Best of Free
Free A&M 3663
Released: May 1975
Chart Peak: #120
Weeks Charted: 7
Been waiting for this album for a long time? Got yourself all hot and bothered because of Paul Rodgers' vocalizing and Simon Kirke's drumming with Bad Company, or possibly Andy Fraser's bass comping with Sharks? Well, cool down a trifle. It's a good collection but a couple of cuts on the first side spoil the overall effect. There's the silly near-acoustic instrumental, "Mouthful of Grass," which sounds sorely misplaced among the patented Free -- full of balls, soul, blues, and rock numbers.
Original album advertising art. Click image for larger view.
And then there are slapdash renditions of "My Brother Jake" and "The Hunter" from the hasty, ill-fated Free Live! album, all of which sounded slightly out-of-control. Control, you see, was one of the keys to Free's musical success. Controlled tension, that is, matched with wailing, charcoal gray vocals by Rodgers and dense, rudimentary, lowslung instrumentation, with moments of silence for punctuation. In fact, the group produced the perfect combination of Brit-rock and Brit-blues. Solid. Simple. Dirty. Ballsy as hell. Emotional yet somehow reserved. Aside from the aforementioned trio of tunes, this is a superior collection of representative Free numbers. The biggies are here, "All Right Now," "The Stealer," "Fire and Water," and the underrated "Woman," as well as five other winners. A reasonably good primer for any non-Free-maniac.
For those who may have been asleep over the past year or so, Paul Rodgers (lead singer of Free) and drummer Simon Kirke have gone on to form Bad Company, possibly the most important new band of the past year. This LP is a best of, though the group had few real hits, and offers some insight into the early Rodgers vocal style (actually pretty much the same as the current Rodgers style) which has critics calling him the singer's singer. Good, hard rock from one of the best bands ever to record this kind of music. Way overlooked when they were together, so don't overlook them now. Best cuts: "All Right Now," "Fire And Water," "A Little Bit Of Love," "I'm A Mover," "The Hunter."
- Billboard, 1975.
I could complain that the format automatically glosses over their austerity with an uncharacteristic catchiness, but in fact it sounds better and says more about them than their 1971 LP Highway. Just as annotator Jim Bickhart claims, the band wasn't "only effective at gut-level; it was effective as music." But often the gutty moves -- Rodgers's or Kossoff's crowd-pleasing flourishes -- weren't musical, while the arty touches -- the deliberate pace and general sense of containment -- socked you right in the cerebrum. Which is why Bad Company grandstands, and why I'm on the critical fence. B+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
A solid compilation showcasing "All Right Now" and other semi-hits, this is a worthwhile sampler for the uninitiated. * * * *