The first of Shoes' three Elektra albums, Present Tense is almost a happy accident in ways — not that the band hadn't already shown its particular approach beautifully with earlier efforts, but at a time when major labels were trying to figure out what punk and new wave could provide, Shoes just found a perfect balance. Recorded in England and co-produced by the band, Present Tense didn't end up sounding like a Cheap Trick clone, had a winsome, cool air thanks to the brilliant harmonies that distinguished the group from the Knack, and in the end traded off power and wistfulness in equal measure. The harmonies in particular are just lovely — as distinct and band-defining as those of the Beach Boys — on songs like "Too Late," "Three Times," and "Your Very Eyes." Gary Klebe and Jeff Murphy have enough crunch and sting in their guitars to add some downright swagger to things — check out the glammish kick of "Hangin' Around With You" and the combination soar and snarl of "Now and Then" — while keeping an eye on economy throughout. The fragile acoustic lead on "Every Girl" provides an especially striking dimension to the song. The punch of Skip Meyer's drums adds further heft, John Murphy's bass also can cut through the mix — the introduction to "In My Arms Again" and "I Don't Miss You" in particular showcases both nicely. Much of the sound of the album finds a sound that could easily be called timeless — it's inspired by the past but sets a template that so many groups would follow in the future. No one stands out as the obvious highlight, which could be said to show an interchangeable sameness among them, but just as easily means that each has its own particular point in an approach the quartet had down cold. -AMG
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