First impressions of ... BTO minus the 'Overdrive'
If you were raised on '70s rock radio, it's sure a good time to be alive. Not only are some of that decade's groups still critical darlings to this day (Rolling Stone gushing about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Mojo," anyone?), but some of it...
If you were raised on '70s rock radio, it's sure a good time to be alive. Not only are some of that decade's groups still critical darlings to this day (Rolling Stone gushing about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Mojo," anyone?), but some of its more J.D. Salinger-like characters have also come out swinging of late. In case you haven't been paying attention, Bob Seger put out "Face the Promise" in '06 after an 11-year hiatus, and the Steve Miller Band, which hasn't put anything out since '93, just released "Bingo!"
But what has me most excited is the return of BTO principals Randy Bachman and C.F. (Fred) Turner.
On Sept. 7, the Canadian duo will release "Bachman & Turner," an honest-to-goodness return to form. And I'm not just blowing smoke here: I was fortunate enough to preview the new disc's dozen tracks, which, aside from a couple of comparative missteps, are right up there with the best from their past. (Your tastes may vary, but I consider the pair's golden years to be everything released between Bachman's second post-Guess Who release with Brave Belt and 1977's "Freeways," which was the last of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's classic albums. Though, to be fair, what I've heard of the initial '84 BTO comeback record was pretty enjoyable.)
In an instant, you'll be transported back to the feeling you got when you first heard BTO's highest-charting singles ("Takin' Care of Business," "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" and "Hey You," to name but a few) and the best of the rest (personal favorites like "Not Fragile" and "Blown").
Anyway, enough chit-chat. Here are my initial thoughts on "Bachman & Turner":
1. "Rollin' Along"
Wow, just wow. Had I actually been alive during BTO's '70s prime, this would take me right back. Aside from the vocals coming across a little more gravelly than usual (though, let's be honest, that was always one of the group's draws), this is Bachman and Turner revisiting their glory days in every sense of the phrase: loud-as-[EXPLETIVE DELETED] guitars, a bass line that hums along like the yellows stripes on Highway 69 and an AC/DC-like metal cadence that's utterly undeniable. As far as comeback singles go, this one takes the cake. This is pure truck rock.
2. "That's What It Is"
Another solid track, "That's What It Is" seems readymade for the next hits package celebrating the Bachman-Turner partnership. It's a little lighter than the sound that really defined BTO in the "Me" decade -- I could see this one becoming the soundtrack to a sweltering-heat, down-Miami-way kind of night -- but, if you're at all familiar with that group's career, you understand this type of approach has worked wonders for them in the past.
3. "Moonlight Rider"
This one was a nice surprise. I've heard a lot of "guess who's back" albums from haven't-been-heard-from-in-a-while rock entities and, all too often, they for whatever reason dedicate 85 percent of their discs to uninspired blues jams. When "Moonlight Rider" first started trickling into my headphones, I thought I had hit this disc's nosedive point. Thankfully that wasn't the case; yes, there are strong blues licks present throughout this track, but it's a roadhouse blues that you hear, and it's decidedly been filtered through the B-T machine. In other words, it keeps your attention.
4. "Find Some Love"
Another problem I have with so-called "comeback" albums is that, again, far too frequently, schmaltzy pop ballads are produced in a desperate attempt at nabbing some Top 40 airplay. When I first saw this song's title, my heart sank. No worries, though, as it's another solid rocker ... and I'm starting to realize that my initial apprehension about listening to this album was unfounded. Bachman and Turner are breaking all expectations about what twilight-years rock records can sound like.
5. "Slave to the Rhythm"
Is it just me, or is Turner really starting to sound like Tom Petty? I started noticing it on "Find Some Love," but I thought perhaps all the hype about the recently released "Mojo" had somehow clouded my listening-with-open-ears capabilities. I don't think that's the case, though. Echoes of Petty aside, "Slave to the Rhythm" is another enjoyable ditty. Even without the "Overdrive," Bachman and Turner don't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
6. "Waiting Game"
And I ... spoke too soon. "Waiting Game" isn't dreary by any means -- it still has a menacing bass line -- but it's more akin to an even-tempered Foreigner radio staple than the pure, driving rock we've long flocked to BTO for.
7. "I've Seen the Light"
Perhaps sensing that "Waiting Game" was a bit of a bathroom-break point, Bachman turns up the guttural factor here. Don't be misled by the seemingly inspired lyrics; he's ready to bust your door down here.
8. "Can't Go Back to Memphis"
Sporting a slightly "cleaner" sound than "I've Seen the Light" -- at least initially -- this monster quickly devolves (in the best possible way, of course) into the dirty swamp rock Jack White has been trying to teach to today's young rock fans about with his myriad groups. There is some serious riffage going on here. Toasty!
9. "Rock and Roll is the Only Way Out"
There is a sense of controlled urgency here not heard since Joan Jett's colossal 1981 record "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." Bachman and Turner have certainly covered a lot of ground with this collection of worthy successors to their mammoth back catalog, and this is another fiery winner.
10. "Neutral Zone"
There is nothing "neutral" about any of this. Like just about every song on this disc, track No. 10 is all about pushing the needle into the red and trying to melt faces in the crowd. While BTO records were always pretty rockin' affairs, this is starting to get into Mountain's ear-blistering territory. I like it.
11. "Traffic Jam"
If Bachman and Turner's best songs are vehicles built for rolling down the highway, "Traffic Jam" is just that: the sound of everything coming to a screeching halt. It's not the worst slower number these two have concocted, but it does put a damper on the whole affair (yes, by this point in the album I've become a little spoiled with so many harder tracks). What really ruins the mood for me in particular is a cheesy, only-Sting-circa-the-early-'90s-could-pull-it-off synthesizer lines swimming around in the background.
12. "Repo Man"
Phew, back to good ol' rock music. Sure, it sounds vaguely like something Dire Straits would've come up with had they collaborated on "Money for Nothing" with ZZ Top instead of Sting (man, what's with me and that bloke today?), but it's miles more entertaining than the previous-track alternative.
Feel like a Bachman & Turner live show would do your soul good? Keep your eyes on www.bachmanandturner.com for concert dates.