Run with the Pack, Bad Company's third and best album, reiterates the raw, rowdy style of their debut, Bad Co., solidifies the loose ends that marred Straight Shooter and adds new directions of its own. Maybe most importantly, the record is refreshing proof that rockers don't have to produce literature in their lyrics or cultivate personae to create good art. Bad Company's is a purely musical triumph.
Paul Rodgers's voice and Mick Ralphs's guitar continue to be the quartet's foundation — about half of Run with the Pack is the loud abrasive rock they are best known for. And it matters less that certain songs here resemble earlier works ("Honey Child" and "Sweet Lil' Sister" are kin to "Can't Get Enough" and "Movin' On") than that each of the new bears its own vitality and originality.
Ralphs is still one of the dirtiest and crudest rock chordists; his thick distortion sustains almost endlessly. But here he shines in what had been his weak area: soloing. No longer does Ralphs wallow in lengthy, overly bassy, vibrato-laden forays. What amounts to a solo on "Live for the Music" is basically a three-note riff repeated over and over and echoed through a tape loop. It's simpler and infinitely more effective than his old approach. His ringing fills on the title track are ideal foils for the song's rawness. Ralphs repeats this successful tack (not unlike Andrew Gold's) elsewhere here. Similarly, he plays a positively sweet solo on the gentle "Silver, Blue & Gold" and sports a slide on the countryish "Do Right by Your Woman." On "Simple Man," Ralphs combines acoustic and electric guitars (an approach he mastered on Straight Shooter's "Feel like Makin' Love") to produce a primitive but imaginative result. This is also the first Bad Company song written solely by Ralphs that doesn't explode in some way — he usually sticks to gangbusters like "Sweet Lil' Sister."
The members of Bad Company realize, however, that a constantly reiterated mode or even a single song constructed on only one framework can easily bore an audience — hence, some wise arranging. The remake of the Coasters' "Young Blood," for example, is a limited song adapted to a limited genre — so Bad Company makes it the shortest thing here, a neat and powerful 2:37. And they sacrifice nothing in the process.
Or there's Boz Burrell's role in "Live for the Music." Here the bass player overdubs melodic harmony lines and borrows one of Larry Graham's popping ascending phrases: the primal arrangement takes on a new flair. At the song's end Rodgers and Ralphs drop out, leaving only Simon Kirke — strong, as usual, throughout the record — drumming behind Burrell, whose meaty bass aggressively punctuates the beat. The two finish the song unaccompanied — a minor touch that works well. Burrell, it should be mentioned, is usually well hidden in Bad Company tracks — an interesting contrast to too many other raucous groups that delight in an overamplified bass in pursuit of "heaviness."
Strangely, Bad Company lacks an instrumental virtuoso. Ralphs, as well as he plays on this record, really doesn't come close. But Paul Rodgers emerges as a vocal virtuoso — he is brilliant, throwing himself into different moods with ease, revealing timbres and energy he has only hinted at since his days in Free. On "Sweet Lil' Sister," he has the heat and drive of a true rocker, while "Simple Man" displays the rich evenness he mastered long ago. He uses echo to great advantage; all singers seem to improve with this device, but Rodgers more than most. "Love Me Somebody" is still another brand of excellence, a true rhythm & blues performance boasting fine work by Ralphs. Rodgers's piano and organ arrangement recalls the early Steve Winwood, and (as if in tribute) Rodgers gives us a taste of that singer's voice when he hits a high note in the last verse.
Run with the Pack has depth, maturity and subtlety, and like many of rock's finest moments, new things impress with each hearing: for example, the harmonica on "Do Right by Your Woman" or the phased vocals on "Silver, Blue & Gold." The title track and "Fade Away" use good orchestration, a far cry from the clumsiness of the strings on Straight Shooter. Above all, there are no empty spaces. Not a moment is wasted, and significantly, Run with the Pack has ten songs — the other albums have only eight. Finally there is the carefully tailored smoky production, approached on the previous record but perfected here with help from Ron Nevison, Eddie Kramer and the Rolling Stones' Mobile Unit.
Bad Company could well have taken an easy way out — they're that successful now — but instead they have risen to the occasion. For Rodgers, Ralphs, Kirke and Burrell, Run with the Pack should be a standard to match for some time to come.