By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
THE FIRM – MEAN BUSINESS (1986)
After having a gold album with their self-titled debut album and a big radio hit with the song “Radioactive”, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the “super group” put together by Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page would regroup for another release.
And yet despite that pedigree, it seems to me that on a personal level and in the grander musical scheme of things, The Firm never did quite get too much of a big deal made out of them. The personal angle for me comes about because while I remember loving the hell out that “Radioactive” song, I never heard anything else by the band. Or at least so I thought.
And that’s where Mean Business comes into play. Hell, I don’t think I even realized that the band had done a second album until I was sent a copy of it from my friend Jeff in Georgia. As I listened to it, I realized that I actually had heard “All The King’s Horses” before. But since I didn’t own the album until recently, I’m pretty sure that I must’ve just heard it on the radio over the past few…ahem…decades.
That song is on the first side of the eight song album and while it is the most recognizable track, there’s actually quite a good mix of bluesy rock and roll to discover here. The band’s leadership came from Page and Rodgers but with Tony Franklin on bass and Chris Slade on drums, all the musical bases were covered with the lineup. While Page and Rodgers wrote and/or co-wrote the majority of this album together, Franklin is credited with writing the song “Dreaming”.
The album opens with a stone cold killer in the rocking number “Fortune Hunter”. Musically, it just burns from start to finish. I was a tiny bit unhappy with the production sound on the vocal track though. At first I thought that maybe the tape was warped or something but as it turns out, it was the track itself. Whatever decision was decided on to put a slightly heavier bit of production layering on the vocals, it wasn’t quite as successful as one might’ve hoped for. Still, leaving that aside, even Rodgers vocals come up pretty strong.
I wasn’t crazy however about the music for “Cadillac”. The slow and plodding tempo may have lent itself to the track sounding a bit heavier but it just didn’t really work for me overall. I will say that I did like the drums from Slade on this track, they got a bit more spotlight here.
Meanwhile, “Live In Peace” has a finely crafted solo at the end of the track that amplifies it as a whole.
Side two has a rocking opener in “Tear Down The Walls” and I liked “Free To Live” well enough as well. But I really enjoyed the album’s final song “Spirit Of Love”. It already had everything you could’ve asked for with an uptempo pace but throw in some great guitar playing (naturally), an impressive vocal take (again, naturally) and then enhance all that with an accompanying choir providing backing vocals and this song just soars.
I’m a huge fan of Paul Rodgers from his time with Bad Company and Free. That’s not much of a surprise. Neither is the fact that I love Jimmy Page from his Led Zeppelin days. But I think it is safe to say that I’ve really not given any of their other projects nearly the look-see that they definitely deserve. The fact that they are together on this album shows that they not only worked well together but put out some quality music in their brief collaboration. It is definitely in my and your best interests to reconsider taking the time to check out what they have to offer outside of the bands that made them famous. Mean Business is a pretty good place to start.
NOTES OF INTEREST: This album was the final studio album for The Firm. Drummer Chris Slade would go on to play for AC/DC while Tony Franklin would join up with John Sykes and Carmine Appice in the band Blue Murder. Meanwhile, Rodgers and Page have done far too many things for me to list here but if you look them up online, you will find a wealth of material to check out.
The song “Live In Peace” was originally recorded for the Paul Rodgers solo album Cut Loose. The version on this album is different than that version. Oh, and the Cut Loose album will be a future Cassette Chronicles article.
“Fortune Hunter” was initially written by Jimmy Page and Yes bassist Chris Squire for a project they were working on in the early 80’s. The project got shelved and Page resurrected the song for this album. However, this version of the song is credited as a co-write between Page and Paul Rodgers, not Chris Squire.