THE ONE AFTER THE BIG ONE: The Firm, MEAN BUSINESS
Though short-lived, the Jimmy Page/Paul Rodgers partnership that resulted in The Firm did just what most anticipated it would do – make loud, arena-ready rock music that hearkened back to the glory years of Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, the bands from which Page and Rodgers sprung. That the band (which also included drummer Chris Slade and bassist Tony Franklin) never became a stadium-packing juggernaut is almost irrelevant; the two albums they left behind hold a number of treasures for those willing to dive into them.
Their self-titled debut came out in 1985 and went gold, and a year later, The Firm returned with MEAN BUSINESS. The first thing most listeners heard was the single, “All the King’s Horses.” It’s a keyboard-forward track (odd for a guitar band; odder still, there’s no Jimmy Page solo) that’s all atmosphere and macho cool. When Rodgers sings, “This ivory tower was built on rock, not sand,” you can almost feel the wind and rain blowing on him, standing on some mountaintop.
Elsewhere on the record, Page is unleashed, to most excellent effect. On the album’s first cut, “Fortune Hunter,” everything clicks into place right away, and Page’s riff and rhythm are the chief drivers, propelling this gambler’s tale, told at breakneck pace (not quite “Achilles Last Stand,” but not too far from it, either). They slow things down with “Tear Down the Walls,” but that only makes everything heavier in the process, and Franklin’s bass burbles and slips around as though it were another lead instrument.
Rodgers reaches for anthemic greatness on the ballad “Live in Peace,” ticking off a list of the cruel things nations do to one another, and to their own people. His answer to all this comes at the end of the record, with “Spirit of Love” – which will both “carry the day” and “show you the way,” notions that are strengthened by the backing of his three-man army, led by the skinny dude with the guitar, slinging riff bombs. We’ll take that weaponry any day, whether employed to wage heavy peace, or just for fun (as it is on “Cadillac” and “Free to Live”).
People wondered if the band’s well of inspiration were drying out early – the music for “Fortune Hunter” came from aborted sessions Page held in 1981 with Yes’ Chris Squire and Alan White, and “Live in Peace” was a re-recording of a cut from Rodgers’ first solo album. Whether due to a dearth of creative juices or MEAN BUSINESS’ disappointing commercial performance, The Firm dissolved mere months after the record’s release.
Though not the hit everyone involved wanted, MEAN BUSINESS stands as a fine final statement from this particular classic rock collective, a cracking, bluesy blast that deserves to get its due.
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