Although Burnin’ Sky is firmly slotted into the comfortable menace of Anglo blues-rock growl, some credit is due Bad Company for loosening up sufficiently to nudge the limits of hard-rock convention. While it’s less than a break-through in terms of songwriting or musicianship, Burnin’ Sky does sport a crisp, streamlined sound and a noticeable softening of the band’s synthetic macho posing.
The title track lays down all of the comfortable parameters: dramatic major-chord drone, “ominous” vocals and the spare, elemental thud of the rhythm section, which is less boomy this time around thanks to engineer Chris Kimsey. Mick Ralphs continues to play full, hard chords and simple solo lines, but his rhythm and fills are becoming more sophisticated, while the nearly constant use of a phasing device gives his instrument much more effective bite.
“Morning Sun,” which follows, provides the usual hard-to-soft contrast with a traditional lament built on an acoustic 12-string figure. Unfortunately, vocalist Paul Rodgers’ lyrics on this, “Leaving You” and the quasiphilosophical “Like Water” still tend toward the instantly forgettable. A master at the art of the faceless lyric, Rodgers fashions safe little modules of contemporary thought that are really little more than skeletal reference points for Rodgers’ husky melisma slides.
This functional view of lyrics short-circuits during the album’s most perverse track, the jam/dirge “Master of Ceremony,” a two-chord organ-guitar vamp redolent with the inevitable. This sortie is dominated by really embarrassing lyrics on brotherhood (“You can be a redneck Jewish man, that’s all right with me”) and a distorted, meandering sense of phrasing. And what a perfect defamatory touch to start off with a quote from “Mystery Train,” the sacrosanct Presley classic.
Tasteless as it is, it is tracks like “Master of Ceremony” and the charming reggae spoof “Everything I Need” that give Burnin’ Sky its spark. The humor may seem a bit forced at times, but at least they’re trying. For a change, this ready-made star package is giving us some humanity. To paraphrase: being white isn’t always uncool, either.