Sunday, 31 March 2019

Hellbilly Deluxe - Rob Zombie

Provenance: This one was definitely bought for me by my parents, seeing as I would've been too spooked to have taken it off the shelves myself! Actually, it was a Christmas present.

Why Rob Zombie? Probably a combination of the cool White Zombie animation in Beavis and Butthead Do America and the fact that The Matrix (which featured a remix of 'Dragula' on the soundtrack) was literally the coolest film in the world when you're a boy in your early teens. I managed to download that Matrix remix via Napster, which probably took about four or five hours to do.

Before we get on to Hellbilly Deluxe, a word about The Matrix. I sure as shit didn't really understand it when I first encountered it back in 1999, but I thought those leather dusters looked sweet, an opinion that has since been validated in popular media. I recall that the film inspired a slew of doctoral theses, as it certainly tackled some rather chewy themes, but - good grief - it's dated badly. Looking back, it feels like Keanu Reeves got called up for any old cyberpunk caper. At one stage a character gets handed a MiniDisc. The kicker? A Joe Pantoliano starring role in a major motion picture (though I see he's on the slate for the next instalment of the Bad Boys franchise, which seems entirely apt). Anyway, long story short, a film that explored all kinds of stuff like postmodernism and nihilism became the lynchpin for a loose confederacy of women-hating internet racists whose emblem is a sad frog.

Review: Before getting into the meat of the review, may we please take a moment to admire this tweet?


I could genuinely stop now, as I don't think anybody will ever quite be as accurate and pithy as @MetalShayne was (he also posted a very good digest of Bruce Springsteen, sadly overlooked by most of Twitter). The Rob Zombie playbook for Hellbilly Deluxe is pretty much all there - pounding industro-metal, lyrics like a Tristan Tzara cut-up of Amicus and Universal monster movie scripts and his trademark elongated 'welllll' used almost like punctuation. The only aspect missing from the @MetalShayne pastiche are the sound clips ripped from B-movies that either introduce or feature within many of the tracks. Incidentally, these are fun when deployed sparingly, but Zomb slathers them on somewhat.

Sounds like a load of old pony, right? Well, that depends. Does the notion of Rammstein being produced by Quentin Tarantino appeal to you? Exactly, no, that also sounds terrible - so it's a pleasant surprise to plug this bad boy into my stereo and let it rip.

Firstly, despite my avowed preference for pre-1990s recording techniques, Hellbilly Deluxe is a big, chunky, scuzzy beast of a record. Production-wise, it actually sounds a little like Prodigy's Fat of the Land, albeit somewhat more maximalist. They're like two sides of the same coin - Fat of the Land was dance music acceptable to the heavy metal crowd, whilst Hellbilly Deluxe just switched that formula around. The Hot Rod Herman remix of 'Dragula' in The Matrix is a perfect illustration of how, with just a few bells and whistles, a Rob Zombie track could become a rocket-fuelled clubland shack-shaker.

Aside from the creeping tedium of hearing yet another track prefaced with a fuzzy movie snippet, I have only one real bugbear with Hellbilly Deluxe, which is that it becomes a little samey quite quickly. Zombie's distorted, growled vocals are appealing, and instantly recognisable, but tracks have to be built around his rather distinct delivery. Nonetheless, there are some real gems here, not least of all the mind-scrambling techno-grind of 'Living Dead Girl' and the pumping, vein-bursting intensity of 'What Lurks on Channel X?' Hellbilly Deluxe contains all the schlock and grue one would expect from a Vincent Price or Boris Karloff feature, conjured up into a wall of guitar, buzzing synthesisers and pounding electro beats.

Even at a rather lean 38 minutes the creepozoid interludes between tracks feel skipworthy, but I'd certainly whack Hellbilly Deluxe on shuffle down the gym, or perhaps if I just felt like scaring the kids living next door. Overall, the journey is one that is fun, loud, antisocial and a little bit daft - all things a good metal album should be.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Best Air Guitar Album In The World...Ever! - Various Artists

Provenance: This was a Christmas present from back in 2001. One might say it personifies the very essence of the phrase 'stocking filler'. Like the football blooper VHS / DVD, though it has no overt relationship to the festive season there is virtually zero chance you'd buy this at any time other than the three weeks leading up to Christmas.

