Among the members of Bad Company, singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke witnessed the collapse of Free, guitarist Mick Ralphs witnessed the collapse of Mick Ralphs in Mott the Hoople and bassist Boz Burrell participated in King Crimson's stagnation. In the aftermath of their extraordinarily popular debut LP of last year, Bad Company appears determined not to fall into the traps of any of those groups. While retaining all of the spontaneous combustion of the earlier album — which, like Straight Shooter, was recorded "live" by mobile units — they managed to refine their musical energy, give it sharper direction and come up with fistfuls of apparently innocuous but totally effective hard rock surprises.
The album leaps to life with Mick Ralphs's logical followup to his "Can't Get Enough" hit, "Good Lovin' Gone Bad." The sparse, powerhouse sound of the band is still intact but has been developed into a crazy quilt of intertwining sounds. Ralphs's lethal guitar is more constructive and controlled than in the past, neatly unifying lead runs with rhythm work. Boz has expanded his bass realm and, naturally enough, drummer Kirke has followed suit. Rodgers, true to form, plugs up any unfilled gaps with such sage ad-libs as "Wot a sayuh," "Ooowah" and the perennial favorite "uhhHUH."
Dismissed by some as the offshoot of the "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am" style of Free, Bad Company lets it be known that they have a brand of music uniquely their own in the three compositions penned by Rodgers and Ralphs. "Deal with the Preacher," "Feel like Makin' Love" and "Wild Fire Woman" experiment with dynamics in a manner totally alien to the first album. Forsaking the constant thunderthudding drone motif of '74 in favor of a more textured approach, the group uses subdued acoustic guitar and tight vocal harmonies during most of the verses, saving the harsh electrical shocks for the head-slamming choruses. It's a relatively simple "calm before the storm" setup, but Bad Company milks it for all its effectiveness.
Simon Kirke gets actively involved in the evolution of Bad Company's music, dispelling the myth that drummers are just there to keep the beat and keep their mouths shut, by contributing two songs of his own, "Anna" and "Weep No More." The first, a ballad, was originally heard on the Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit release of a few years ago. It was vapid then and age has not improved it. Hearing Paul Rodgers croon lines like:
Got a sweet little angel
And I love her so
She's there when I need her
She understands when I say go
is downright embarrassing. (Unless the "angel" in question is a large and faithful doggie.) Happily, Kirke redeems himself with "Weep No More," a shuffle of the first magnitude which comes alive with honky-tonk piano, beefy organ surges and a strong appearance by an omnipresent string section. As awful as that looks on paper it works nicely on record.
Now if all this modest experimentation hasn't been praiseworthy enough, Paul Rodgers inadvertently plays a winning hand at "can you top this" by testing his mettle as a solo songwriter and passing with flying colors. After a few years of hovering on the threshold of proficiency, Paul gets it down right with "Call on Me," a delightful excursion into the "reach out, I'll be there" school of sexual politics, which leaves ample space for a few scintillating solos by Ralphs.
The pièce de résistance of the album, however (and the highpoint of Paul's writing career), is the off-the-cuff rock narrative, "Shooting Star." Abandoning his "oowah bayuhbe I luvah yuh" approach to poetry, Rodgers nearly assumes the role of the Harry Chapin of crotch rock as he casually recounts the chilling tale of a young rock star ... from beginning to end.
Johnny died last night
Died in his bed
Bottle of whiskey, sleeping tablets by his head
Johnny's life passed him by like a warm summer's day
If you listen to the wind you can still hear him play.
The calculated effect of the song is made stronger by its low-keyed approach to melodrama. Guitars drone, bass and drums rumble and Rodgers ends the uptempo dirge with a series of wailing "woowah"s and various nasal chants.
It would seem that the gutsy rock band everyone thought of as Free's bastard son has come into its own, and powerfully at that. Straight Shooter is a fine example of contemporary rock & roll but, more than that, it is an exciting second step forward by a fledgling band that looks like it may be around for a long time to come. In spite of its visual allusions to the world of gambling (flying dice and crap tables abound on the cover), Straight Shooter is a sure thing for the rock addict: a winning band in anyone's book.