Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bad Company (1974)

How about that - a supergroup that worked.  The British band Bad Company was originally formed by vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke of the blues-based band Free, guitarist Mick Ralphs of the glam band Mott the Hoople, and bassist Boz Burrell of the art-rock group King Crimson.   An all-star band of such musically disparate personalities would expect to be dismissed as just another imperfect mishmash a mere five years after the prototypical supergroup Blind Faith foundered.  And then Bad Company responded with an album that lived up to their individual reputations and justified their collaborative effort.
Managed by Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant and signed to Zep's Swan Song label, Bad Company invited some obvious comparisons to Zep with their streamlined, heavy sound.  But they were, in fact, a much different band, as their 1974 self-titled debut album indicates.  The rockers, such as "Rock Steady" and "Movin' On," are considerably tighter than many of Led Zeppelin's heavier tunes, and they benefit from Ralphs' crunchy riffs and restrained solos.  Burrell and Kirke have such perfect chemistry together that they're as solid as any esteemed rhythm section.  It is Rodgers, though, who defines the band's sound with his expansive range and his expressive delivery.  On Bad Company's superb  hard-rock opener, "Can't Get Enough," Rodgers sings with great self-assurance as he declares his credo ("I take whatever I want"), defines his objective ("And baby, I want you"), and explains his method for achieving it ("You give me something I need, now tell me I got something for you") - with no equivocation or excess. A song of machismo romance, "Can't Get Enough" suggests an attitude similar to that of Barry White in his similarly titled 1974 hit "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe," but while White expressed his desires through a velvety soul sound, Rodgers expressed his with the raw passion of the blues.  (Does anyone else think that Rodgers was recalling Ray Charles with his "What I say, now!" ad-lib?)      
It's that reverence for the blues that made Rodgers one of the greatest vocalists in British rock.  He knows how to approach a lyric and make it ring true, with either great subtlety or direct force.  On Bad Company's debut, he balances his machismo with some impassioned balladeering, as on "Don't Let Me Down" (not the Beatles song of the same name), with some complementary soulful guitar from Ralphs,  and on the poetic ballad "Seagull," on which he (Rodgers) also plays all the instruments.  Far beyond the colossal posturing of his days with Free, Rodgers takes a seriousness to his singing that elevates Bad Company songs above standard seventies-AOR fare; "Ready For Love" deftly navigates the line between rock and R&B, with Rodgers receiving steady, subtle backing from his bandmates.       
The title track - and it takes a lot of damn gall for a band to reference itself so blatantly on a self-titled debut LP - is the most astonishing example of how this band worked.  An evocative tale of the American West, it simmers with Kirke's cymbal work, Burrell's steady bass lines, Ralphs' gut-busting guitar and Rodgers' own smoky piano as he sets the stage of outlaw riders on the run.  You can almost hear the wind howl across the plains. That a British band could bring such Americana to life so convincingly was surprising enough; that a group of  British rock royalty could pull it off with so much honesty and no guile or pretension was a revelation.  It's been said that supergroups never are; here, at last, was a supergroup that lived up to the superlatives . . . and then some. 

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