Saturday, March 10, 2007

Review #14: Straight Up

Badfinger was one of the first, major signings to The Beatles' Apple Records and were the second best-selling artist on the label (of course The Beatles were number one). The group released five albums on Apple, before the label's destruction in 1974. They never reached critical success in Britain, but they became well received here in the States. Their height of popularity was reached in 1971, with a successful American tour, a blockbuster record, No Dice (1970), and an appearance at George Harrison's Concert for Bangla Desh. A year later, they issued Straight Up which is what today's review is on. It's said to be their best, but is it really? Read on!

The album starts off with Pete Ham, the group's virtuoso, begging the listener to take it all. Take It All is based around an organ line that winds around Joey Molland's guitar and Mike Gibbons's drumming follows along, providing the organ-guitar duel with a backdrop. Tom Evans's bass plucks along, by mostly sticking with the guitar. This segues, rather quickly, to the album's first "hit", Baby Blue, another great Ham composition. Ham's lyrics suggest that this girl is his 'baby blue' and that she is always second guessing him and he simply doesn't understand it. The lyrics are what takes the stage here, as the backing is basic, with just guitars, bass and drums. The first of two Evans compositions follows, with Money, a straight-forward rocker that features a great guitar part that loops around the chorus of vocals. This goes straight into a Molland/Evans track, Flying. Molland's vocal is at a screeching high pitch and the track centers around a piano and it's here where you can here the bass better than anywhere else. I'd Die Babe is a lackluster song, and probably the worst here. The carnival organ in the back doesn't do it here, but Gibbons's drumming is incredible, as it is on the rest of the album. Ham returns with his first of two beautiful ballads, Name Of The Game. The track has a sort of philosophical and other-worldly feeling, with the low organ and his great backing vocals. The lyrics are incredible. Ham is asking his lover not to forget him, but he knows it's inevitable. So, he'll just let it go. He knows that's how it goes, after all, it's the name of the game.

The second half opens with Molland's greatest number, Suitcase. It's a driving rocker that gets moving from the intro on. His vocal is much better than it is on "Flying" or "I'd Die Babe". It's one of the greatest Badfinger tracks. Yet another Molland tracks follows. Sweet Tuesday Morning is a largely acoustic track that provides a nice laid-back break. The bells provide a nice child-like nostalgic atmosphere. After that is Ham's incredible Day After Day. This is one of the greatest tracks from around this period and was a huge hit single. You can still hear it occasionally on classic rock stations. The song is a great pop song and all four members do an incredible job. This is where Gibbons does his best drum performance. Following this is Molland's Sometimes, which is just a seemingly throwaway track. The lyrics are simple, as Molland describes how sometimes he desires one thing or the other. Perfection is Ham's second ballad and is just as beautiful as "Name Of The Game". The track is amazing, with interesting percussion and great acoustic guitar work. It's Over brings back Evans, but the track is really just a throwaway concluding piece that is nowhere near as good as "Perfection", the album's real climax.
The album's sole appearance on CD is a 1993 edition, released by Apple and Capitol. The disc includes a whopping six bonus cuts. The first five are original versions of Money, Flying, Name Of The Game, Suitcase and Perfection that were slated to appear on a scrapped album to be released in 1971. These tracks are great alternates and gives you a peek at how this unreleased album might have sounded. (The 1992 release of No Dice includes "I'll Be The One", "Mean Mean Jemima" and "Loving You" as bonus cuts. Those three were also slated for the album.) "Money" includes interesting orchestrations, which aren't necessary, making the album cut much better. The transition to "Flying" is orchestrated, instead of a simple piano piece. This version is much better as Molland's voice is not sped up and has a nice effect on it. The alternates of Ham's two ballads are a half-minute shorter each and are rather quicker than the album versions, especially "Name Of The Game", which includes an annoying orchestration. "Suitcase" has a different intro and alternate, drug-related lyrics. It is also much, much "harder" than the album cut. "Perfection" is much better here, actually, with no percussion except drums and includes an interesting organ line. The two versions are very different, with both presenting the song in two great ways. The disc closes with the US single mix of Baby Blue, which just presents a reverberated snare drum sound.
The album's cover is a really nice group shot and the back, which has the album's title, is a more laid-back shot (with Gibbons looking away from the group and looking more like a zombie). Inside the booklet is a great essay written by Andy Davis. He explains the group's state of mind in 1971 and what exactly the bonus tracks are. There are also great group shots and a few pictures of single sleeves. The disc itself has an apple on it, just like it's vinyl counterpart.
In conclusion, the album is great. However, like Pete Ham says, "There is no real perfection." This album proves that. Joey Molland wrote and co-wrote five tracks, but none of them are as good as Pete Ham's five tracks. Tom Evans hardly makes a mark, only writing and co-writing three. Molland's "Suitcase" can't stand up to "Name Of The Game" and "Perfection" and the Evans/Molland medley of "Money"/"Flying" is really not that special. Overall, it's a great rock album to just sit back and listen to.
MUSIC: 3.5/5
OVERALL: 3.75/10

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