Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  Expert Witness
Books:
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Writings:
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Playboy
  Blender
  Rolling Stone
  Billboard
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
  Recyclables
  Newsprint
  Lists
  Miscellany
Bibliography
NPR
Web Site:
  Home
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
  Archive
Venues:
  Noisey
CG Search:
Google Search:
Twitter:

Free

  • Fire and Water [A&M, 1970] B
  • Highway [A&M, 1971] B
  • Free at Last [A&M, 1972] B
  • Heartbreaker [Island, 1973] C+
  • The Best of Free [A&M, 1975] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Fire and Water [A&M, 1970]
From sodden blooze to steady, unpretentious rock and roll in three progressively simpler--as opposed to easier--albums, climaxing with "All Right Now," a bone-crunching single you can groan along with. Recommended follow-up: a shortened "Mr. Big." Predicted follow-up: the already shortened "Fire and Water." B

Highway [A&M, 1971]
I know you think they're dumb, but they're not, they're just slow, and this intelligent noise proves it. Every instrument in what is basically a trio format must make a solo-quality contribution, yet every one is held in check, by the tempos and the structures in which flash is strictly discouraged. The tension that results is more gripping here than on Fire and Water because vocalist Paul Rodgers and guitarist Paul Kossoff have mastered the reined-in expressiveness that comes naturally to drummer Simon Kirke and (especially) bassist Andy Fraser--last time they showed off, but this time you can hear them trying not to. Equally important, the tracks average 3:48 instead of 5:02. But though there are hints of melodic and verbal facility as well, there aren't enough. B

Free at Last [A&M, 1972]
The usual steadily unpretentious hard rock. This one sounds a little sodden and listless at first, but it does come on. Nice extension of a simple, intelligent concept, recommended to the group's fans. B

Heartbreaker [Island, 1973]
"I was walking in the rain with my shoes untied," a line from newcomer Rabbit Bundrick, sums them up--I don't know myself whether it's a cleverly modified cliché or an overgrown one. But I do know that if Free at Last was simply listless this is actively deficient in formal acuteness. Andy Fraser has been replaced by both Bundrick's generally unnecessary keyboards (check out his organ on the otherwise engaging "Travellin in Style") and Tetsu Yamauchi's more stolid bass. Paul Kossoff, replaced by other guitarists on half the tracks, sounds like he's pursuing a solo career when he's on. And Paul Rodgers sounds more full of himself than his songs or his guitar warrant. C+

The Best of Free [A&M, 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 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+