Monday, May 11, 2009

The Firm 1: The Firm

The band known as The Firm was born from a chance collaboration between Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers, lead vocalist from Free and Swan Song labelmates Bad Company. The quartet stuck around long enough to record two albums that combine to fill up a 90-minute Maxell tape, the gold standard for so many years. (There’s something to be said about a musical entity whose output can be so neatly contained.) The eponymous debut was the bigger hit, and for good reason.
“Closer” starts with a grungy guitar part—kind of like a backwards Keith Richards riff. There’s even horns blasting through from time to time. Soon enough the vocal kicks in, then we hear the soon-to-be omnipresent fretless bass. (If that sound bugs you, get out now. You will not be able to handle another 85 minutes of it.) Page’s guitar sound is a touch more indicative of his ‘80s style, played through a Telecaster copy with modern effects. “Make Or Break” is stolen from “Rock Steady” from the first Bad Co album. A lot of wah-wah beats the riff into the ground, then the drumbeat keeps going at the end to lead into “Someone To Love”, the worthy second single, complete with fake ending. “Together” doesn’t have much going for it, and was the B-side for the first single, “Radioactive”, which took about ten listens to catch on. The lyrics are pretty average, and the solo doesn’t sound at all like Page. (And for good reason, too—Paul Rodgers says he played it.) But just try to avoid that fade: “RADIO, RADIO, RADIO, RADIOACTIVE.”
Side two presents a gruesome rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”, which wasn’t good for Hall & Oates to do either (and makes about as much sense as the stupid remake of “Stairway To Heaven” that actually charted the following year, but let’s stay on topic). The sneaky “Money Can’t Buy” follows, with a subtle riff from “Hell’s Bells” and weird keyboards that crop up at strange moments, setting us up for the finale. “Satisfaction Guaranteed” is simple but great, the next radio hit FM-wise, and deservedly so. “Midnight Moonlight” is a musical descendent of “Kashmir”, a nine-minute semi-acoustic exploration with extemporaneous lyrics and plenty of fretless bass, female backing vocals, and another meter-ignorant hook. Critics are split as to whether it’s the best or worst thing Jimmy Page had ever done.
Two and a half decades on, both the band and the album called The Firm get unfairly slammed as overindulgent sludge, even by Zeppelin fans who can spell their favorite band’s name correctly. Perhaps it’s a nostalgia thing, but the album still holds up today, and sounds very good in the car with the windows open on the first nice day of spring.

The Firm The Firm (1985)—

3 comments:

  1. One the first 3 albums I bought.

    The Firm
    Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind
    U2 - The Unforgettable Fire

    Satisfaction Guaranteed was my favorite.

    Strangely I miss the Caldor's record dept..where I got them...

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  2. I owe much of my record collection to Caldor's. Good times.

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  3. A Firm fan !!! Good man. Saw em live at Brendan Byrne arena. Someone ripped the windshield wiper off my car while I was at the show.

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