Review: Whilst I'm admittedly a bit snobbish about 'best of' collections, I'm quite partial to a compilation, especially if there's precious little discernible link between any of the tracks. Having said that, the blue ribband examples - I'm talking the original Nuggets compilation, or the wonderful Close to the Noise Floor, chronicling the early days of the British electronica scene - are propped up by some kind of conceptual scaffolding.

Such is the case of the hubristically titled Best Air Guitar Album in the World...Ever!, created under the aegis of Queen axe-mangler Dr Brian May. The gag here, I guess, is that every cut on this double dose of rawk is going to get you Tom Cruising it on the sofa with your imaginary gitbox. Observe:



(Incidentally, the second instalment of the franchise, which, given the title of the first album is implicitly inferior, featured beloved amateur astronomer / full-time bigot Sir Patrick Moore in its TV advertising campaign.)

You know what? It's pretty damn good! But it's probably in spite of, rather than due to, its stated remit.

I like the way it starts, because it disc one does something a bit weird; it launches you into the coda of Queen's 'We Will Rock You', the only bit with a guitar part worth talking about. Essentially, the first slice of action is one-fifth of a track from 1977, which then segues into 'Tie Your Mother Down', one of the few genuine headbangers from the Queen oeuvre, albeit from a completely different album. Eh? Is this going to be some kind of strange high-concept mishmash like Frank Zappa's Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar, which consisted entirely of his guitar solos? Sadly not.

Instead, we are treated to some of the hoary old classic rock dinosaurs one expects on such a project. Except that...w-w-what's this? I'm enjoying them?! To quote marble-mouthed former US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, "you betcha!" For example, I could quite happily never listen to Deep Purple's Machine Head ever again, nor indeed endure yet enough saloon bar bore recount how 'Smoke On The Water' was inspired by a fire at a Frank Zappa show, but shorn of its leaden context it sounds pretty cool. I don't have to slog through seven-odd minutes of 'Lazy', because on this doozy I get the short, sharp gut-punch of Blur's 'Song 2'. It's fun, a musical pick 'n' mix that cocks a snook at the rules. Follow up Def Leppard with the Troggs? Sure! Amputate Duane Allman's gorgeous slide guitar solo from the end of 'Layla'? Why not!

Like a pick 'n' mix, there's also the odd crumb of shit in there (Black Jacks, in case you're interested; foul little rectangles of liqourice hatred that look like a chainsmoker's lung). Whoever thought that Paul McCartney's version of 'All Shook Up' merited inclusion needs a few words in the mirror, and the suspicion of log-rolling creeps in when Robbie Williams' 'Let Me Entertain You' makes an appearance (NB: did Williams ever make good on that offer?). Amidst the Planet Rock staples there's a smattering of left-field choices that do work, though; both Weezer's 'Hash Pipe' and Wheatus' 'Teenage Dirtbag' fit the vibe but give the proceedings a sheen of modernity. There's even space for the true shred believer to have their moment in the sun, with Joe Satriani's 'Surfing With the Alien' bringing about a startling change of pace. That no room could be found for Vinnie Moore, Rusty Cooley or Michael Angelo Batio was noted by this listener.

That the platters from Rainbow, Dire Straits, Free and Thin Lizzy are exactly what you expect them to be (need I even list them?) comes as little surprise, but there is one very bizarre inclusion; the Jeff Beck / Terry Bozzio / Tony Hymas instrumental 'Where Were You'. There is simply no place on this riff factory of an album for this celestial, floating dream of a soundscape. It sounds ephemeral and ghostly at the best of times, but here it righteously gets the stuffing knocked out of it by Joe Walsh's sturdy 'Rocky Mountain Way'. 'Where Were You' is the beautiful, frail goth child forced to play in nets during games lesson, flapping in futility as 'Monkey Wrench', 'Paranoid' and 'Free Bird' blooter volleys past it from six yards out.

