Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Free - Fire And Water (1970)

There she stood in the street....

  

Released on 26 June 1970

Running time 35.01

This was the album that broke it big for UK blues rockers Free, together with a triumphant appearance at that summer's Isle of Wight Festival. Although their first two albums had been bluesily brilliant, for some reason, it was this album that really took off for them. Together with Led Zeppelin and with Deep Purple making themselves heard too, heavy, hairy blues rock was really popular at the turn of the decade. Cream had also been playing blues rock in the late sixties as too had their ex-member Eric Clapton by the seventies in his may incarnations (Derek & The Dominoes, Blind Faith). So, muscular blues rock was the thing and Free supplied it, to the nth degree. Singer Paul Rodgers and his mates strutted around in their tight jeans and tie-dye t-shirts, pumped full of testosterone, leering at girls and bemoaning being tricked in love.

TRACK LISTING

1. Fire And Water
2. Oh I Wept
3. Remember
4. Heavy Load
5. Mr. Big
6. Don't Say You Love Me
7. All Right Now                                              

"Fire And Water" is deliciously booming and bassy, deep as hell itself, enhanced by a cutting guitar solo from a then on fire Paul Kossoff, a pounding drumbeat and Paul Rodgers' ebullient vocals. "Oh I Wept" is a copper-bottomed slow burning Free rock ballad, with a monster bass line and titanic drums. "Remember" is also played at the slow, metronomic pace that many Free songs are. Kossoff's guitar is sensational on this, he never sounded better. Indeed, probably from soon after this release, everything started to go downhill for him, as he spiralled into serious drug addiction.

Most of Free's songs are dignified and insistently slow in their pace, very rarely do they speed it up  and the robust bass and piano blues of "Heavy Load" perfectly exemplifies this. The piano, played by bassist Andy Fraser (obviously recorded separately from his bass), is used more on this song than on most and Kossoff's guitar is hauntingly memorable. "Mr. Big" has an addictive drum beat and an almost funky bass sound from the always excellent Fraser. From a band that was still so young, the musicianship and confidence is stunning. Check out that guitar/bass interplay just after three minutes in until the end. Cracking stuff. As huge as Led Zeppelin had become by now, you have to say that Free deserved to be up there with them, because they were great. It is a shame and a bit of a mystery as to why they didn't ever really reach those heights. As detailed in the reviews of their subsequent albums, it all started to implode a bit after this.

In keeping with the perhaps surprisingly laid-back tempo of most of the album, "Don't Say You Love Me" is the tenderest number on offer, with a yearning vocal from Rodgers and yet another delicious bass backing. The track suffers a little from hiss at times, but it is easily overlooked by the quality of the song. Oh did I forget? How could I? - "I said love - Lord above - now you've gone and tricked me in love...". One of the greatest rock riffs of all time, if not THE greatest introduces the truly magnificent behemoth of beat that is "All Right Now". Look, it doesn't matter how many times I hear this/have heard it over many, many years I simply never tire of hearing it - that riff, Fraser's sublime bass runs, Kossoff's guitar and Rodgers' sensational rock vocal. It actually sits slightly incongruously with the rest of the album as it ups the tempo and is a commercially-orientated rocker. It duly gave the band their longed for big hit, reaching number two in the charts.

The 2002 edition has several bonus tracks, two of the best are stonking BBC live studio performances of "Fire And Water" and "All Right Now". The power on these tracks is awesome.

This was probably Free's finest album, although it is not necessarily my favourite. It often works out that way - the acknowledged best album is not one's personal favourite. I could make a case for the first two, but actually, thinking about it, yes, this was their finest half hour and yes, I probably would vote for it accordingly.

*

As with all the Free albums, I have both the 2002 and 2016 remasters. On all the albums I like both remasterings, but as with many of them I prefer the 2002 ones for the sheer rich thump and visceral power of the reproduction.

B+

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