BADFINGER: AIRWAVES (1979)
1) Airwaves; 2) Look Out California; 3) Lost Inside Your Love; 4) Love Is Gonna Come At Last; 5) Sympathy; 6) The Winner; 7) The Dreamer; 8) Come Down Hard; 9) Sail Away; 10*) One More Time; 11*) Send Me Your Love; 12*) Steal My Heart; 13*) Love Can't Hide; 14*) Can You Feel The Rain.
Slay me on the spot, but I am really somewhat fond of this one, in spite of all the objective pressure that pressures me into stoning it together with the rest of the critically-minded crowds. Yes, the obligatory first impression is that this is a «Badfinger» album in name only, one of those suspicious cases when a brand is resuscitated mostly for commercial reasons. The whole thing was not intended to be a reunion — it just so happened that Joey Molland, in yet another of several failed attempts to assemble a new band, hooked up with Evans, among other guys who never had anything to do with Badfinger, and when Elektra Records saw two of Badfinger's principal songwriters working together again, guess what the reaction was? Never mind the fact that, by 1979, most of the public's memories of Badfinger had been completely erased — here was at least a little something to latch on to.
It is true that Badfinger was not exclusively Pete Ham's backing band: both Evans and Molland contributed mightily to the original music and image, and one could theoretically imagine the two trying to resuscitate and preserve the original spirit. That is, however, not the case with Airwaves. First, much of it was done with the active participation of a third creative member, guitarist and vocalist Joe Tansin, whose songwriting and arranging techniques were seemingly raised not on the Beatles, but rather on mid-1970's dance hits, ballads, and MOR «classics».
Second, Molland and Evans themselves are trying to bring their sound more in line with late-1970's «standards» of power-pop. They completely ignore any punk/New Wave innovations of the past few years — the backbone of ʽLook Out Californiaʼ, opening the album, is so defiantly Chuck Berry-esque that it ain't even funny — and that may be a plus, because a Badfinger taking lessons from Blondie or the Cars sounds like a miserable idea. But, on the other hand, this does not prevent the current Badfinger incarnation from taking extra lessons not only from Cheap Trick, but maybe even from... Billy Joel? At any rate, it all sounds very much like clean-shaven, well-meaning, slick, glossy, generic mid-1970s pop.
Worst of all, I like it. Behind all the gloss lies a bunch of well-crafted hooks, memorable melodies and even some genuinely resonating emotional content. Joe Tansin is responsible for the two weakest numbers — the «heavy» rockers ʽWinnerʼ and ʽSympathyʼ, combining gruff distorted riffs with dance beats, keyboards, and strings in a loud show of nothing in particular (although even under these conditions, there is still some nice jerky tension in ʽSympathyʼ). But Evans and Molland manage to stuff this new formula with plenty of fresh meat.
Molland's ʽLove Is Gonna Come At Lastʼ was the right choice for a single, and it even made a brief chart appearance (#69 on the US charts wasn't so bad, considering the band's past reputation of «commercial poison») — dominated by a fabulous slide guitar riff on top of an old-timey jangle pattern, but with a modernistic-mainstreamish hook in the chorus (so it sounds a little like ABBA, what's really wrong with that?). Evans' sentimental piano ballad ʽLost Inside Your Loveʼ is even better — it's as if he took the whole «Badfinger reincarnation» thing really seriously, and tried here to compensate for the lack of Pete Ham by coming up with something comparable in sheer vulnerability: his "what can I say, what can I do..." is a genuine tugger and ranks among the band's finest moments of soulful purity, whatever that might mean.
Then, on side B, Joey contributes the excellent ʽThe Dreamerʼ, a big lump of power chords, lush piano, and romantic strings, and the mediocre ʽCome Down Hardʼ, an even bigger lump of power chords that uses the mean trick of double-tracking its rhythm guitar parts to imitate brawn and hooks; and Evans brings things to a close with the cozy McCartney-esque piano balladry of ʽSail Awayʼ... yes, eight songs in all, not counting the brief acoustic intro (title track), but for a «B-quality» record like this, thirty minutes seems just all right anyway.
At the end of the day, Airwaves still is, in some way, a Badfinger album — just as it was with the band's output in the early 1970s, they are modifying their sound to «suit the times», but they still never end up suiting the times because they never go all the way. Behind all the production gloss we still see Tom Evans, the charming, idealistic small town bumpkin, and Joey Molland, the slightly snub-nosed street punk, not having altered their original personalities one bit. As usual, there are hits and misses — hardly atypical for even the best Badfinger records — but the hits are strong enough to keep the album in a modestly respectable position in the catalog. Thumbs up.
PS. Please keep in mind that the five bonus tracks, even though they do a fine job of beefing up the album's length, should be kept separate — all of them are Joe Tansin songs, with the first three recorded by the man solo in the mid-Eighties (the only reason they are here is that they were allegedly written, not recorded, during the Airwaves sessions). Most are power ballads or synth-pop tunes, and ʽSend Me Your Loveʼ sounds bit-by-bit like something off a Christine McVie solo album, if you need a guideline. Skippable.