One last thing: as much as I find the space-race twang of the Shadows appealing I would be hard-pressed to say they were air-guitar worthy. Has anyone ever been driven into a frenzy by Hank Marvin? I very much doubt it.

How wrong am I? This wrong, apparently:



In conclusion, The Best Air Guitar Album in the World...Ever! is not - and does not aspire to be - high art, and nor does it do much to distinguish itself from the slew of rawk compilations that infested the shelves of music stores throughout the early days of this millenium. It does scratch an itch, though. Put simply, listening to lots of loud, dumb rock can be a hell of a lot of fun. Think of this as the lamb doner with extra chili sauce one enjoys as a guilty pleasure after a gargle down the local, just before you top off the night by kicking the shit out of 'Where Were You' in a supermarket car park.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Hot Shots: #12 - Ever So Lonely - Monsoon

I found this cracker when I was reading about the Prodigy's Fat of the Land (RIP Keith Flint), as one of the vocal tracks on that album was based around a Sheila Chandra piece. I had no clue who she was, and the first thing I discovered was that due to a medical condition she is no longer able to sing.

The second thing I found out was that she was in Grange Hill, and the third thing was that she fronted a band called Monsoon, who played a fairly early Anglo-Indian fusion pop. Upon watching the video I vaguely recall hearing this song before now - but I certainly hadn't recognised the amazing voice that Chandra possessed. In any case, this is a catchy, ear-wormy crackerjack of a tune.

It's a crap video though, isn't it? Probably not the band's fault, as it's clearly a TV performance. Light digging seems to suggest it was a German pop show called Bananas, though that bloke dragging himself across the sand right at the end does look a little like Russ Abbot, doesn't it?

Sunday, 3 March 2019

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida - Iron Butterfly

Provenance: I bought this because it has 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' on it.

Review: Well, at least In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida has 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' on it.

Alright, it's not terrible. Most of IAGDV is listenable enough. Hell, I even saw a Butterfly lineup that featured classic-era members Ron Bushy and Lee Dorman play at Arrow Rock Festival, and I enjoyed it. I was especially taken by a track called 'Easy Rider', which isn't on this album.

What IAGDV does serve up is a trip through the various flavours of psychedelia popular in the late 1960s. You've got the peppermint 'n' patchouli of the insipid 'Flowers And Beads', coming on like a heavier, less artful Zombies throwaway. There's the slightly more ominous, bad trip psych of 'My Mirage' and 'Are You Happy' - these are fairly engaging, sounding a bit like The Nice or Atomic Rooster. Comparisons with Atomic Rooster are especially apposite as the member who takes the majority of lead vocals, Doug Ingle, has a touch of John Du Cann about his vocal delivery, brimming with portent yet slightly haunted.

But, just like the reviews on this blog, it's a touch ham-fisted. Perhaps its just a symptom of heavy psychedelia of a certain vintage that I'm not used to, but the sudden transitions into the 'wig out' portion of each track is irksome. 'Are You Happy', which has some of the strongest musical ideas on the whole album, is, alas, also the worst scene of the crime.

It should also be said that IAGDV has also dated quite badly. I was going to say 'inevitably', but so much pop music of that era still stands up to this day - Motown, Stax (hell, a lot of soul and R&B of the time), garage rock, even a fair bit of the blues rock laid down at the time (such as Taj Mahal's debut, or the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet) all sound fresh to me. Sadly, IAGDV is a museum piece, trapped in amber, deemed too hoary a dinosaur for Jurassic Park. To twenty-first century ears (even those as accustomed as mine are to listening to older stuff) the sentiments are twee to the point of cloying and the music lacks any kind of edge. But surely - surely - IAGDV is rescued by 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida', no?

Ah, a little. Rescued-ish, perhaps.

