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Burnin' Sky
Bad Company

Swan Song SS 8500
Released: March 1977
Chart Peak: #15
Weeks Charted: 24
Certified Gold: 3/15/77

Although Burnin' Sky is firmly slotted into the comfortable menace of Anglo blues-rock growl, some credit is due Bad Company for loosening up sufficiently to nudge the limits of hard-rock convention. While it's less than a breakthrough in terms of songwriting or musicianship, Burnin' Sky does sport a crisp, streamlined sound and a noticeable softening of the band's synthetic macho posing.

The title track lays down all of the comfortable parameters: dramatic major-chord drone, "ominous" vocals and the spare, elemental thud of the rhythm section, which is less boomy this time around thanks to engineer Chris Kimsey. Mick Ralphs continues to play full, hard chords and simple solo lines, but his rhythm and fills are becoming more sophisticated, while the nearly constant use of a phasing device gives his instrument much more effective bite.

Bad Company - Burnin' Sky
Original album advertising art.
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"Morning Sun," which follows, provides the usual hard-to-soft contrast with a traditional lament built on an acoustic 12-string figure. Unfortunately, vocalist Paul Rodgers' lyrics on this, "Leaving You" and the quasi-philosophical "Like Water" still tend toward the instantly forgettable. A master at the art of the faceless lyric, Rodgers fashions safe little modules of contemporary thought that are really little more than skeletal reference points for Rodgers' husky melisma slides.

This functional view of lyrics short-circuits during the album's most perverse track, the jam/dirge "Master of Ceremony," a two-chord organ-guitar vamp redolent with the inevitable. This sortie is dominated by really embarrassing lyrics on brotherhood ("You can be a redneck Jewish man, that's all right with me") and a distorted, meandering sense of phrasing. And what a perfect defamatory touch to start off with a quote from "Mystery Train," the sacrosanct Presley classic.

Tasteless as it is, it is tracks like "Master of Ceremony" and the charming reggae spoof "Everything I Need" that give Burnin' Sky its spark. The humor may seem a bit forced at times, but at least they're trying. For a change, this ready-made star package is giving us some humanity. To paraphrase: being white isn't always uncool either.

- Jean-Charles Costa, Rolling Stone, 5-19-77.

Bonus Reviews!

When I reviewed the first Bad Company album, I recall, I made some irresponsible statements to the effect that this band was destined to be the greatest thing since indoor plumbing and that they had enormous potential for growth. Well, I am finally ready to take it all back. Mea culpa. In four albums these guys have only managed to come up with perhaps three reasonably memorable tunes, and they have now reached the point where they can't even manipulate their own formula (the search for the Ultimate Imitation Rolling Stones Riff) with the slightest degree of imagination. Paul Rogers remains, technically, a great vocalist, but I haven't believed a word he's sung since he left Free, and the rest of the group might as well be Kiss, Aerosmith, or any other of the undistinguished loud noises currently being enshrined in vinyl. Hell hath no fury like a rock critic whose expectations have been rudely dashed, I guess.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 7/77.

Bad Company has entered the realm of superstardom with a raw, thick and powerful sound. This, the band's fourth LP, still spotlights the big vocals of Paul Rogers and the hard-rock guitar of Mick Ralphs. But augmenting the basic power trio plus vocalist format of the band is Mel Collins on saxophones and flutes who gives the LP a nice extra touch, especially on the album's more quiet material. Some thunder in the beginning, a beer hall song, a bit of '50s rock'n'roll, and an almost Doors-like finale give the album the dimension it needs to please above the band's very obvious rock appeal. The band produced this album itself and all the pieces fit very well. Best cuts: "Burnin' Sky," "Leaving You," "Man Needs Woman," "Masters Of Ceremony."

- Billboard, 1977.

The string finally ran out for Bad Company with its fourth album. Their approach was so simple that it almost inevitably became formulaic, and although Mick Ralphs continued to screech with his sparse guitar leads and Paul Rodgers continued to present his lust in a soulful voice -- well, we had heard it several times. By its fourth album, Bad Company was getting sloppy around the edges, but the real reason this was the first Bad Company to miss the Top Ten in the U.S. and the U.K. is that there was no hit single. Clearly, it was time to try something new. * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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