BADFINGER: BADFINGER (1974)
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.