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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Badfinger: Badfinger


1) I Miss You; 2) Shine On; 3) Love Is Easy; 4) Song For A Lost Friend; 5) Why Don't We Talk?; 6) Island; 7) Mat­ted Spam; 8) Where Do We Go From Here?; 9) My Heart Goes Out; 10) Lonely You; 11) Give It Up; 12) Andy Nor­ris.

Badfinger's move to Warner Bros. was hardly «smooth». The new label would poke its nose into the band's results just as frequently as the old one did, and for a short while, it seemed completely unclear what exactly the record people were to expect from this band, and what exactly this band would want to turn out for the record people — being so 1969 in spirit, when the body was al­ready dragged into early 1974.

A nasty problem of this self-titled album is that the producer, Chris Thomas, actually did a hor­rendous suckjob. For some reason, he must have thought that, since these guys are such mediocre singers, things will work better if they all sing from under the bed, with a mike stuck under the pillow. Except Ham, that is, who is the only one regularly allowed a «clean» sound. Similar mud­diness, extra echo, bland guitar tones, etc. mar the instrumental work as well. And when this sloppy production style is overlaid on songs that are melodically decent, not spectacular — well, you can see real well why Badfinger never wooed the critics upon release.

Sadly, sadly, the record starts out tremendously strong, with two terrific Ham contributions that might set you up for a masterpiece. ʽI Miss Youʼ is a heart-on-sleeve piano-and-organ ballad that might be the most subtly chivalrous piece Pete ever wrung out of himself; and the interlocking keyboard parts, half McCartney, half «baroque pop», with no guitar presence whatsoever, are one of the most unusual arrangements these guys ever did. And then the Ham/Evans collaboration ʽShine Onʼ flips the switch to catchy, rousing, energetic folk-pop, flawlessly conceived and at­tractively executed. Nice, optimistic, energizing, toe-tappy, whatever.

These two openers really set up the impression of a bright new beginning — now that the band's troubled Apple days are over, and Pete Ham is back in the saddle as the leading creative force, they might finally combine their musicality and maturity in perfectionist bliss. But the impression is blown away before it can solidify: little, if anything, on the record manages to approach the one-two punch of ʽI Miss Youʼ and ʽShine Onʼ.

Funny thing is, there were quite a few things that Badfinger could do right. They could make ex­cellent «retro» pop songs (it only took lighting a candle to George or Paul), or they could fit in well with the soft-rock / folk-pop spirit of early 1970s mainstream American market. They knew how to rock out — in a very «clean» way compared to the hard rock standards of the day, but they did have a small stock of the rock'n'roll bug inside them. With a bit of focus, they could have made an album with no bad songs on it that would be anything but monotonous. Instead, they continued delving into genres, styles, and moods where they had no advantage whatsoever even over second-tier competition.

Pete himself is not exempt from this problem — his ʽMatted Spamʼ (and what a title!) is a white­bread funk-rocker, intelligently conceived but completely unfit for his singing style. Throw in a flexible bass player, a James Brown-caliber vocalist, and a bunch of hot female back vocalists, and you might have something there... but Badfinger, a funk outfit? No way.

Meanwhile, Joey Molland is trying to convert his love for rock'n'roll into something that sounds more «contemporary» — his mutual understanding with Chris Thomas is that «contemporary» means «thick», «muddy», and «lumpy», like ʽIslandʼ, all grayishly distorted power chords, thra­shing drums and cavernous echoes, or ʽLove Is Easyʼ, a wannabe-boogie whose boogie power is only thwarted by ponderous lead balls attached to each chord. Instead of simply letting go — the way they did on ʽLove Me Doʼ, for instance — they are tying weights to their feet. On ʽGive It Upʼ, it looks like Joey was trying to create something to match the tempestuous effects of Ham's ʽTimelessʼ, but the build-up to the climax is a relative failure, and the climax itself is not so much tempestuous as simply messy in comparison.

Overall, the only other song here that strikes a chord without overdoing or underdoing it is Evans' ʽWhere Do We Go From Here?ʼ — soulful vocal hooks, solid electric piano backing, nice tempo, intelligent atmosphere, admission is free; if not for the all-pervasive echo and the unnecessary «calypso» sounds eventually breaking in to clutter the arrangement, this, too, could be perfect in its own humble way. But that arrangement is still less cluttered and generic than, for instance, the one given to Ham's ʽLonely Youʼ and ʽSong For A Lost Friendʼ, both of which just float by me without leaving much of a trace.