Yes, that riff is immortal. It's incredibly satisfying to crank up the amp, slam your guitar through a fuzz box and wail on that bad boy for a good five minutes. It's also been a mainstay in popular culture; you have probably encountered it, whether in The Simpsons, on a Nas album (he's used it twice so far by my reckoning) or in my favourite example, the climactic scene to Michael Mann's superb film Manhunter. That riff is totally one of the most metal things from the 1960s.

Yet 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' is also seventeen minutes long. To put that into perspective, the studio album version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' is only nine minutes. I've argued before that time is a quality of music that can be stretched or constricted for effect, just like any other, but it's a dicey one to fuck with. Much can be excused by playing loud 'n' fast, but to do the opposite - slow, soporific, measured - takes no little skill. Black Sabbath can do it. Electric Wizard can do it. Sunn ())))) can do it. Iron Butterfly can't do it.

The lion's share of the title track should be that devilish minor-key riff and Doug Ingle's slurring, zonked-out vocal. In reality, it's dedicated to Ingle's meandering organ (variously sounding, at points, like a drunk version of 'Tidings of Comfort and Joy' or the Tetris theme music on quaaludes) and a drum solo. Not a very good drum solo either (if, indeed, such a thing exists). I can't find the piece right now, but I'm sure I read about Led Zeppelin laughing at Ron Bushy's interminable solo at the heart of 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida', and that's a band who weren't averse to self-indulgent percussion centrepieces themselves. I guess - and I'm really guessing here - that if you've taken a few bong rips, or you're staring into the depths of your lava lamp after a tab, all of 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' could conceivably sound cool. I am sitting in my front room with nothing stronger than Dr Pepper (diet, I should add) to aid me. It just sounds boring.

In summary, IAGDV isn't bad, but it isn't good either. It entirely bespeaks of a very short time in popular music that has retained its traction within the wider consciousness for a number of reasons - the enduring quality of the music not necessarily one of them. On the other hand - DUM DUM, DA-DA-DA-DUM - DA DA DAA!!!!

Sunday, 17 February 2019

The Fat Of The Land - The Prodigy

Provenance: As was the case with ZZ Top's Recycler, my exposure to The Fat of the Land came about thanks to my mum's employment at a library. This time around it wasn't an old chewed-up tape but a CD that had to back, so I recorded it onto cassette along with Led Zeppelin IV.

Why did I request this album? Possibly because of all the brouhaha around third single 'Smack My Bitch Up'. The controversy surrounding the song made its way to Parliament, although the subject of early day motion 565, proposed by newly-minted Labour MP Barry Gardiner, was actually the billboard campaign for the singles. Signatories to this motion included Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.

The video, directed by a former drummer from the black metal band Bathory, got the curtain-twitchers of Middle England going too. You can see why. There's a good article on the Louder website about the infamous video's genesis; my favourite detail, given the signatories of the early day motion, is that the model playing the protagonist was called Teresa May. Then there was 'Firestarter', which also got talked about in Parliament on the basis that its video might incite arson, possibly in the same way that Link Wray's 1958 instrumental 'Rumble' was considered a likely tinderbox for street gang violence.

The fuss, especially around 'Firestarter', all seems impossibly tame now. Hell, even dad-rock idiot and cow tongue graftee Gene Simmons recorded a version of 'Firestarter', which you can see here if you truly hate yourself that much.

Review: I'll start by saying I had to listen to something other than the Prodigy to cleanse my palate after checking that Gene Simmons link worked. I just don't think I could've given 'Firestarter' a fair shake otherwise. Anyway, I'm not a massive dance fan, but that's okay, because the Prodigy were always the most 'rock' sounding of that tribe. Certainly, the songs on Fat of the Land follow something closely resembling the rock music I was almost exclusively listening to at the time. Hell, the band did an L7 cover and were even fronted by Keith Flint, a kind of John Carpenter re-imagining of Vyvyan from The Young Ones - that's cool, right? Right?

Yet despite the guitar hooks on 'Breathe' and the rapping on 'Diesel Power', it's unmistakably a confection put together through the tried and tested technique of melding a clutch of samples with some big beats and studio magic. So although 'Smack My Bitch Up' became notorious for its subject matter, its true charms are to be found in its barrelling percussion and Shahin Badar's beautiful, wordless vocal (apparently based off of a track by Sheila Chandra, a remarkable singer in her own right whose voice has sadly succumbed to Burning Mouth Syndrome).

