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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bad Company: Run With The Pack


BAD COMPANY: RUN WITH THE PACK (1976)

1) Live For The Music; 2) Simple Man; 3) Honey Child; 4) Love Me Somebody; 5) Run With The Pack; 6) Silver, Blue & Gold; 7) Young Blood; 8) Do Right By Your Woman; 9) Sweet Lil' Sister; 10) Fade Away.

Bad Company established the general style. Straight Shooter provided the vector — milk the formula until the udder runs dry. Run With The Pack gave a clear overview of how much milk there was in the first place: barely enough to fill two albums, certainly not enough to fill three, unless one is ready to mix milk with other, less appetizing, bodily substances.

The most telling thing about the whole project is that they couldn't even settle on an original com­position for a lead single: the final choice fell on a cover of Leiber/Stoller's ʽYoung Bloodʼ, a twenty-year old Coasters chestnut already interpreted by plenty of people. For a questionable, but audacious «theatrical» interpretation, check out Leon Russell's performance on George Harrison's Concert For Bangla Desh. The song is essentially a lyrical joke that does not work at all if there is no «rock theater bit» included (deep bass on "you better leave my daughter alone...", etc.) — how was it at all possible for these guys not to understand that? Rodgers just sings the song, Ralphs just plays the guitar melody — no interesting twirls, not even a goshdarn solo.

Of course, once you have listened to all the other songs, the faceless cover of ʽYoung Bloodʼ might no longer seem all that faceless. The band is at a genuine loss for vocal or instrumental hooks. The songs are so amazingly generic, repetitive, monotonous, simplistic, that it is hard to believe this was not the band's intention — if you ask me, I'd suggest that Run With The Pack was planned as a «super-simple» record, with all of its songs written, rehearsed, and recorded du­ring one 24-hour session, just because I do not want to think that badly of the people responsible for it: they are all experienced and respectable musicians, after all.

One thing that would agree very well with this hypothesis is that the lyrics on most of the songs aren't even laughable, because there ain't much to laugh at. ʽSimple Manʼ (what a surprising title!) repeats almost the exact same verse/chorus sequence three times in a row, and that verse? "I am just a simple man, working on the land / Oh, it ain't easy / I am just a simple man, working with my hands / Oh, believe me". Is this supposed to imitate the aura of a salt-of-the-earth folk song? When was the last time these guys actually consulted any real lyrics of well-known folk songs? ʽHoney Childʼ: "Well the first time that I met you, you were only seventeen / But I had to put you down, 'cause I didn't know where you'd been". Nice start, Mr. Rodgers. ʽLove Me Somebodyʼ: "Love me somebody, somebody love me / Take me for what I'm worth / But only love me, but only love me". What is this, 1962? The age of Merseybeat? If so, how come this is sung within the framework of a James Taylor-type ballad?

Top prize goes to: "Give me silver, blue and gold / The colour of the sky I'm told". I could some­how get used to «silver, blue and gold» as the colour of the sky (as highly debatable as that is), but there is something about this I'm told, clearly just stuffed in at the last moment to make it rhyme, that irritates me to no end. Yes, it is true that even after the Bob Dylan revolution lyrics are not necessarily supposed to be paid attention to within a rock song. But if the main strength of your band stems from the soulful vocals of your frontman, it is your patriotic duty to fill up these vocals with something at least a little bit above primitive, clumsily stated trivialities. Why even watch Spinal Tap, when you have the real thing going on here?

Now if you really, really, really like the two first Bad Company albums, you might still want to check out the third one. ʽLive For The Musicʼ is at least a real groove-based hard rocker, with a properly enflamed solo and an oddly proto-disco-shaped bassline. ʽHoney Childʼ, were it taken tongue-in-cheek rather than seriously, could have fit in on one of the early ZZ Top records, with its creaky Billy Gibbons-type guitar tone. The chorus of ʽSilver...ʼ, despite the atrocious lyrics, is the album's only moment of attractive guitar pop charm, and there is some simple, but melodic slide guitar and mandolin (I think?) work to make it stand out from the rest. And Rodgers' vocal parts on the formulaically «dark» ʽFade Awayʼ still have that fatalist ring. Just forget everything your mama — or your teacher — ever taught you about the English language, and you'll be fine.

