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Desolation Angels
Bad Company

Swan Song 8506
Released: March 1979
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Platinum: 4/26/79

Mick Ralphs, Bad Company's lead guitarist, has been quoted as saying he left Mott the Hoople because he "wanted to play a ballsier kind of rock & roll." There you have it. Ralphs' description captures the strengths and weaknesses of Bad Company's erstwhile style in a nutshell: balls, but less in the sense of nervy musical expansion than of macho bullishness and the allocation of brutish power to the most simplistic riffs.

There's riffing aplenty on Bad Company's latest, but the balls are constrained by a jockstrap of despair. Desolation Angels reveals qualities about these guys that their earlier work didn't hint at: wry world-weariness and a bemusement toward the tension between the sexes, plus a querulous, queasy feeling about their own place in all this. It's as if Bad Company had listened to the product of their ball-brained heirs, Foreigner, and what they heard made them feel scared and scarred, old and depressed.

What's impressive about Desolation Angels is less the quality of the music than the kind of music the band has now chosen to make. Fully half of the new album consists of medium-tempo ballads, songs as garrulously melancholy as the Jack Kerouac novel from which the LP's title is taken. Kerouac's book was an exhausted excoriation of the aging writer's themes of betrayed friendship and unbalanced love affairs, and that's also what Paul Rodgers is singing about in such numbers as "Early in the Morning" and "Lonely for Your Love." Rodgers' vocals and Ralphs' guitar playing are every bit as ragged and repetitious as Kerouac's prose -- song for song, there's a lot of sincere, mediocre work earnestly being committed to vinyl.

Fortunately, these individual mediocrities gather a cumulative force that results in a triumph of tone: on Desolation Angels, Bad Company is no longer the bunch of mechanical hedonists they've always seemed to be in the past. Instead, they present themselves as confused, desperate rockers, aching to be admired (both by the fans who'll buy this record and by their lovers to whom the tunes were addressed) even when they know that admiration -- be it professional or romantic -- is the most ephemeral of rewards.

The most blatant example of this change in attitude is the album's most blatant hard rocker, "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy," a bit of self-contemplation made charming by the modesty of its detail. Here, Rodgers holds that, for him, nirvana is but a well-played and well-received Bad Company concert -- a nice, if too obviously ingenuous, notion.

Things get slightly more subtle in the moony pastorale, "Early in the Morning," which sports a vocal from Rodgers that at first sounds like Seals and Crofts but then rises to recall the young Stevie Wonder at his most solemnly sentimental. Yet at least two of the track's five minutes are slow, surplus boogie music. Bad Company may have discovered the aesthetic advantages of tenderness, but they still can't come up with compelling, varied melodies to express that feeling.

Only twice do song and sentiment converge to create the group's desired ballsy-but-brainy combination. The bass and drums that drive "Rhythm Machine" provide a dense, terse hook for what initially seems to be just another salute to the male member. Quickly, however, the title metaphor expands to include the idea that this "machine" works only for its one true love, and will do so all night long -- if she wants to.

Best of all is "Take the Time," a sweet, swaying ballad by Ralphs, with a chorus that emphasizes "I wanna take the time/To tell you I love you." Needless to say, this amounts to quite a philosophical about-face, because the band's biggest hits, "Can't Get Enough" and "Feel Like Making Love," were about nothing so much as the summary demands of a love-starved brute who wanted it fast and never mind the sweet talk.

But good intentions don't necessarily mean a good record, and Desolation Angels, for all its seriousness and hard work, plods more often than it kicks in. Yet Bad Company's small, honest breakthrough does make them credible and even sympathetic at a time when either the postboogie puffery of Foreigner, Styx, Kansas et al., or the austere aggressiveness of punk would seem to have rendered their second-generation hard rock all but obsolete. Instead, Bad Company has found salvation, inspiration and balls in utter desperation. May such "unhappiness" flourish.

- Ken Tucker, Rolling Stone, 5-3-79.

Bonus Reviews!

Though the hit cut is "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy," this album is basically a program of second-generation British blues-band workouts disguised as contemporary pop/rock. Bands like Bad Company have to find a comfortable and prosperous middle ground between the two extremes set up by the first-generation British blues musicians: the Rolling Stones, who fused rock and blues to their own purposes, and John Mayall, a lingering and garrulous quasi-purist whose sound has always reflected a compromise between righteousness and a need for pocket money.

Bad Company is a well-oiled group, and their performances are skillful. The problem is the material, which is so-so, as urban-marketplace white blues usually are. And blues bands that work too hard at what they're doing tend either to bore you quickly or to arouse your admiration for their energy without exciting your pleasure.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 7/79.

Two years ago when Burnin' Sky, the last Bad Company LP, was released, the band was on the forefront of progressive rock. Times have changed, and the Bad Company sound on the one hand has been refined and hardened by Foreigner, and on the other dismissed by the whole new legion of disco and post new wave acts. But this has not deterred Bad Company. The quartet has kept on doing what it knows best, playing full midtempo rock and blues. Although it's beginning to sound tired. Best cuts: "Lonely For Your Love," "Rock'n'RolI Fantasy," "Oh Atlanta."

- Billboard, 1979.

This is supposedly a return to form after Burning Sky, and it may be. I'll just say that if I'd never mistake them for Free anymore, I'd never mistake them for Foreigner either, I don't think. P.S. Are those syndrums on "Evil Wind"? Naughty naughty. C

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

After a couple of mediocre efforts, Desolation Angels marked a return to form for Bad Company. It was also the band's last consistent album, powered by "Rock N' Roll Fantasy" and "Gone, Gone, Gone." * * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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