Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Free Fire And Water (1970)


Wow, how annoying. I’m lucky I have this album paired together with Free on one CD – which means I have the best Free album in the world that money can buy (hey, don’t you notice the contradiction in that last sentence?).

Basically, this record features three songs that are absolutely essential to any Free collection, three of their most renown numbers; so that’s why the album is often hailed as Free’s most artistically successful, and while this point is debatable, there’s no doubt that it was also the peak of Free’s commercial success: the band really hit the big time with it, albeit for not more than one year in total. And yet, as you can see, my overall rating of it is significantly lower. And why? Why, would you ask? Would you suspect me of being able to bash the band’s biggest hits as if they were a damn bunch of fluff? Why, not at all! I’m just giving it a low rating because these three songs (which we’ll discuss below, as some kind of dessert) are immersed in a sea of filler.

Truly, now, these other four songs (and they’re all long as hell) have almost nothing to redeem them. The biggest embarrassment comes on ‘Remember’, a pedestrian rocker that… oh horror… yes, I just realized that it is a complete rip-off of Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Remember’ with changed lyrics. Gee, how cute. Considering the fact that I was never thrilled by the original (I still consider it one of the weakest cuts on Are You Experienced?), you can guess how pleased I am to be hearin’ this carbon copy of it. Sue me if you’d like to, but this can’t be no small coincidence.

The other stuff that I prefer to turn my nose away from are three ballads that simply don’t hold a candle to the intricate, delicate material on Free. Like, for instance, ‘Oh I Wept’ has a more tight and a little more fast melody than all those lethargic numbers back there, but it also turns out to be far less memorable – because it has no atmosphere. Come to think of it, it has no melody – Paul is just standing there in the background playing a two-chord riff or something, and the only gulps of refreshment are again provided by some of Fraser’s exciting bass lines.

‘Heavy Load’ is one of their most pretentious songs of the period, and no, ladies and gentlemen, Free had better stay away from pretentiousness no matter how life conditions turn out to be in the end. It’s a gospelish number with huge emphasis on the piano that the band members didn’t actually figure out how to put to good use, and Rodgers sounds anything but convincing – maybe he is trying to pull a Rod Stewart (one of his idols, as far as I know), but he sure ain’t one. To put it short, they over arrange the number so it loses its potential folkie charm, but forget to substitute something for it. Maybe it would have sounded better with an acoustic guitar. And finally, ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ just plain drags, another lethargic ballad, but this time it’s just sappy and generic instead of heartbroken and pessimistic. Blah.

Now that the filler is out of the way, I can describe the three BIG numbers to ya. What’s the biggest, you wonder? Would it be ‘All Right Now’? Nah. The best song here is the title track, built on a fantastic distorted Kossoff riff (some hard rock at long last, right?), catchy, strong, tight, and compact, and it also has one of their best instrumental breaks, with Kossoff showcasing those famous vibratos that Eric Clapton so longed for. And then there’s ‘Mr Big’, a social protest song (at least this is how it sounds to me without the lyrics sheet) that sucks, but it is completely redeemed by the magnificent instrumental passage (yes, also one of their best) which is really all you need to be stunned by the playing power of Mr Andy Fraser. What he does is play a bass solo… wait, no, don’t run away! I hate bass solos as much as the next guy, but this is different.

They play as if it was not him, but Paul, who’s playing the solo. But Paul is actually just standing in the background (again) and playing loads of muffled power chords, like, you know, as if he was holding the rhythm down, while Andy goes all over the fretboard and actually concocts a lovely – and a finger-flashing at that – melody! It’s really undescribable, but I challenge everybody to hear that song and try not to agree with me that this mid-section is quite unlike anything you’ve heard before or since! Andy was a wonderful guy, certainly fit for a much ‘bigger’ band. Gee, what if we paired him with Alvin Lee of Ten Years After? Eh?…

So, that’s about it. Oh! No! How come I’ve been prattling so much about their biggest hit ‘All Right Now’ and haven’t still mentioned its presence on this record? It’s here all right, and it sure is famous, and I sure like it. I must say, though, they did songs far better than that. I’d guess it all stems from the population’s love towards simplistic, easiest-to-access riffs (the same thing accounts for the immense popularity of, say, Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’); but I guess I may be wrong here, too. That said, the song has easily the best Paul Rodgers vocal effort on this record, and is certainly the most raunchy, cock-rockin’ anthem that the band did.

If only the refrain were a little cleverer than just the dumb stutter ‘all right now, baby it’s all right now’, it could have been a timeless classic! As it is, it’s just a trademark for Free – symbolizing both its main strengths and its main weaknesses.

May 6, 2013 - Posted by | Free Fire And Water |

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