by Mike Saunders
Rolling Stone , 1970
Straight Up is a big disappointment coming after Badfinger's previous superb album, No Dice. I remember reading a quote by drummer Mike Gibbins saying that Straight Up would be a "natural progression" from the previous album -- as is usually the case with such supposed progressions, the result here is self-consciousness in place of spontaneity, solemnity in the place of former exuberance and a general all-around deadness where infectious energy was the previous rule.
Most often of all, the first of former virtues to fall by the wayside is that of unabashed rock and roll energy, and that's what has happened here. The result is a barely decent album, one which is the poorest of Badfinger's three LP's and by far the least likable.
It's hard to say where the blame lies. The quality of the songwriting (split evenly here between Pete Ham, Tom Evans and Joey Molland) is down all around, the melodies that Badfinger had previously excelled in are just not anywhere as plentiful here. The production: Todd Rundgren, some George Harrison -- is decidedly inferior to what Badfinger had in the past, particularly in the atrociously muddy sound of the vocals. Peter Ham's great guitar work, one of the factors that made him so prominent on No Dice, seems to be already a thing of the past.
Most of all though, and it really hurts to say this, there just isn't any rock and roll spirit on this album: that magic scooby-doo, whatever you want to call it is gone. Straight Up is completely devoid of the handful of energetic ravers Badfinger have included on previous albums and which acted as keys to the music's overall vitality; added the lack of Badfinger's former lightweight pop virtues, this is the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the group.
Basically, Straight Up shows the case of yet another talented but directionless group, one that've somehow convinced themselves that they have to do something more serious, more polished, than just plain old rocking out. The mystery is that No Dice was so good and yet this album is so lacking in the qualities that made Badfinger's first two Lps so engaging. And Badfinger seemed to have so much potential. Few groups have ever combined the joyous spirit of pop-ish rock and roll with a real hard rock sound -- the Small Faces and Flamin Groovies looked as if they were about to do it in a never equaled fashion, both unfortunately to break up at their peak -- if anyone ever does completely it'll be a real milestone of an event and Badfinger seemed to have right ingredients to give it a shot in a lightweight rock sort of fashion: Well, as the saying goes, kaput.
There were many comparisons made of Magic Christian Music and No Dice to the Beatles' Help period and the analogies were apt. With Straight Up, Badfinger seem to have already reached the Beatles' Revolver stage: a stultifying self-conscious artiness, a loss of previous essential virtues and far too much general farting around. Which just goes to show, I guess that the 1964-5 days of regular AM hits and an expected output of three Lps a year from name groups were a lot healthier than we had ever dreamed. It sure is disheartening to wait a whole year for an album as disappointing as this one.