'Do What You Want, Be What You Are: the Music of Daryl Hall & John Oates'

​Although their status as a guilty pleasure has waned some over the years, Hall & Oates still lug around a rep as artistic lightweights. That's unfair. While not lyrically profound, the Philly duo has forged a durable, often brilliant, career that has thankfully been packaged in the four-CD box set Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall & John Oates.

Built on a bedrock of blue-eyed soul, post-Beatles pop and, early on, laced with a singer/songwriter aesthetic, Hall & Oates showed a flair for artistic reinvention and resurrection. After flourishing from 1973-'76 ("She's Gone," "Sara Smile," "Rich Girl"), they were left for dead at the end of the decade, then rebounded in the '80s and experienced their commercial apex. Yet this period, spanning 1980's Voices to 1984's Big Bam Boom, exposed an artistic weakness: their tendency (willingness?) to succumb to trendiness, which all these years later lends the music a dated feel.

For instance, many of the monster hits of this period--"Private Eyes," "Adult Education," "Say It Isn't So," "Method of Modern Love," to name a few--featured the prominent thwack of the Linn Drum machine. No other sound says "'80s" more than that, and I'd submit that each of these songs would be better off with a more organic drum track. (They weren't shy about ladling on the synthesizers either.)

That said, I have great affection for all of these tunes. Yes, I'm a fan.

Although they've made a handful of albums that could arguably be called classic--1973's Abandoned Luncheonette and 1980's Voices are their best--Hall & Oates were effectively a singles act. This made cherry-picking through their archives and mining the gems a fruitful endeavor. All the hits and near-hits are here, too many to list.

Inasmuch as a four-CD boxed set will most appeal to hardcore fans, I'll point out a few disappointments. First, it contains very little in terms of satisfying rarities; almost all of the previously unreleased tunes are concert recordings. (My biggest peeve: The rapturous lead track from Luncheonette, "When the Morning Comes," is relegated to a rushed, 1975 live version.) Elsewhere, an outtake from the Private Eyes (1981) sessions, "Don't Go Out," is a leaden, quasi-psychedelic mess.

And seeing as this is a career retrospective, all of Disc 4 is dedicated to Hall & Oates 1990-and-on phase, another time of precipitous commercial and artistic decline--from which they have not rebounded.

Although it succeeds more in the realm of nostalgia than timelessness, Do What You Want, Be What You Are is a sterling example of quality music that results when hit making and artistry are one and the same.


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