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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bad Company: What You Hear Is What You Get


1) How About That; 2) Holy Water; 3) Rock'n'Roll Fantasy; 4) If You Needed Somebody; 5) Here Comes Trouble; 6) Ready For Love; 7) Shooting Star; 8) No Smoke Without A Fire; 9) Feel Like Makin' Love; 10) Take This Town; 11) Movin' On; 12) Good Lovin' Gone Bad; 13) Fist Full Of Blisters; 14) Can't Get Enough; 15) Bad Company.

It is curious, actually, that Bad Company never released a live album while still in their prime — one of the very few 1970s’ hard rock bands to do so, or so it seems. This was probably acciden­tal, but it might also have something to do with the fact that, simply put, they were never a particular­ly interesting live band (not that they ever were a particularly interesting studio band, for that mat­ter, but hey, it’s always up to you if you want to suck twice, rather than once) — and they may have subconsciously felt it themselves. They certainly gave the fans their money’s worth, but they never felt the pressure to pay any interest.

All the more strange is this decision to finally come forth with a live album in 1993 — more than an entire decade after they’d already shred the last vestiges of relevance. Recorded at various ve­nues on the 1992 tour of America, the sternly titled What You Hear Is What You Get, subtitled The Best Of Bad Company (not necessarily so, if you take a glance at the setlist), seems to have but one reason for existence — other than ensuring a little extra cash flow — and that reason is to satisfy our curiosity in one department: how well does Brian Howe handle «classic» Rodgers era material? The predictable choice is between «barely tolerable» and «Godawful», of  course, but still, that curiosity is not going away all by itself, so the record warrants at least one listen.

I have to admit that, for the most part, it’s okay. Howe cannot handle the subtlety where subtlety is needed most of all — the most glaring fuck-up is on ʽReady For Loveʼ, a song that was, from the very beginning, very much «made» by Paul drawing out the “I want you to stay.... I want you today” passage with a bit of subliminal howling, nursing a dangerously affected libido. Howe just does not «get» it, and cannot convey this sexual torment that Rodgers captured so well. But on the rockers (ʽGood Lovin’ Gone Badʼ, ʽCan’t Get Enoughʼ) he is way more successful, and at least there is no denying the professionalism — you can hate his tone, or his volume, or his path­etic overtones, but he does hit the right notes, and when they are stuck on good songs, well... the fans did get their money’s worth.

The main problem is with the setlist, which simply features way too many «hits» from recent al­bums, including the lacklustre Here Comes Trouble which they were promoting on that tour — hilariously, the announcer yells «ARE YOU READY FOR SOME TROUBLE?» at the start of the show and then the band launches into ʽHow About Thatʼ, arguably the friendliest and most toothless tune of them all. Furthermore, not all of the songs stand to their studio counterparts — for instance, the Zeppelinish bluesy riff rage of ʽHoly Waterʼ is oddly compressed, as if the rhythm gui­tarist just didn’t see fit to play all the extra notes (this is probably because Ralphs played both the rhythm and the lead parts on the studio original, whereas here all the rhythm du­ties go to Dave Colwell, a pretty bland player even for the usual level of Bad Company).

On the other hand, it is Ralphs’ and nobody else’s fault that the original cool psychedelic guitar swoops on the coda of ʽFeel Like Makin’ Loveʼ have been replaced by muffled, low-pitched guitar grum­bling that deprives the song of its impressive metamorphosis. Now it’s just a song about feelin’ like makin’ love. Were you a Bad Company fan in 1992? Did you pay to see them just to hear a song about feelin’ like makin’ love? Do you give the slightest damn about the band compressing the pleasant little subtleties into a monolithic leaden sound? If you do, remember the title of this record and stay away from it.

If you don’t, well, the only really bad song on here is ʽIf You Needed Somebodyʼ (and we can excuse them for it — what is a mainstream rock’n’roll band without a power ballad?), and the only laughable «track» is ʽFist Full Of Blistersʼ, a one-minute long drum solo from Simon Kirke who handles drum solos with about as much love for them as Ringo, to whom the title is alluding. But maybe he was able to get a bit more royalties that way. Drummers all over the world, remem­ber — if you do drum solos, insist on having them credited to yourselves and occupying a sepa­rate track. Best guarantee of not ending up in the gutter.

Other than that, it’s all moderately competent; there just isn’t any need to listen to any of it. Par­ticularly now that the archives have finally cracked, and true fans of the band have easy access to hearing the band live in its «prime» (Live At Albuquerque ’76). I cannot bring myself to be­stow­ing the «true fan» label on admirers of Brian Howe, but I do know that such peculiar gents do exist — for them, this record is a must, since their idol works as hard as he can on stage. It’s just that «hard work» and «adequate performance» do not always coincide.

Check "What You Hear Is What You Get" (CD) on Amazon


  1. Contractual obligation release, pure and simple. It's no coincidence that this is the end of the line for Brian whats-his-name. Avoid like the plague!

  2. Iirc I heard parts of this album once - my local library had it. What a bore.
    Not that Live in Albuquerque is that more interesting.