Listening to this from the perspective of 2019, it's odd to hear just how much dynamic range exists in the music. Had I misremembered how loud Fat of the Land was? Or have contemporary studio practices in popular music rendered such notions as dynamics the preserve of nerds and wankers? Much pop music in the present day sounds like it packs out every inch of aural real estate with grey noise, giving the track enough heft that it, no doubt, 'slaps' in one's ear-pods. Friends, on a proper stereo system, it sounds shit. Not Fat of the Land - certainly, 'Serial Thrilla', 'Diesel Power' and 'Fuel My Fire' sound chunky, but there's good definition between all their elements, and a track like 'Funky Shit' really shifts around dynamically. Forgive me for pulling a Horatio Caine here, but you could say...that these songs really 'breathe'.

Oh, and my favourite track on Fat of the Land is the one most obviously wedded to hip-hop, 'Diesel Power'. Kool Keith, who was someone Liam Howlett sampled on a few occasions, spits a wonderfully aggressive lyric over a bombastic, relentless backing track that reeks of smoke and adrenaline. Bottle it up and sell it as psych-up juice - it's what I listen to in the gym if I want to try and lift something moderately heavy more than a few times.

Actually - the closer I listen, the more I'm tempted to say that it's a dance-metal album fused to the spirit of Afrika Bambaataa. Perhaps it's just the bowl of chili I had earlier (a dish which, it has been claimed in a court of law, can mess with your mind) but to me there's a direct thread between Fat of the Land and Bambaataa's seminal Afro-Teutono-futurist floor filler 'Planet Rock'? Fat of the Land might be its gobby, steroid-addled British nephew, but a blood relation nonetheless. Yet Howlett was determinedly pursuing a singular vision, and its exciting to hear the symphony of cymbals he created in the coda to 'Narayan'; and its only on today's listen that I became fully conscious of the huge heartbeat bass drum at the core of 'Firestarter' (a favourite amongst my generation, not least because an instrumental version featured on the Playstation version of Wipeout 2097 - a kind of cyberpunk Mario Kart if that helps orientate younger readers).

Yeah, Fat of the Land was - and remains - the absolute business. I've got a couple of other Prodigy albums, and they're great; but this is the one where sonic invention is married to a pop sensibility, enabling even a denim 'n' leather bore like me to enjoy it from front to back. A triumph.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Double Live Assassins - W.A.S.P.

Provenance: I think my brother bought this for me, either for Christmas or my birthday a few years back. These events are mere days apart, so I trust he forgives me the inexactitude.

Review: Before I go in on the album, I want to share a W.A.S.P.-related anecdote with you. At Sweden Rock Festival one year I had gotten to chat with Zinny Zan of Zan Clan fame (I use the term advisedly). I was introduced to the band by the girlfriend of guitarist Rob Love, who I had stood next to during their set.

I talked with Zinny about his band's (excellent) album, the fortunes of QPR (about which he was surprisingly knowledgeable) and what-have-you. He then he asked if I wanted to meet Randy Piper, formerly of W.A.S.P.

Well.

Let's just say that Zinny's congeniality was only matched by Piper's intoxication, and the latter took an instant dislike to me despite the fact I'd not said anything beyond hello.

"You're a pretty small guy," he snarled, "I could fucking kill you." At which I guess he attempted to prove a point by strangling me in the manner redolent of Homer's frequent throttlings of Bart. It all got out of hand, and Zinny (also a pretty small guy) had to pull him off me, but not before someone took a photo on their phone. Of course, I tell my friends that Randy Piper tried to asphyxiate me - and of course they didn't believe me. But here's the kicker: after the festival's over we're relaxing in Malmo, eating pizza on the outdoor terrace of a restaurant, and I'm still getting ribbed about the alleged incident when the bloke who took the photo strolled past. After some initial confusion I got the guy to bring the photo up and - lo and behold - there's Piper with his shovel hands around my throat.

