For my money, '79 is the greatest year in rock: punk, power-pop, and production ascended at a perfect pitch; all the established powerhouses still dropped delectable discs and everyone looked cool behind premium packaging. Even the faceless AOR aces, like Foreigner and Journey, dressed to kill. REO Speedwagon gets slagged regularly, but they always deliver in concert and the freewheelin' Nine Lives, their (natch) ninth, sports one cool sleeve: tight leather, suspenders, fishnets and cat chicks. The black circle inside rocks mightily also. Bass-man Bruce Hall steps up to the plate with "Back on the Road Again," a stadium stage staple that kept these Illinois boys makin' noise on the radio. The Caribbean vibe in the hard luck "Easy Money" can't touch the Scorpions' '79 foray into reggae ("Is There Anybody There?"), but old reliable axe-man Gary Richrath keeps the number burning. The obligatory ballad "I Need You Tonight" is one of REO's best cuts ever with priceless piano from Neal Doughty, the most unsung keyboardist alive. The whole quintet cooks on stony nugget "Meet Me on the Mountain," the Led orgasm "Heavy on Your Love," barroom showoff "Drop It" and unheard single "Only the Strong Survive." REO's next record sparked a phenomenon, and the band never kicked out a set as rocking and carefree as Nine Lives again.
-STONE, Cheap Trash NYC