[17 November 2010]
It’s been nearly 20 years since Randy Bachman and Fred Turner last worked together, and it had been a decade-plus since they did their most memorable work with Bachman-Turner Overdrive. When the two got together recently, it started out as a plan to cut a track for a Bachman solo album and quickly evolved into a duo project that would echo the pair’s earlier BTO work. The resulting album, properly titled Bachman & Turner since it apparently lacks the overdrive of Randy’s brothers, gives us exactly what we’d expect, in both the good ways and the bad ways.
Hardcore fans should be pleased. The album has a hard-rockin’, classic rock feel that should be appealing. After all, the boys are back together and doing their thing reasonably well. With its punchy guitar riff and steady drive, opener “Rollin’ Along” could have been listed from one of BTO’s peak ‘70s albums. “That’s What It Is” continues the feel but with a little steam dissipating. It’s got the requisite guitar solo, but the chorus lacks the necessary power.
“I’ve Seen the Light” gives the album one of its high points. The driving riff of the verses turns into a more expansive chorus. The track should satisfy any BTO fan, and serves as a reminder that, as much as this band has become a classic rock radio cliché, they definitely had their moments. It’s a well-structured piece of rock that, although typical in all its elements, succeeds more than it should.
Unfortunately for every quality performance, there’s at least one completely forgettable cut (and even the standout numbers don’t truly stand out). At its best, the album references the past; at its worst, the album sounds stuck there. A track like “Slave to the Rhythm” starts off like a wisely forgotten Kinks outtake and deteriorates from there. Like “Rock and Roll Is the Only Way Out”, the song also suffers from being yet another rocking-about-rock song. “Rock and Roll” suffers even more from its outdated chorus, an attempt at the anthemic that results in nothing more than a shadow.
The production doesn’t help the album, either. The album just feels like it’s 35 years old. Neither the artists nor the studio people have done much to update the pair’s sound. “Neutral Zone” is stuck in a 1980s wasteland. Sometimes being stuck in the past is better than just being stuck, though, as “Traffic Jam” reminds us, not because of its titular metaphor, but because the song suffers from too much noodling and just too much of itself. The song would be forgettable at four minutes. At nearly twice that, it’s unforgettable, but for the wrong reasons.
It’s good to see Bachman and Turner back together, and their new album has enough good moments on it to remind us not only of what they once were, but to let us know that they still have it. But without pushing themselves or updating what they do, they don’t succeed in an artistic reunion. There’s no reason these two couldn’t put out one more powerful blast, but they just haven’t done it.