That said, for each single «nice» moment there will be at least two crimes against taste. Do you, do you, do you, do you wanna waltz and waltz and waltz to the endless mantra of "do right by your woman, she'll do right by you"? Do you want to learn how many different shades of emotion can be concealed within the syntactically uncomfortable construction "but only love me" if it is repeated six times in a row? Do you want to sit through three and a half minutes of the limp-rock blandness of the title track just to hear the band's latest and greatest innovation: a heavy strings-enhanced arrangement for the coda? I know I don't, and, in accordance with the principle of «do right by your readers, they'll do right by you», Run With The Pack receives a certified thumbs down from the bottom of my heart, provided the heart can have thumbs at all. Granted, there is at least some ground for redemption here. The next several years would flood it altogether.  

Check "Run With The Pack" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Run With The Pack" (MP3) on Amazon

8 comments:

  1. That's the problem when you set your sights so basic and bare bones from the very beginning...there's nowhere to go but to "sell out" by becoming more complex. Either that, or you just keep milking the same formula year after year until you run it into the ground. This is where groups like Kiss or AC/DC prevail, because their inherit gimmicky-ness keeps the fan base thrilled. Minus clown paint and jokes about VD, Bad Co. has nothing but the "soulful" vibe of Rodgers to fall back on, and thus the well runs dry and the wheels come off. But the formula still has enough substance to provide for flashes of brilliance here and there, thus making Bad Co. the perfect candidate for a well ordered compilation.

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    1. Well, neither KISS nor AC/DC ran out of gas after just two albums, for starters. Indeed, AC/DC peaked on their seventh release, and it's not like they sucked balls before that.

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    2. Kiss and AC/DC were "gimmick" acts. Kiss had the makeup, AC/DC had smut and schoolboy antics. They were lucky enough to hit upon gimmicks that the audience had a long lasting fascination with. Also, AC/DC benefited from the death of Bon Scott, and had the public's good will on their "rebound" effort. Bad Co., on the other hand, were a rock band, and nothing more. So, when they made the decision to play it close to the bone and not an inch out of their comfort zone, they suffered for it in the long run.

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  2. George, did you know Spinal Tap defictionalised themselves and released some actual albums?

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    1. Well, I don't know if "Defictionalised" is the right word there. They were still clearly playing the characters from the movie. And they only put out one "normal" album "Break Like The Wind" (though even it still has some comedy elements). Their third record is just pointless re-recordings to support a tour.

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  3. I just noticed the album cover and propose an alternate title: Suckle With The Pack. We'll call it "SucPac" for short.

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  4. Bad Company intended to compose super-simple music from the very beginning. The boys said that once in an interview I can't bother to refind. Already on the two first albums the band tended to cross the thin line between simple and dragging; on this album they hardly manage to stay on the good side anymore.
    For instance Love me Somebody is a simpler, more generic and thus inferior rewrite of The Way I Choose.
    Live for the Music is decent indeed.
    But my, does this album make me long for some aggressive speedy stuff - say Communication Breakdown, Highway Star, Breadfan or Easy Living.
    I disagree on only one point - this album doesn't show bad taste (except in the lyrics perhaps, which I don't pay attention to), it shows no taste. It's like pure pasta without anything added - no spices nor any other additional cuisine.

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  5. I'm kind of surprised no one has really picked up on the message sent by the cover art itself. It's a blatant homage to domesticity. Settling down with the wife and pups, leaving all that wild life behind, making one's piece with society and the law, etc. The fact that Bad Co. are British, not Southern, is the only thing that's keeping them from being the true superstars of conservative rock in this country.

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