Sunday, December 8, 2013

SPAZ reviews Edsel's new BADFINGER reissue!


(2CD Set)


     I'm sure you've read a zillion stories about Badfinger over the past few months.  Their song "Baby Blue" was used in the final episode of Breaking Bad and suddenly, the band became hip again.  And I'm sure you've read about the tragic suicides of Pete Ham and Tommy Evans.  And the passing of drummer Mike Gibbins of a heart attack.  No doubt you've read an interview or two with only surviving member Joey Molland.  I feel reasonably certain that you have also rediscovered Badfinger's other hits - "Come And Get It," "No Matter What," and "Day After Day" - not to mention "Without You," the song written by Pete and Tommy that Harry Nilsson turned into a worldwide hit.  Now that I've managed to mention all of that in the first paragraph, lets move on and discuss this fabulous two CD set...

     First off: the albums are not remastered from the original tapes and this release does not feature any additional non-album material. They are pretty much the same as the German masters that came out many years ago.  But they do sound wonderful.  

     When Badfinger left the comfort of The Beatles' Apple Records label, their move allowed the band to move out of the shadow of The Beatles and create a sound that was their own. Well, not that they didn't sound like themselves... they were just constantly compared to The Beatles and were always questioned about the Fab Four during interviews.  The release of their final album with Apple, Ass, was in limbo when the band signed with Warner Brothers and recorded their self-titled debut album. The album was originally called For Love Or Money - questioning their reason for making music in the first place - but they wisely changed their minds and called the album Badfinger.  With this self-titled release, it was if the band had a new lease on life.  Creatively, they came up with a batch of songs that would not have easily fit on any of their previous albums... Badfinger, the album, was fresh and more varied than ever before.  The songs on Ass sounded like a band that was tired and in need of artistic freedom: the Warners contract evidently gave them the kick they needed.  However, the album was almost TOO varied to a certain degree. Like Ass, the album was produced by Chris Thomas (who would later produce plenty of great albums including classics by The Pretenders, Sex Pistols, Wings, Roxy Music, etc). Judging by the two albums presented here, you could call him the band's 5th member!

     The album's opener, "I Miss You," was a Pete Ham ballad that didn't quite live up to his earlier slower tunes.  The Country-esque "Shine On" is really where the album should have started, recalling their unreleased (at the time) "I'll Be The One" minus the CSN influenced harmonies.  Molland's oddly haunting Rock 'n' Roll/Glam offering "Love Is Easy" was the closest thing on the album to what the band presented on the Ass album. At this point, Molland usually offered up the prime meat-and-potatoes rockers on the albums and, apart from a few exceptions, hadn't found his Pop footing yet. Ham's "Song For A Lost Friend" has some epic moments, as does Tommy's "Why Don't We Talk" (which sonically pointed in the direction of their next album). Molland's "Islands" is another great rocker.  Ham's "Matted Spam" had a real Doobie Brothers vibe to it, although I'll probably be strung up by my heels for stating that! Tommy's "Where Do We Go From Here?" was another great Tommy tune (he had loads of great tunes!) although my have been a little lightweight if position next to one of Molland's rockers.  Gibbins offered up the touching "My Heart Goes Out," which was a lovely tune, atypical of what a drummer was expected to write and sing. "Lonely You" was one of Ham's finest ballads... period!  Such a touching and heartbreaking melody and performance.  Molland's "Give It Up" was an emotionally powerful track that was dark and haunting, giving way to a loud and bombastic wall of guitars.  Pretty stunning.  The album's last track, "Andy Norris," was another Molland rocker that ended the album on a nice note.  If "Andy Norris" and "Give It Up" had been switched, that may have been a more powerful ending to the album, but you can always program your CD player/iPod to play them in that order.
(NOTE: Although the liner notes don't mention it, I always found it quite humorous on that cover that the lady had a band-aid on one of her fingers... BAD finger! Get it?  Or did I read too much into that?)


     Thrust back into the studio months after the release of Badfinger, the band and producer Chris Thomas decided to focus on recording the best album they possibly could.  Wish You Were Here, released nine months after their self-titled album, was that and more. Even though the band had some songs completed, they and Thomas managed to take a few of their unfinished ideas and create some amazing tracks that allowed the band to explore previously uncharted musical waters.  Regardless of the success they had achieved at Apple, nothing could have prepared the listener for this album, which stands as the best of their career as well as being one of the best albums of the '70s.  Thomas' production pushed the band entirely out of The Beatles shadow and straight into the stratosphere. The songs were flawless, the performances were stunning and every note on this album mattered.  If they wanted to make a statement with this one, it was loud and clear - Wish You Were Here was an album that should have made them superstars.  And that, my friends, is an understatement!
     The album's opener, "Just A Chance," was a Ham classic and a powerful guitar rocker that has since been embraced by Power Pop lovers (but then again, Badfinger have been called the quintessential Power Pop band over the years). Gibbins' amazing "Your (sic) So Fine" took the Country vibe of "Shine On" and "I'll Be The One," added a tasty melody and was one of the most instantly memorable cuts on the album.  Of the harmonies, it's great to hear Ham and Molland's voices blend together seamlessly.  Molland's melodic sense kicked into high gear on the album, beginning with the atmospheric (and yes, haunting) "Got To Get Out Of Here," which eased the album's tempo down a bit without losing any of it's power.  Ham kicks things back into gear with "Know One Knows," a fun pop rocker that sounded so 'big' that it seemed like it was going to leap out of the speakers and attack small children and pets. Side One's closer, "Dennis," has become one of Ham's most beloved songs. Combining elements of three different songs, "Dennis" started off as a mid-tempo rocker (with some great big drums that lifted the song right off the vinyl) before turning into a nice little rocker that gives way to an absolutely beautiful and emotional coda until the fade.  If that didn't shake the listener, Side Two began with the Abbey Road-like Prog epic "In The Meantime/Some Other Time."  Gibbins' "In The Meantime" was a nice rocker with some cool time changes, but Molland's ultra-melodic "Some Other Time" turned the track into a massive ball of greatness.  Evans' only song, "King Of The Load (T)," was yet another fine Tommy tune, although it seemed a bit out of place after the monumental "In The Meantime/Some Other Time".  And I still don't know what the (T) means in the song title! .  Molland's airy acoustic "Love Time" was another melodic gem from his ever-growing canon of lovely pop melodies.  The album's closing track, "Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke," was the best of the bunch.  Ham's "Meanwhile..." was tough, melodic and featured one of his most passionate vocal performances.  Molland offered up the second half of the song with "Should I Smoke," yet another slice of Molland delight.  Piecing these songs together was a brilliant musical move.  Then again, the whole album was a brilliant piece of music.  And it still sounds fresh and invigorating today. The songs, performances and production are timeless. Play this for someone today and they'll be surprised to know that the album was recorded nearly 40 years ago.  Yes, 40 years ago!  To put it mildly, Wish You Were Here is a stunning motherfucker of an album!

     The two albums listed above are on Disc One of this two CD set.  Disc Two consists of the previously released In Concert At The BBC 1972-3. The album shows off the band's rockin' side and features a few choice covers as well as live versions of gems from their Apple and (soon to be released) Warner Brothers releases.  I am not one for live albums, so I'll leave these recordings up to you to decide if they are worth your while.  I say they are because they are recorded by Pete Ham, Tommy Evans, Joey Molland and Mike Gibbins.  That, my friends, is a mark of true quality!

Peace, love and Badfinger,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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