Graded on a Curve:
The Firm, The Firm

Talk about your corporate malfeasance. If I were on the board of directors of English stuporgroup The Firm I’d recommend bankruptcy.

A collaboration between legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, Free/Bad Company vocalist Paul Rogers, and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band drummer Chris Slade must have struck potential investors as an exciting IPO, but on their 1985 eponymous debut The Firm exhibited zero corporate synergy; instead of a shiny new product–a shiny new Jaguar, say–disappointed shareholders found themselves with a Bad Company Mach II on their hands.

And to compound their misery, Bad Company Mach II didn’t even live up to the standards of its predecessor. Not one of The Firm’s nine tracks measures up to such Bad Company Mach I classics as “Bad Company,” “Can’t Get Enough,” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Add to that the time factor; Straight Shooter was a quality deliverable in 1975; The Firm must have perplexed young listeners reared on punk, new wave and hair metal when it dropped 10 long years later. And even the old timers inclined to listen were disappointed by The Firm’s lack of anything new to bring to the party.

Split the blame between Rodgers and Page. The former’s wheelhouse is songwriting, but you can’t keep selling the same old song with only minor variations forever. Page, on the other hand, is chiefly notable for his absence–on such Bad Company Mach II numbers as “Together,” “Money Can’t Buy,” “Closer,” “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” and “Radioactive” he may as well be the Invisible Man.

He does lends some trademark Middle Eastern panache to “Someone to Love” and “Make or Break,” and his ghost hangs heavy over LP closer “Midnight Moonlight,” but one can only wonder where he was the rest of the time. Pricing castles in Berkshire, most likely.

The aforementioned “Midnight Moonlight” marks the LP’s only departure from Bad Company as usual. At nine-and-one-half minutes this Page-dominated track aspires to the pomp and glory of such Zep classics as “Achilles’ Last Stand,” “Carouselambra,” and “Stairway to Heaven.” And while it falls well short, Page digs deeply into the old bag of tricks–strummed acoustic guitars, gonzo riffs, changing tempos and abrupt mood shifts–that made Led Zeppelin the all-time Lords of Heavy Metal.

But Rodgers is no substitute for Robert Plant, and just as Rodgers recycles old melodies, so Page recycles old riffs–you’ve heard ‘em all before. But come the 7-minute mark things get exciting indeed, allowing one a glimpse of what The Firm might have been.

The Firm is a classic case of planned obsolescence, a strategy that pays dividends if you’re producing automobiles but rarely does so–at least over the long haul, at least–if you’re making music. The Firm is an old flame who shows up at your door wearing the same mullet and leisure suit you saw him 10 years before. His return may bring back fond memories, but no way do you want his tongue in your mouth.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D

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  • Robert Sharpe

    This album was so disappointing. Actually unlistenable.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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