Death, taxes, another B.T.O. album. These guys just don’t know when to toss in the towel, though singer/guitarist C. F. Turner’s obviously been doing some serious pondering on the subject. At one point, he reflects (in his best David Clayton-Thomas bellow): “The folks back at home say I’m too old to rock and roll/I shoulda quit while I was ahead.”
Too true. But like almost everything else on Rock n’ Roll Nights, this crucial insight comes secondhand, since the ambivalent and perceptive song in which it appears, “Rock and Roll Hell,” was written by producer Jim Vallance. Unfortunately, Vallance, who once drummed for Prism, hasn’t had much luck with the B.T.O. rhythm section: bassist Jim Clench and drummer Rob Bachman slog away as soggily as ever. Nor has he been able to restore the slick, kickass guitar excitement or the crass but undeniably effective facility for riffs that Randy Bachman took with him when he left the group in 1977.
Rock n’ Roll Nights, like last year’s Street Action, only demonstrates that Randy Bachman was B.T.O.’s raison d’être. Nowadays this band can’t even manage a straightforward “Sweet Jane” mangle such as “Wastin’ Time” with more than the ensemble equivalent of a yawn. And B.T.O.’s newly adopted rowdy-rockers pose (note the post-orgy hotel-room scene pictured on the cover, a pathetic salute to the deMormonizing effect of the older Bachman’s departure) doesn’t begin to conceal either their total lack of primal thrust or the scattershot stylistic borrowings. Turner’s stentorian intro to “Heartaches” is a wimp’s version of the dramatic opening moves in David Johansen’s “Frenchette,” while “Rock and Roll Nights” is merely late-period Beatles with snatches of Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix added. “Jamaica,” after its pseudo-Doobie Brothers start, suggests the awful possibility that B.T.O.’s been listening to old Yes records. Ditto “End of the Line” and the Eagles.
It’s not that B.T.O. is so bad, it’s just that they sound so damned tired. At this point, C.F. Turner’s plea of “Get me out of this rock and roll hell” seems to be the most convincing cri de coeur they can muster. Deliver them, O Lord.