Review Summary: Whilst not without its particularly outstanding moments, this album is far from Free's defining effort or indeed a staple of Blues Rock.
The underrated yet legendary existence of Free's debut could certainly be judged as a historically monumental record for the late 60's, but even at the end of 1969, having devoted a lot of time to touring as much of the world as they could, Free still didn't seem to be widely recognized as a band with promising talent. This particular year saw the release of the debut albums by both Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and which were probably the reason for Free's slightly underrated existence.
However, the band's second self-titled album very rarely reaches the quality founded on their debut album, “Tons of Sobs”. The reason for this is that not only had the musicianship and general structure of each song changed in regards to that of the band's debut album, but they had also slightly dipped in terms of consistency and originality. This isn't to say that the band had already somehow lost their musical talent or indeed their ambitions, but it is indeed noteworthy that pretty much each and every song on “Free” sounds as if it drags on forever.
At a mere 36 minutes, Free's self-titled album doesn't ever seem to change its song structures as abruptly and surprisingly as on “Tons of Sobs”. Whereas three or four songs do appear to be much more upbeat and interesting than the remaining five, it is a great shame to say that this is really the band's weakest album of their first few records. 'Lying in the Sunshine', 'Mouthful of Grass' and 'Free Me' all suffer from a lack of diversity and a failure to remain memorable to the listener mere moments after each respective song has finished. Even the usually fantastic guitar work by Paul Kosoff can't help to make the songs any more original, and in regards to the band's debut album, it proves to be quite a weak and rather unsettling listen.
Fear not however, because the album does have quite a few strikingly good moments. The problem is that these moments are often brief and not at all as prominent in the overall sound as they should be. For instance, the various grouped vocals (presumably sung by every member of the band, as there are different voices) on 'I'll be creepin'', 'Mouthful of Grass' and 'Free Me' give off a stunningly melodic sound to the songs and also more variety to the overall vocal style. There's the folky effect on the album's final track 'Mourning sad Mourning' given off by a very brief flute and an even briefer piano interlude, both of which never seem to last for more than 10 seconds a piece. That's a total of 20 seconds of a song that lasts 313 seconds. Unfortunately every other second of the track suffers from too much mediocre repetition and not enough substance to the sound or originality to make the song stand out from any other. Yes, this is Blues Rock, but even Blues Rock has its excellent standards, and this is not one of them.
The Blues-inspired opener 'I'll be creepin'' features some ecstatic guitar work by Paul Kosoff and a louder bass rhythm by Andy Fraser, who also contributes largely to the songwriting of the album, and in the process quite obviously using his instrument to sound as interesting, if not more so, than the guitar work. Straight away Paul Rodgers' instantly recognizable vocal ability is heard when he sings “Yeah cos I'll be creepin' baby/And I'll be creepin' round your door”, once again providing a menacing yet very promising standard for the rest of the album to follow. The heavier nature of 'Trouble on Double Time' is very reminiscent of Led Zeppelin playing 'Communication Breakdown', and it certainly proves worthwhile when Rodgers sings right from the heart and soul. The other outstanding track on Free's self-titled effort is 'Broad Daylight', which really could have been a benefit to the album had it been the final track as opposed to the partly mediocre 'Mourning sad Mourning'. 'Broad Daylight', as on the album's opener and 'Trouble on Double Time', seeks to impress the listener with its heaviness and groove-laden rhythms, before changing into a softer, slower paced interlude courtesy of the bass work itself. In fact, it's really the heavier songs that save Free's self-titled album from becoming a completely and utterly damp squib.
The only other thing that needs to be mentioned is how this haunting mediocrity and repetition affects the music as a whole. On 'Lying in the Sunshine', 'Mouthful of Grass' and even 'Free Me' every member of the band appear to be bored with themselves as their instruments plod along at a painfully slow pace, and at the same time not even representing the Blues Rock genre in a good way. Even Rodgers' vocals, which at times on these songs do appear to be promising, are generally sung in such a dull tone that it almost seems as if the man himself wants to go to sleep. The softer guitar work, which on “Tons of Sobs” was as interesting and as brilliantly executed as the heavier moments, never really help to propel each song into a more original structure, and with all due respect to Paul Kosoff (RIP), this certainly isn't his best effort.
It's probably unbelievable and shocking to some of you that one album by a band as legendary as Free is regarded as mediocre for the most part, but regarding the band's self-titled second album, that's exactly what it is all about. Nine songs of similar song structures, repetitive musicianship and only a select few of which offering some promising originality and a lot of diverse instrumentation. As an album itself, it would seem to anyone that it isn't as boring as perceived in this review, but for those who have heard “Tons of Sobs” or even “Fire and Water”, this will almost seem like a waste of time. Therefore the only reason you should buy this is if you want to complete your Free collection. Aside from that, if you really want a good example of Blues Rock or even of Free's best works, check out their debut album or “Fire and Water”.