Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bad Company-Rough Diamonds; Swan Song, 1982

Disaster Amnesiac once knew an eminent S.F. Punk Rock artist that ribbed me, " like that YEAHHH (sung with faux Vedder tenor) music..." after hearing me defend Bad Company in aesthetic debate. All well and good, but, I challenge any listener to check out the band's simple, stripped down, and highly efficient rhythmic and melodic features and to not, at very least, tap their toes to it. The Kirke/Burrell bass and drums team, so efficiently paired down to essentials, the Ralphs/Rodgers gifts for injecting their simple melodic flavors into just about any contemporary musical form; these sparse building blocks always add up to pleasurable musical listening, at least for this reporter. Perhaps that's the rub for people who need some deeper message or intensity within the music which they choose: one is not going to find, at least on the surface of Bad Company's output, much more than simple tunes, performed and arranged with non-fussy, on any level, minimal confidence. As Paul Rodgers intones on Rough Diamonds'  Nuthin' on the TV, "...I'm just a Rock-n-Roller". Disaster Amnesiac realizes that Bad Company's deep entwining with those nemesis of "real Rock-n-Roll", Led Zeppelin, and the band's own Butt Rock status, disqualifies them from such concerns for many, but, I'm inclined to accept the man's contentions, along with his band's clear eyed vision of song writing.
Rough Diamonds, the last of Bad Company's LP's to feature the original band, and, quite possibly the Swan Song label's literal swan song, has long exerted a fascinating appeal to Disaster Amnesiac. The year of the LP's release, 1982, was dominated by New Wave music on the Pop front, and Hair Metal was getting its full Aquanet on within the Rock sphere. What room could there have possibly been for a non-showy bunch of blokes such as Bad Company? A wikipedia query reveals an interview with Mick Ralphs in which he describes the making of the album, under a cloud of breakin' up energy.
However that cloud may have effected the boys in the band, they don't really darken the tunes on Rough Diamonds all that much. Opening track Electricland, with its smooth, cool, and almost Prog-ish bass guitar feel and great chorus, does evince a certain darkness within the lyrical content, but, again, that chorus sends this listener into the very singular Bad Company bliss zone. This strong opening salvo is followed up with Untie the Knot, a well-boogied piece of Bad Company Rock/Disco fusion (remember Rock-n-Roll Fantasy!). Kirke brings the Rock with some well placed cowbell tapping, while Ralphs sprays a great, and for him, wild and extended solo here. I guess it's possible that the knot in question could be the one tying croonin' Rodgers to the rest of his Bad Company mates. He sure sounds good begging for release, though, and not particularly perturbed. That seems to be in keeping with the cool oeuvre of the band. It's always as if their heart's desires are on some far off star. Next up, the Southern Rock via the High Street boogie shuffle of Nuthin' on the TV. Disaster Amnesiac suspects this one to be somewhat of a toss off, but its good time horn arrangement and shouted encouragement from Rodgers make it a passably decent bit of tune-age. Given the spare nature of their conception, even Bad Company's toss offs work on some level. Things get more involved and interesting on Painted Face, with a nice, New Wave sounding synthesizer riff and yet another great, catchy chorus. Kirke and Burrell stomp it simple and straight here, while Ralphs provides some nice, filigree riffs behind the story of some trollop gettin' her showbiz on. Side one closes with Kickdown, a classic Rodgers tale of street fighting and survival, told with a smoldering, sultry Blues Rock sound and finished off with an Animals quote in the fading moments. Nice.


Have you ever noticed the oblique lewdness of Hipgnosis design on 1970's LPs? Rough Diamonds definitely features that vibe in spades (pun intended), along with a cool, and probably very costly, die cut cover that allows for multiple angles of a collection of photos that seem to be based in an idea of the Good Ole U.S. of A as some kinky playground. Oh, wait, this a Swan Song release! I guess one should just wonder why the damn package doesn't come with a complimentary coke spoon! Something tells me that Bad Company weren't snorting the night away with Ozzy or Nikki or Blackie in 1982, but, hey, you never know....

On to side two, now. Opening track Ballad of the Band pretty much sets the tone, with its road band boogaloo being kind of corny. Rodger's cynicism as regards the Big Ripoff is well earned, clearly, but, Disaster Amnesiac feels that Bon Scott nailed it a bit better with his merry band of mooks a few years earlier, and more decisively at that. Cross Country Boy sounds and feels cut from pretty much the same quilt, with a bit better of a drum beat from Kirke. Kind of a dopey diptych, I guess. This area of Rough Diamonds would be ample proof for artistic bankruptcy for Bad Company, but, thankfully, they bring back their winning formula with the Stones-ey slip and slide of Old Mexico, Ralphs getting all snakey with it as Burrell and Kirke lay down a mellowed backbeat that builds at just the right moments for Paul's "I was BUSTED" line. Thankfully, the Cartels let the man make it back to his safe British home, where he wrote Downhillryder without Ralphs, but that's OK, as it has a classic Bad Company descending turnaround that leads into yet another one of their catchy choruses and a great snare fill from Simon. Rodgers even shows his prowess as a guitar soloist here. The guy's seriously talented. Seriously. Bad Company's amazing initial run ends with the upbeat Racetrack, which has a lot of the same feel as its predecessor song, almost as if the band was saying, "here y'll go, this is what Bad Company was all about", and it's beautiful, full of slide guitar from Ralphs and simple stompin' in the rhythm section, while Rodgers explicates the Good Life from Road and Backstage and Studio. Disaster Amnesiac never gets that excessive feel from it, though. Sounds to me like Bad Company just being Bad Company, doing their thing with all of the smooth coolness that they always used, just this time wavin' goodbye as the Era of Bad Hair and Reagan Bashing was getting up into its full swing.
After Rough Diamonds it would be many a long year until the Real Bad Company got together to jam. Judging from the slight lack of inspiration on a quarter of its tunes, the time was right for a breather, but Disaster Amnesiac figures that the other three quarters make for some fine listening, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Just don't ask me to provide some kind of narrative for those inner sleeve photos.


Pig State Recon said...

Brilliant and fun review of a rec nobody buys for a dollar, let alone actually listens to. You've really gotten good at this blogging thing. I now patiently await your reassessment of the THE FIRM's eponymous debut.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

Ha! OK, lemme run down to Goodwill! I could probably cop that one for $.99!

davecom said...

It's a great A side album. The B side is not so remarkable, but the A side is a great piece, delicate and energetic at the same time.

BTW The Firm albums are even better, considering them as 80's rock masterpieces, both of them.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

Thanks for the tip, Dave!I will seek out that Firm LP. I remember the Radioactive video quite well. Cheers!

davecom said...

Thanks for the post :)