BAD COMPANY: MERCHANTS OF COOL (2002)
1) Burnin' Sky; 2) Can't Get Enough; 3) Feel Like Makin' Love; 4) Rock Steady; 5) Movin' On; 6) Deal With The Preacher; 7) Ready For Love; 8) Rock And Roll Fantasy; 9) All Right Now; 10) Bad Company; 11) Silver, Blue And Gold; 12) Shooting Star; 13) Joe Fabulous; 14) Saving Grace.
And now we know who is really the heart and soul, the kernel and pivot of Bad Company: drummer Simon Kirke, the only irreplaceable member of the band. It is the year 2002 and things have changed, and how. After a brief reunion of the original Bad Company in 1998, resulting in a total of two new songs released on a new compilation of old hits, Ralphs and Burrell left the band for good, but Rodgers and Kirke decided to carry on, with the help of Dave Colwell on guitar (who had already backed Ralphs on several albums in the Howe / Hart era) and Jaz Lochrie on bass.
So what we have here is basically «Paul Rodgers & Piss-Poor Company», playing a live selection of Bad Company's greatest hits (1974-1979), one classic Free track — which does not hurt, since ʽAll Right Nowʼ, in style and mood, could very well be considered the true progenitor of Bad Company — and two new studio recordings, supposed to carry on the flames of old. The new band does take itself pretty seriously, as the album title (directly incorporated into the lyrics of ʽJoe Fabulousʼ) implies. But do we need to follow the implications?
Well, at the very least Paul Rodgers is still in fine voice, as you would probably expect from a lead singer who (a) did relatively little over several decades to blow it to pieces and (b) was never famous for a wide-reaching range anyway. He does seem to lose a bit of the smoothness and «intelligence of phrasing» of old, but that might simply be due to the live context, where these things can be lost at any time. Other than that, it's okay.
What is not okay is that Dave Colwell is no Mick Ralphs, and although he does a technically respectable job of learning all the required parts, his guitar tones are blander, and his inventiveness equals near-zero. He is not helped out too much by Rodgers, either: check Live In Albuquerque from 1976, where Rodgers is handling rhythm guitar while Ralphs delivers a blazing solo at the end of ʽFeel Like Makin' Loveʼ — on Merchants Of Cool, Colwell just plays the old Who-ripped-off-riff over and over again. Most of the melodies are set to the same grayish distorted tone, often «smudging» the precise riffage of the original tunes, so you don't even get to enjoy what little there originally was of a composing talent of the band. You do get to headbang, though, and maybe that's what is more important in a live setting — who knows.
«Surprise» elements are quite few. There is an audience participation bit in ʽShooting Starʼ where Rodgers makes the crowd sing not just the chorus, but even an occasional verse (personally, I'd be deeply embarrassed caught knowing an entire Bad Company song by heart, but then again, I wasn't there). ʽAll Right Nowʼ gets an unimpressive bass solo in the middle. And ʽRock And Roll Fantasyʼ, after an announcement of "I'll take you to a land you've never seen, come dream with me", flows into a short medley of Beatles songs — with ʽTicket To Rideʼ and ʽI Feel Fineʼ making guest appearances, even though the announcement would rather make one think of Sgt. Pepper or Yellow Submarine. Actually, the gesture feels nice rather than corny, even if all the songs, be it the Bad Company original or the Beatles covers, are set by Colwell to more or less the same guitar melody. Makes one think, doesn't it?
The two new tracks are nothing special, but they are better than the Howe / Hart stuff — nicer, old-school guitar tones, less country-rock-radio-oriented hooks, and Rodgers on vocals. If this is where the official studio history of Bad Company is supposed to end, it is better to see it end with ʽJoe Fabulousʼ than with Stories Told & Untold, no question about that. And then it is probably better to just have them around as an oldies act — in all fairness, they should have stopped polluting the planet with new «creations» right after 1979, as the setlist of Merchants Of Cool more or less implies on its own. That is the policy to which Bad Company have been adhering ever since Rodgers reclaimed the label, although it should be noted that quite a few different «Bad Companies» have circled the globe in the 2000s, including a «Mick Ralphs' Bad Company» with Hart on vocals — so don't forget to check the billing closely if you find a «Bad Company» doing a local gig in your backyard or something: you might just as well get a Hart / Colwell experience, which is the last thing anyone in this world really needs.
Check "Merchants Of Cool" (MP3) on Amazon