There are a few pop performers -- your Sheryl Crows, your Elton Johns -- with the talent and savvy to stay relevant for decades. There are others -- your Lou Begas, your Afromen -- who have no talent but great timing and hold our attention for a single moment. Then there's a fuzzy area populated by folks like Kenny Loggins. In his prime, Loggins had a solid run of hits, but his prime was during the musical trough known as the early '80s. Loggins and his sexless falsetto had to contend with Michael Jackson and Prince. Rather than compete, he put his generic pleasantness to work for the hyper-earnest soundtrack industry and landed his only No. 1 single -- the theme to ''Footloose.''
What are we to make of this middling hitmaker? Was he stigmatized by the tackiness of his era or just criminally lucky? If nothing else, the arrival of a new album from Loggins proves that he's a committed pro. But It's About Time proves a bit more than that. It turns out Loggins is a pretty agile songwriter, even if he's a long shot to have another hit.
The germane cultural fact about Kenny Loggins is that he's found the right vessel for his sincerity: New Age mysticism. His 1997 book, ''The Unimaginable Life,'' reveals that he met his wife while she was administering a colonic (to him) and describes their nudist wedding party. Inevitably, the lyrics on ''It's About Time'' tend toward the sharing of feelings, the watching of sunsets, and the making of love. The title track has a polyrhythmic sheen and heavily affected backup singers chanting ''Hope! Faith! Life! Love!'' It, and a good third of the album, have the nausea-inducing feel of a whole-cast number from ''The Lion King.''
But pick your way through the schlock and there are real live contemporary hits to be found. ''Alive 'N' Kickin''' is about being ignored as a singer but rocking on anyway. ''Two thousand overnights later and I'm still not on the radio,'' he yelps, and his voice is crisp and tense over the jaunty country-pop hook. ''With This Ring'' is an R&B slow jam, and a surprisingly credible one. The lyrics aren't much, but Loggins uses the entirety of his range and a solid melody line to do a pretty good loverman turn.
These songs deserve airplay, and they'd get it if they were sung by Toby Keith and Brian McKnight. But because they're Kenny's, they'll probably just fade away. Pop music isn't just about hooks -- it's about image, and except for Wyoming, Kenny Loggins is the biggest square in America. I know that's not very nice, and that pop music isn't just a beauty pageant, it's an art form, but it's an art form we use to define ourselves for other people -- other people we want to sleep with. And the baggage Kenny Loggins brings with him is not particularly erotic.