Anyway - Randy Piper left W.A.S.P. in 1986 and this live set is from 1997, so he doesn't feature at all. However, equally large guitarist and part-time sasquatch Chris Holmes does, along with frontman Blackie Lawless, current bassist Mike Duda and Metal Church drummer Stet Howland (whose Wikipedia page lists Gene Krupa, the Muppets and Hulk Hogan amongst his influences).

So - on to Double Live Assassins! Well, its one hour and forty minutes of W.A.S.P. doing their thing and features not one but two medleys. Like the wretched, wedding-plaguing 'Grease Megamix', the first one smashes together four - actually quite good - songs into one awkward, unsatisfactory whole. 'On Your Knees' is a genuine corker in the schlock-metal genre and deserves better treatment than this. W.A.S.P.'s take on Ray Charles' 'I Don't Need No Doctor' is hardly the definitive version but gets a the lion's share of play here. Again, 'Hellion' and 'Chainsaw Charlie' are solid but receive short shrift. The worst aspects of this unholy mishmash are the transitions between the songs, which are dreadful. The concluding riff of one section is crunched into the start of the next with seemingly no heed paid to either key or tempo. It honestly sounds like some poor schlub just cut bits of full performances together because I can't believe the band performed the medley live in the way its presented here.

At least the rest of disc one has enough to commend this. The sound is commendably raw and nasty, although the drums seem too loud and guitars are a tad muddy. However, neither of these quibbles are able to dent the power of both 'Wild Child' and the impressively-titled 'Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)', the latter of which Lawless has vowed never to perform again thanks to his Christian faith. It's a shame because it's an anthem; let it never be said that Lawless can't find his way around a chorus. Like an X-rated Paul Stanley, Lawless previews 'Animal' by asking the crowd if anybody "came here tonight looking for some...pussy? Does anyone here - fuck like a beast?!" I imagine it wasn't covered at Lilith Fair, let's put it that way.

And so it goes - there's enough meat on disc one to keep me happy. Continuing the theme of punchy, hooky metal stompers, we're treated to dirtbag classics such as 'L.O.V.E. Machine' (I l.o.v.e. this track), 'I Wanna Be Somebody', 'Kill Your Pretty Face' et al. Ya know, even with the medley, I would've been happy with this as a single-disc lie album. Even the tracks from the then-contemporaneous Kill.Fuck.Die, shorn of their industrial trappings, sound cool.

No, the problem for me is the inordinate amount of space given on disc two to The Crimson Idol, and album that steadfastly refuses to reveal its charms to me. It's hard to beat the jab-cross of 'Blind in Texas' and 'The Headless Children', but unfortunately we're then bogged down with both 'The Idol' and then a fucking Crimson Idol medley. I know of some people who consider Crimson Idol to be W.A.S.P.'s crowning achievement, and let me tell you folks, these people are plain wrong. The standout song from the album is 'Chainsaw Charlie', which has already featured in the first goddamn medley. To make matters worse, Crimson Idol is a concept album. I'll leave it at that.

Otherwise - look, it's a fine live heavy metal album. Some of the backing vocals sound like they received some, ahem, studio enhancement but that charge can be levied against Live and Dangerous, Unleashed in the East and KISS Alive!, all of which are widely acknowledged to be up there in the firmament of hard rock recordings. Double Live Assassins isn't quite on that level; W.A.S.P. are a little too quotidian an act to reach those dizzying heights, despite the ballwashing this album receives from some quarters. It's certainly no Live at Leeds, but hell, if you want to headbang along to a heavy metal cover of 'The Real Me', Double Live Assassins is the one for you.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Straight Shooter - Bad Company

Provenance: This dates back to the time when I was first seriously getting into rock music. I am fairly certain my knowledge of Bad Company extended to two songs - 'Can't Get Enough' and 'Feel Like Makin' Love', the latter of which appears on Straight Shooter. As with approximately one third of Bad Company's recorded output, these songs are about makin' it with your old lady (NB: my decision to replace the 'g' in 'making' with an apostrophe is apt as this practice is rife in the Bad Company discography. It demonstrates that they place fast and loose with the rules, see).

