Monday, December 19, 2011

Badfinger 6: Wish You Were Here

For any other band, the prospect of creating three full-length albums to be released within a twelve-month period would be daunting, if not impossible, but most bands weren’t Badfinger. What’s even more amazing is that not only did they accomplish this Sisyphean feat, but they got better with each new LP.
Wish You Were Here is the peak of a busy period, an album where all cylinders were firing at maximum. It delivers on the power-pop promise of No Dice and Straight Up, without getting too sentimental, and letting Joey Molland shred on lead throughout.
“Just A Chance” is classic Pete Ham, and “Your So Fine” (just one example of their grammatical anarchy) is a catchy Mike Gibbins song sung by Joey, with excellent harmonies. Joey’s concerns with the future of the band drive “Got To Get Out Of Here”. But the one-two punch of shimmering gem “Know One Knows” and the multi-layered “Dennis”—the closest thing to an emotional piano ballad here, sung to a mischievous child—proves that Pete Ham was the living amalgam of Lennon and McCartney. (The final minute-and-a-half is exhilarating, in the way the bass walks over the piano, and subtly mixed harmonies support the lead vocal.)
The band’s skill at combining ideas frames the second side of the album, with a pair of “medleys” unfairly compared to those on Abbey Road. True, “In The Meantime/Some Other Time” does fade in on a discordant orchestra, but soon develops into a driving minor-key rocker. (Credit producer Chris Thomas for the fantastic sound throughout the album.) “Love Time” is a little on the wimpy side for Joey, but at least it’s heartfelt. Tommy’s only real contribution is “King Of The Load (T)”, which sounds like another song we can’t place, is firmly entrenched in the ‘70s by the electric piano, and doesn’t explain what the letter T is for, unless that’s the first initial of the roadie in question. “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke” is constructed as a grand finale, with frustrations over the state of the band still managing to convey a sense of triumph over adversity.
So as great as it is, how has this album managed to be so overlooked all these years? Well, not only was it released a full eight months before the Pink Floyd album of the same name, Wish You Were Here was also pulled from distribution before said Floyd album came out. The wheeling and dealing that had brought the band to Warner Bros. caught up with their crooked management, leaving the boys in the middle with the most to lose. They were already rushed back into the studio to record yet another album, to be titled Head First. And that April, at the magical age of 27, Pete Ham hung himself.
The prospect of an expanded edition of Wish You Were Here in 2018 faded a little once the bonuses were revealed to be an unreleased version of Tommy’s “Queen Of Darkness” followed by “alternate” mixes of eight of the nine album tracks. Most of these exposed horn parts and orchestral flourishes left out of the final product, which only underscore how solid the album was in the first place.

Badfinger Wish You Were Here (1974)—4
2018 expanded edition: same as 1974, plus 9 extra tracks

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