Joey Molland | Be True to Yourself | (Omnivore)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
The photos of Joey Molland, alone and peering into the ocean, on the cover of his first album of originals in nearly a decade, can be perceived as that of the last man standing. Which he is, at least of the band Badfinger.
The heartbreaking tale of Badfinger is too lengthy and convoluted to elaborate on here, but suffice it to say that two of its main songwriting members, Pete Ham and Tom Evans, both committed suicide. Drummer Mike Gibbons died of natural causes at the relatively young age of 56. That left guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Molland as the lone member to keep Badfinger’s Brit pop alive, which he has done through countless oldie tours and some spotty solo releases over the decades.
Molland didn’t pen the bulk of the band’s best material, but his McCartney-influenced melodies (and even looks) found a place in every Badfinger album after the band’s debut, which he wasn’t a part of. His was the sweeter side to Pete Ham’s darker impulses.
While Molland’s return to recording may not have been a highly anticipated event, there is plenty to enjoy in these ten tracks. It goes without saying that his songs, and Mark Hudson’s production, remains heavily Beatles influenced. But since Badfinger was one of Apple’s first signings, and the group gravitated to The Beatles’ pre-psychedelic melodies, that’s to be expected. From the Lennon-inflected “Loving You,” to the George Harrison influenced “Heaven” and the strong McCartney strains of “Better Tomorrow,” it’s impossible to separate this from the Fab Four reverberations that Molland has every right to cozy up to.
Now in his early 70’s, Molland retains the boyish charm and voice of his salad days. This feels like the work of someone half his age, both vocally and in its overall peppy sound. Credit also goes to producer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Hudson who balances the contributions of a few dozen players, adds strings, backing vocals and a clean, but not overly slick, sheen to the recording.
Unsurprisingly there’s plenty of Badfinger vibe here—“I Don’t Wanna Be Done With You” in particular sounds like a leftover B side — in the overall crispy Brit-pop. But Molland generally doesn’t overdo it, even if “All I Want to Do” with its sax, slide guitar and kitchen sink approach is closer to ELO than necessary.
In this topsy-turvy time, a little sweet retro UK pop comfort food goes down awfully well. As its title implies, Be True to Yourself is Molland doing what he does best. It’s good to have him back.