Imagine Black Sabbath without instrumental dynamism and lyrical vision; imagine Led Zeppelin without pyrotechnics: What you’re imagining is the Bachman-Turner Overdrive — a lowest-common-denominator rock band that’s found immense commercial success in a stylistic limbo between heavy-metal and MOR rock. They rely heavily on the basics to convey their musical message, but unlike 99% of their competition, BTO give the impression that the basics are about all they have to offer.
Not Fragile breaks no new ground, but BTO’s first two albums had already demonstrated that such a concept is of little concern to this band. BTO prefer to rely on an already familiar formula — grab a chunky guitar riff, have all four instruments pound it into the ground in unison, add guitar solos and you’ve got a song. Lyrics are used, but not so much sung as shouted over the instrumental din. It’s a very simplistic operation, but what BTO lack in imagination, subtlety, technique, structural dynamics, flash et al., they more than compensate for with lots of volume.
Of the album’s nine songs, “Not Fragile” possesses the most effective basic riff (and is therefore the best song). Other highlights include the onomatopoetic “Sledgehammer,” in which Randy Bachman compares an ex-girlfriend to the title object, and “Free Wheelin’,” an instrumental that sounds like all the other songs except that it has no vocals.
But it’s hard not to like this album and BTO. For like the early Stooges albums, the group’s records are commendable for their no-nonsense directness: BTO hasn’t much to say, but they don’t bore the listener by trying to find cutesy ways to belabor the fact. While their concrete instrumental moves and simplistic themes remind me of a high school band that’s attained basic proficiency only through years of incessant practice, the end product of BTO’s labors sounds great when it’s turned up loud. And that’s a lot more than can be said for some of the offerings of BTO’s more talented brethren.