Can Wal-Mart work its magic for yet another ’70s rock act? The retail giant’s exclusive September 29 release of Foreigner’s Can’t Slow Down will be its first major exclusive since AC/DC’s Black Ice in October.
The album (Foreigner’s first since 1995’s Mr. Moonlight) has much in common with Journey’s 2008 Wal-Mart-only release, Revelation. Like its predecessor, Can’t Slow Down will be a three-disc set that features a CD of new material, a concert DVD and a best-of collection. But whereas Revelation included a CD of rerecorded Journey favorites, Foreigner remixed the band’s original master recordings to make its hits sound more contemporary.
Perhaps most noticeable to longtime fans of both bands, each release features a replacement lead singer — in Foreigner’s case, Kelly Hansen, who takes the place of original frontman Lou Gramm. Despite the absence of original Journey lead singer Steve Perry, Revelation sold 633,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In its debut week that ended June 8, 2008, it sold nearly 105,000 copies, good enough to reach No. 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Black Ice sold 2.1 million U.S. copies, including 784,000 in its debut week that ended October 26, 2008.
It won’t be easy for Can’t Slow Down to match the success of Revelation or Black Ice. During the past year, overall U.S. recorded-music sales have continued to tumble, with CD sales plunging 21.2 percent in the first half of 2009 from a year earlier.
And despite being a regular chart fixture in the ’70s and ’80s, Foreigner doesn’t have a synch-licensing hit like Journey’s 1981 single “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which has helped keep the band in the public eye through its use in hit movies and TV shows, most memorably the June 2007 series finale of HBO’s The Sopranos.
But Foreigner boasts its own potential source of hip cachet: founding guitarist Mick Jones’ stepson, Mark Ronson. Ronson, who has collaborated with Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Kanye West and is a BRIT Award-winning performer in his own right, co-produced the new songs on Can’t Slow Down with Marti Frederiksen. Foreigner also has a catalog of hits that instantly register with fans, even if they don’t remember who performed them.
“When Foreigner played at the company’s annual shareholders meeting, the band’s [appeal] was reinforced by how much our associates loved it,” said Wal-Mart senior music buyer Tom Welch.
“People know all of Foreigner’s songs,” the group’s manager, Phil Carson, said. “But the band has so many hits — nine top 10 hits and 16 top 30 — they aren’t aware that they are all by the same group … With the album at Wal-Mart’s entrance, we can get people to associate the band with their songs.”