In short, Badfinger is inadequate — it simply does not hold enough authentic «Badfinger» for my tastes. Rather, it is Goodfinger — an attempt to trade off some of the things the band held dear in order to appeal to the radiowaves of 1974, and the attempt played a hideous trick on them: none of these songs charted even remotely. Not that, with such stupid decisions, they ever had a chance: instead of doing it right and putting out ʽShine Onʼ as the lead single, they went with ʽLove Is Easyʼ. Who the heck is going to buy a single where the lead singer sounds as if he is whining through a bagpipe while trying to play «kick-ass» rock'n'roll? Ridiculous.

That said, I still have a tiny soft spot for the record: it was my original introduction to Badfinger, and Ham's two-song introduction quickly ensured that I would never regard this band as just a laughable wannabe-Beatles outfit (as some do), so I could never bring myself to giving it a nega­tive rating. It does cast off some colorful shades of life every now and then — as the follow-up would show, the band simply did not have the time or strength to focus while recording it.

Check "Badfinger" (CD) on Amazon


  1. If you ask me, the trouble starts with the album cover. It looks like a typical early 70's Hipgnosis job, and it reeks of that post-Beatles era when things were getting quite removed from the street, to put it mildly. Groups like 10CC ("How Dare You") and Roxy Music (among many others)specialized in this sort of "nouveau riche" hob-snobbery when it came to their general image, and it's dated quite badly, in light of the punk era that inevitably followed.

    1. Personally, I much prefer them to the boring "minimalist" punk covers like Franz Ferdinand (if you ask me, true minimalism looks like A Rush Of Blood To The Head, not just putting a few words on a blank background).

    2. I don't understand why 'hob-snobbery' is a bad thing.

      Am I right to assume you don't listen to much progrock?

    3. I don't make any value judgments here. Just pointing out one of the potential reasons why middle-level groups such as Badfinger completely lost their audience after 1977. As far as prog rock goes, the only group I can really think of that had such a "social elite" image was ELP. Groups such as Yes were preoccupied by their own invented fantasy worlds, whereas Van der Graaf Generator (for one) had a rather academic image with obvious middle class roots.

  2. Franz Ferdinand comes so much later that they don't really make for a valid comparison. I'd compare this Badfinger cover, or any Roxy Music cover, to something like "Never Mind The Bollocks" or the Clash or Ramones debuts. It's the contrast of council house vs. mansion, "hoity toity" corporate rock vs. street level urgency that Punk was attempting to highlight. Of course, Badfinger were riddled with insuperable problems even without such an image, but it definitely didn't do them any favors in the market place.

    1. My thing with this cover (and most of their covers) is they either have goofy mistakes (Evans' crossed eyes and proto-mullet on Straight Up) or unironic weirdness (Is it just me, or is the dancer on No Dice supposed to look like a drag queen?). This one's par for that course (also gender-neutral). The only cover I like unreservedly is Wish You Were Here, because the guys look like they're actually in on the gag.

    2. This cover art would seem to be based on (or possibly influenced by) this portrait of Una Troubridge, done by Romanine Brooks in the 1920's. It would definitely explain the "gender neutral" nature of the model.

  3. On point as usual, George; the production is a hot mess. I'm not a fan of I Miss You, it's too saccharine for my taste, although it's way better than anything on AM radio at the time. Agree that Shine On is the best thing on the record and should have been a hit single. Also agree with Love is Easy as being the worst song; between Joey's Swamp Thing vocal and that GODAWFUL guitar solo (almost as bad as Van Halen's kazoo on Why Can't This Be Love), it should be retitled, Love is Easy (But This Record Hurts Like Hell).

    Song for a Lost Friend is what it is intended to be: a well-conceived album track, it mines the same territory as Name of the Game, Pete taking everyday words and ideas and finding the timelessness there.

    Matted Spam: Stupid, stupid title, silly, silly fun, and I actually like hearing Pete try to get down and funky, it's nice to hear him sing an outright happy song for once. Give it up: I dig this one, for once Joey sounds like a human being and he has a nice tone. The bgv chants are a little muddied, I think they tried to do some kind of shifty counter-whatsit deal, but it sounds goofy until the very end.

    Overall, I liked it, it's definitely not their best but as you said, it has its bright moments.