BAD COMPANY: DESOLATION ANGELS (1979)
1) Rock'n'Roll Fantasy; 2) Crazy Circles; 3) Gone, Gone, Gone; 4) Evil Wind; 5) Early In The Morning; 6) Lonely For Your Love; 7) Oh, Atlanta; 8) Take The Time; 9) Rhythm Machine; 10) She Brings Me Love.
Surprise! Just as you started to think it could never ever get better, the Bad Company boys make one last concentrated effort. Perhaps even the band members themselves were so horrified with the apathy and facelessness of Burnin' Sky — Desolation Angels at least sounds as if somebody gave them a much-needed cold shower.
I know the idea of Bad Company doing disco sounds horrendous on paper, and that their decision to hop on the train during disco's last profitable year reveals agonizing desperation, but ʽRhythm Machineʼ is not utterly trashable as far as trashable disco goes: its chunka-chunka bassline does not take the attention away from triple guitar parts, with Ralphs alternating catchy slide lines and razor-sharp electric leads over a rhythmic jangle. If you can get past such amazing showcases of lyrical genius as "I'm a rhythm machine, you know what I mean" (not exactly atypical for disco hits), the thing almost counts as a breath of fresh air in the context of the ultra-stale BC formula.
The band did not dare to release the song as a single, though, probably afraid of losing the truck driver segment of their audience without picking up the «Tony Manero» group. They went with ʽRock'n'Roll Fantasyʼ instead, which became their last certified big hit — and also represented a weak effort to catch up with the times: Ralphs is playing electronically treated, «cold-hearted» guitars, giving the whole thing a little bit of a «Cars» attitude. Why they decided to further «embellish» the song with silly-sounding electronic percussion bursts that punctuate the breaks is not clear. Or, rather, it is quite clear, but I am not sure it works in any way other than utterly comic. But remember, one reason why Burnin' Sky sucked so much was its total lack of humor, intentional or not. Even a good laugh at the band's antics automatically makes Desolation Angels an improvement, if not exactly a proper «comeback».
There is also a feel of increased diversity, something the band never displayed as a cherished value before. Besides disco and «electronized» pseudo-New Wave rock'n'roll (the second single, ʽGone Gone Goneʼ, also belongs to the same category), there is also a touch of basic country-rock — the unexpectedly catchy ʽOh, Atlantaʼ, which I really like in all possible ways: upbeat, bouncy, lyrically simple, but non-moronic, cool singalong vocals: «poor man's Allman Brothers», which really sounds like a great compliment for the band.
And, of course, a couple traditional varieties of the band's hard rock spirit: another spin-off from the pub boogie of ʽCan't Get Enoughʼ (ʽLonely For Your Loveʼ, perfect for stomping your beer mug on the table) and another metal-tinged blues-rock growler (ʽEvil Windʼ, also «spoiled» a bit with the band's strange new passion for electronic percussion). The soft, folksy numbers are nothing to write home about, but ʽEarly In The Morningʼ could almost be worthy of a contemporary Eric Clapton solo record — not that this should be a reason for rejoicing.
In any case, the album puts the band at an interesting crossroads: the incorporation of synthesizers, disco rhythms, and a puff of New Wave spirit does not disrupt the continuity — this is still very much a bona fide Bad Company record — and points a possible way at a marginally respectable future. Why they preferred not to pursue it any further is beyond my comprehension. Maybe Paul Rodgers got cornered by one of the truck drivers. Maybe they experienced a nervous breakdown seeing the «disco sucks» campaign unfurl at the very moment that they came forward with their first experiment in the genre. May be a million other reasons — the fact is, this is the only point in the «listenable» part of their timeline that they had a good chance to modernize their sound and remain relevant for the next decade. Then again, does it really surprise anyone that they ended up blowing it?
Check "Desolation Angels" (MP3) on Amazon