Why Bob Seger Took So Long to Return With ‘The Fire Inside’
Bob Seger returned on Aug. 27, 1991 with his 14th studio album, The Fire Inside.
The record's release capped another long hiatus for Seger, who'd spent four years preparing his previous effort — 1986's Like a Rock — and then went away for five while working on The Fire Inside. For the veteran rocker, who'd spent years slogging it out as a mid-level artist before finally breaking through with his ninth LP, the protracted delays between records were partly symptoms of his stubborn perfectionism, and partly the result of life simply getting in the way.
It certainly wasn't a case of dwindling demand for Seger's work. Although The Fire Inside arrived at the start of a season of change for the music industry, with an array of younger acts poised to inflict major sales upheaval on many of the previous decade's biggest rock artists, Seger remained a steady draw; his most recent release, the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack anthem "Shakedown," ended up becoming his first No. 1 single.
Yet as he settled into statesman status as one of rock's most dependably solid singer-songwriters, Seger's personal life faced a certain amount of tumult. In 1988, his mother entered the last stage of her life, and Seger spent over a year making constant trips to her hospital bedside. After she passed away, he spent a short period of time trying to make a go of living in Los Angeles; ultimately, he returned to his native Michigan, but the move reflected his unsettled emotional state during the period.
Seger's deliberate pace made it difficult to work with a consistent cast of supporting players and studio personnel. Although The Fire Inside was credited to the Silver Bullet Band and found him working alongside a number of longtime collaborators, the sessions also included a massive cast of session ringers that included famous names like Steve Lukather, Joe Walsh, and Patty Smyth as well as studio mainstays like ubiquitous guitarist Dann Huff and bassist "Hutch" Hutchinson.
The record's piecemeal approach made it more difficult to establish a cohesive sound — a problem Seger also faced behind the boards, where his attempt to enlist Don Was for the project hit a snag when he could only get Was in the studio for a couple of months. Was ultimately ended up taking a co-producer credit alongside Seger, longtime manager Punch Andrews, and Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section vet Barry Beckett — another indication of the way the record was assembled from parts.
Belabored as its birth may have been, none of that put much of a damper on The Fire Inside's reception. While the record wasn't greeted by the most effusively positive reviews of Seger's career, it proved another solid performer on the charts, where it peaked at No. 7 on its way to selling more than a million copies. The album also sent a trio of singles into heavy rotation at rock radio with "Take a Chance," the title track, and "The Real Love" — the latter of which also made a heavy dent at adult contemporary and the Top 40.
The Fire Inside served more or less as the end of an era for Seger, who'd return to hibernation for another four years before returning with his next album, It's a Mystery. Although that record didn't perform as well as its predecessors, he'd already gone multi-platinum again with 1994's Greatest Hits, which ultimately went down as the top-selling release of his career. He's continued to resurface in subsequent years, touring regularly and putting out pair of albums (2006's Face the Promise and 2014's Ride Out) that performed respectably, but after The Fire Inside, he moved into the realm of the "heritage" act — which, all in all, made a certain amount of sense for an artist who'd always sounded like an old soul.
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