BAD COMPANY: COMPANY OF STRANGERS (1995)
1) Company Of Strangers; 2) Clearwater Highway; 3) Judas My Brother; 4) Little Martha; 5) Gimme Gimme; 6) Where I Belong; 7) Down Down Down; 8) Abandoned And Alone; 9) Down And Dirty; 10) Pretty Woman; 11) You're The Only Reason; 12) Dance With The Devil; 13) Loving You Out Loud.
Believe it or not, but this is a genuine «comeback». A whole decade after they had broken their allegiance to roots-based hard rock, trading in the salt-of-the-earth aura for hair metal posturing and bland pop hooks, Bad Company are on the right trail again! Goodbye, Brian Howe; hello, Robert Hart, a singer who sounds not at all unlike Paul Rodgers, and who, along with his voice, brings pack the old predilection for country-rock, acoustic guitars, barroom boogie, and, well, everything you need to try and wipe out the memory of that awful last decade.
There is but one problem: the songs, with not a single exception, leave a uniform impression of «uh? what was that?». The sound is perfectly decent — not overproduced, stylishly retroish, quite compatible with what they did in the 1970s. But the vocal and instrumental melodies are every bit as good/bad as the hundreds of «authentic country-rock» records with a hard edge thrown on the market every year. And even worse, there is a clear feeling that the band has consciously set the mode to «nostalgia»: "Let us make a record the way we used to!"
Because, somehow, I cannot get the same kicks out of something like ʽAbandoned And Aloneʼ the same way the kicks were coming from some of the Rodgers-era «despair» songs. They have everything here: a singer ready to rasp his guts out, Mick Ralphs in the mood for shrill blueswailing, a classic build-up from tense, moody, quiet verse to screechy chorus — but there is no desire to try and hook your own emotions up to the song, because it still comes out hollow. I don't know why. ʽJudas My Brotherʼ tries to bare the band's soul in an even more obvious manner (the title alone suggests a shirt-ripping tear-jerker), but its power chords are by now tired rehashings, and its painfully stressed chorus is a stale cliché. Maybe in a different age these tunes would have sounded more involving.
But in this age, it's, you know, mostly stuff you expect to encounter in truck commercials. Too safe, too predictable, too bland (even for a Bad Company album). ʽClearwater Highwayʼ has an odd shade of CCR to it — ʽClearwaterʼ in the title may be a conscious hint, but Hart's vocals on the chorus are very much in a Fogerty style, and the whole thing seems influenced by the likes of ʽSweet Hitch-Hikerʼ, which is a bit silly, but at least turns it into a marginal standout. The rest alternates between country ballads and barroom rockers without any staying power.
Still, as the last ever Bad Company album consisting entirely of new studio material, Company Of Strangers is a half-decent way of going out — even the title somehow alludes to them coming round full circle, and, indeed, all major fans of the «classic» Rodgers era that jumped ship as soon as Howe came aboard should feel free to scrape this one off the walls of used bins without feeling the slightest pang of guilt. If there ever was such a thing as «Bad Company magic» (well, at least when the gruff riff of ʽRock Steadyʼ is combined with Rodgers' singing, it does come close), it is probably not rekindlable any more, not even if they bring Boz Burrell back from the dead. But at least it is possible to make another Bad Company record that does not sound as if it came from a bunch of miserable clowns, applying for whatever job there is to earn one last buck. In that respect, it is a comeback — to the state of «satisfactory boredom».
Check "Company Of Strangers" (MP3) on Amazon