Review: I have now reached the age where every contemporary young pop star looks the same. Every single one. And they all have names that, although ostensibly signifying plural nouns, only serve to make them sound like posh butlers from Edwardian farces. It's too much for me. I made a half-hearted attempt to keep up with the grime scene but really, I'm much more comfortable with Ghost because they wear funny masks and sound like Blue Oyster Cult.

However, you shouldn't ascribe any value judgement to what I've just said, as gazing back to the early 1970s I'm amazed anybody could tell Bad Company apart from Deep Purple, Nazareth, Foghat, Uriah Heep, Argent and the rest. It's a blur of denim, hair and yellowed teeth. Rhythm sections appeared to be about forty despite being twenty-five, sometimes people wore kaftans and overall everyone looked immensely shit. A torrid time for fashion, then, but also for music. How anybody endured the live drum / guitar / organ / theremin solos of the era is absolutely beyond me. The tolerance for interminable jamming was a gift to the myriad mediocrities of the time, their every blooz-flavoured squeak or parp given to be evidence of their musical genius.

Bad Company had the awful dress sense, the blues rock stylings and the voguish predilection for cliched guitar solos but on Straight Shooter things are kept relatively tight. The music itself is pretty unimaginative but elevated by the presence of Paul Rodgers, who is one of the great rock voices these islands have ever produced. The ease with which he shifts between gravelly aggression and blue-eyed soul cooing is demonstrated by the rollicking opener 'Good Lovin' Gone Bad' (note the apostrophe) and its neighbour 'Feel Like Makin' Love'. The latter is a rather effective country-tinged power ballad that has, (un)fortunately been irreparably damaged for me thanks to the rendition by Ned Gerblansky that appears on Chef Aid: the South Park Album.

The best song on the album is 'Weep No More', which sounds like a hangover from one of the later Free albums. Tasty string arrangements bump up against a verse driven by a jaunty piano and heartfelt singing. It's a fine rock song, which more than can be said for much of what follows. 'Shooting Star' tries to replicate the rootsy verse / power-chord chorus combination of 'Feel Like Makin' Love' but its married to a lyric that is the most maudlin crap I've come across in quite some time and carries on the fine tradition of 70s navel-gazing that witnessed a slew of bands writing about the perils and pitfalls of becoming very famous and rich. Poor babies!

About the only listenable track on side to is 'Deal With the Preacher', which, although it's about makin' it with your old lady, has enough lead in its pencil to pass muster. The guitar riff in the verse is the strongest on the whole album, pugnacious and dirty. Rodgers yelps and emotes in all the right places, making the finished article a very satisfying hard rocker indeed. Had Bad Company decided to cruise to the finish line with a few more like that I'd be inclined to review Straight Shooter more favourably.

Therefore it's a genuine disappointment that Bad Company fill the home stretch with anaemic bilge like 'Wild Fire Woman', 'Anna' and 'Call On Me'. Despite superficially sounding very different, all are infected with the same strain of 'will-this-do?'-itis. 'Wild Fire Woman' (about makin' it with your old lady) plods along without much heft or purpose. 'Anna' is insultingly poor, a torch song that contrives to sound more like a nursery rhyme than a tender paean to the track's titular subject ("I found me a simple woman..." - fucking embarrassing). 'Call On Me' commits to nothing other thanbeing both boring and lethargic, and has no business stretching out to six minutes. Not even Rodgers can salvage these stinkers, and on 'Anna' he even sounds a bit pitchy.

As an epilogue to this I will say that I caught Paul Rodgers live at a Dutch rock festival in 2004 and he was outstanding. He both looked and sounded incredible, which is definitely not a given for many artists of his vintage. Even though the 2019 version of me can't quite discern the charms of Straight Shooter that were apparent to me in 2001, nevertheless I retain an affection both for the album and Bad Company. If you're a classic rock aficionado give it a spin, especially if you're tryin' to make it with your old lady.