscured by grooveless drums and a wall of keyboard lameness. All in all, I would call Vertical Smiles passable, but not optimal. My score: B-