BADFINGER: SAY NO MORE (1981)
1) I Got You; 2) Come On; 3) Hold On; 4) Because; 5) Rock'n'Roll Contract; 6) Passin' Time; 7) Three Time Loser; 8) Too Hung Up On You; 9) Crocadillo; 10) No More.
Badfinger's last album was recorded throughout 1979 and 1980 with more lineup changes: no Joe Tansin, a new guitarist in Glenn Sherba, a new drummer in Richard Bryans, and a new keyboard player in ex-Yes member Tony Kaye. Since the band was quite heavily touring at the time, the lineup turned out to be a bit more stable, tight, and focused, and Say No More certainly sounds much more like a «rock'n'roll band» product than the shiny gloss of Airwaves. But this is where the good news ends (provided this is good news at all).
Because, honestly, Say No More must have been designed as a conscious «antidote» to the gloss, sweetness, and poppiness of Airwaves. Everything here is loud, upbeat, more often fast than not, and usually relying on keyboards and guitars battling it out in a melodic, but «aggressive» manner. In other words, this is Badfinger trying to be what Badfinger never were — a muscular, anti-sentimental, sweat-pumpin' pop-rock band and just about nothing else. Not a single ballad in the pot. Not that Molland and Evans were inept at rocking out, of course; it's just that their melody skills rarely stood out whenever they began to «crank it up».
Here, for instance, despite the relentlessly bash-it-out attitude, there are next to no memorable rock'n'roll riffs, apart from a few basic chord sequences nicked off past experiences: everything that could be worth something is invested in the pop choruses. The rock'n'roll attitude seems to be all-pervasive here for one reason only: to prove Badfinger's ongoing «authenticity» — none of that commercial shit, none of those New-Wave-style gimmicks, just good old power-pop straight out of 1971 and forget about the last ten years. (Renegade Tony Kaye does manage to slip in a few new-fangled synthesizer solos and effects from time to time, but never long enough to make the listener suspect «relevance in a modern world» within even a single song).
The vocals are sweet enough, though, and Say No More is never a total waste. The single ʽHold Onʼ, a last-minute collaboration between Evans and Tansin, even made a tiny bump on the charts — for a good reason, since Tom's singing here is excellent; it captures a shade of Badfinger's trademark romantic chivalry with some nifty mood-sequencing (going from calm, unexciting serenading to the heated-up passion of the chorus and then to the seductive falsetto resolution of "baby hold on..." — quite a respectable example of songwriting as far as I am concerned). ʽToo Hung Up On Youʼ is also a nice love confession, but with nowhere near as much personality as there is on ʽHold Onʼ (maybe it's all the double-tracking that spoils the effect).
The basic rock'n'roll stuff, in comparison, just sounds tasty for 1981, a year in which basic rock'n'roll stuff mattered about as much as Doris Day (maybe even less); thirty years on, there is little reason to listen to ʽI Got Youʼ or ʽCome Onʼ if you can just throw on some vintage Stones or T. Rex instead. Still, even despite the garage rock clichés of the former and the wannabe-Slade attitude of the latter, the only real failure is the ridiculously titled and ridiculously delivered ʽCrocadilloʼ, which they try to do with a bit of a «pop-metal» flair: a big mistake on Evans' part, since playing it really down-and-dirty is a no-go for these guys.
There is also a remake here of ʽRock'n'Roll Contractʼ which, as we now know, was originally recorded in 1974 for Head First; as could be expected, the song is tightened and sped up, and now features longer and leaner guitar solos, yet its gloomy pathos still feels a bit out of place on this generally cheerful record. As we now know, too, it wasn't really out of place, given that, in two years time, Evans would be joining Pete Ham in the noose; but on the whole, Say No More is even less indicative of the tragedy to come than Wish You Were Here and Head First were indicative of the upcoming suicide #1.
Fact is, as troubled as Badfinger's life was, they rarely let their everyday personal problems influence the atmosphere of the music — unlike, say, Fleetwood Mac, theirs was the old-time ideology of keeping their «routine» feelings apart from the artistry, and leaving most of their troubles behind the doors of the recording studio (even on Wish You Were Here, most of the real-life inspiration they brought with them was based on positive, not negative emotions, ʽGot To Get Out Of Hereʼ being the major exception). Of course, some would condemn this as artistic insincerity, while others might praise it as a sign of lack of vanity («ain't it just grand, the way I can make myself suffer and show it so well on my recordings?»).
But, in reality, it's just whatever works for you that really matters. And Say No More does not work all that well, I'm afraid. Not a bad album by any means, but doomed from the start by the wrongly chosen direction, it now has to formally count as the band's «swan song» while qualifying more for a sparrow rather than swan level. It's one of those moments where I wish time would loop the wrong way and let Say No More be the first, «tentative» effort of the two reunion albums and Airwaves be the second — because, despite all the gloss and Joe Tansin, Airwaves has more of the old Badfinger spirit in it.
On the other hand, who knows how Molland and Evans would have fared in the future, had Tom not been driven by fate to the same level of insanity as Pete. Fantasizing about a whole string of Say No More-like albums throughout the 1980s actually makes me feel happier than listening to one single Say No More — the way these guys went about their music in 1979-81 makes one suspect that they might have withstood the synthesizer / drum machine onslaught, had they managed to hold on to a record contract. But maybe that was impossible even in theory, and with the Eighties upon us, Badfinger just had to finally go down, once and for all. Maybe, had they not reunited to take this last chance, Evans would still be alive and well. Maybe it was all a very bad idea. Still, something deep inside me says that it is a nice thing, after all, to have these two albums as a last-minute, half-hearted souvenir — Badfinger have always had this simple magic aura about them, such that even their worst records can still sound endearing... under certain circumstances, at least.
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