Review Summary: The defining moment in Free's career, and the one album that would deem them an instantly recognizable band.
“Fire and Water” is quite an apt title for Free's third and arguably most successful album. Firstly, it is closed by one of the band's most well known and instantly recognizable tracks, 'All right Now', and secondly-and more importantly-it is the only Free album to have ever been reissued in America. Free's third album was released after a mere two years of being together as a band, and in that time there had been quite a lot of extensive touring and two albums that seemed completely different from one another.
In contrast to the startlingly impressive debut “Tons of Sobs” and the mellower, somewhat quieter self-titled second release, “Fire and Water” almost seems to live up to its name, wherein no track sounds like any other. These 30+ minutes of precise songwriting and even more precise musicianship do indeed work towards an outstandingly good sound on the whole, and one that would finally deem Free as a successful band in the early 70's. Both the opening title track and 'Oh I wept' appear to be mid paced all the way through, but before you shake your head in disappointment as a result of expecting something a little faster and livelier, Kosoff's well executed guitar picking and Andy Fraser's driving bass rhythm each give more action to the general sound of each song. It also seems that with each and every song, the musicianship does indeed get gradually faster and more prominent, from the relaxing, laid back nature of the title track and 'Oh I wept' to the the eventual, almost out-of-control instrumentation that ends both 'Mr. Big' and the band's defining song, 'All right now'.
The structure here does appear to be more thought out than ever before, but what is more noticeable is the nature of the lyrical content, which this time round appears a little more personal than usual. In particular Rodgers comes across as a man just taking his sweet time with his own life, harmonizing that “I take my seat on the train and let the sun come melt my pain/Come tomorrow I'll be far away in the sunshine of another day”, whereas on the lighter, somewhat folkier nature of 'Remember', he reminisces that “In the summer days we were lazy/And sometimes the heat would drive us all crazy”. These lyrics alone give off a realistic image of what it is truly like to tour in the summer, and the various enjoyments that can be obtained from it. Free therefore sound like they are having fun as a band on “Fire and Water”, taking their time with each song so as not to be too inconsistent with their sound or indeed not fall prey to too much repetition.
The instrumentation here, as hinted at before with Kosoff and Fraser, is equally as impressive as the general sound itself. The usual drum rhythms and bass lines are prominent, but this time round each instrument appears to shine fully and make itself useful in an appropriately big enough way, as opposed to merely existing in the background. On 'Heavy Load' and 'Mr.Big' we hear a much louder and arguably heavier guitar sound than on the album's first three tracks, thus giving the album more of a Hard Rock influence as opposed to the first two Free albums, which largely depended on Blues. The solos themselves are very carefully placed, and never seem to take away from any of the songs' structures or make the songs go on for longer than they should. The guitar solos are somewhat controlled and clearly played with a lot of technique, and even towards the end of 'Mr.Big' Fraser uses the remaining time to his advantage and closes the song in a somewhat funky fashion, the bass almost sounding like a voice itself. Fraser also uses various piano interludes throughout the album, as on free's other two records, yet it is only on 'All right now' when, alongside the other instruments, it features an ecstatic solo that makes the song a much more interesting one than ever before. 'All right now' also has one of the very rare moments where each and every instrument collides together, and gives off the impression that the band had recorded this in one, perfect take.
At a mere 36 minutes however, the album feels like it goes much quicker than you thought it would, and even though it is roughly the same time length as Free's self titled album, it still manages to be quite short and at times even a little too soft. But this is merely something that serves as a disadvantage to some, and an instant highlight to others, for “Fire and Water” really does come across as an album of fun, enjoyment and a collision of four very talented musicians. Unfortunately, the band had only released three more albums after this, and not one of them would reach the quality found on “Tons of Sobs” or this one, and consequently, after a mere five years of being together, Free would finally split up. Nonetheless, these five years would see them sell a total of 20 million records, a stunning live performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival and even play over 700 arenas. Sometimes the bands that last for a short term are the ones that truly succeed in the long term.