segunda-feira, 2 de novembro de 2020

LÉARGO (UK) - The Artist (7'', Motor City Rhythm, 1979)


Despite the widespread narrative that rock music was 'dead' in the late 1970's before it was 'saved' by punk rock, the fact is that UK's rock scene was very active in the turn of the decade, with many youthful combos making a fair bit of noise in pubs and clubs all over the land. Granted, there was little (if any) hope for a major record deal for most newcomers to the scene (in fact, few bands managed to sign with high profile labels, even at the height of the NWOBHM boom), but that alone is no indication that nobody cared. From the multifarious groups doing the rounds in the UK Midlands while the NWOBHM phenomenon was taking shape, the bizarrely-named Léargo (not a clue, really) were on the periphery of the genre really, being far more attuned to prog rock and AOR rather than anything more forceful or metallic. Still, they're unmistakably connected with the NWOBHM nowadays, their sole "The Artist" 7'' single from 1979 now being a clear collectable for aficionados of the genre, so it totally makes sense to drop a few lines about them around here, even if they seemingly never really wanted to jump into the NWOBHM bandwagon at all.

The 4-piece were rather popular in and around the Birmingham area, with lots of well-documented live appearances to their credit. The buzz around them seems to have been enough to encourage the Motor City Rhythm label to comission a stylish presentation for the band's innaugural release, with nice artwork (the illustrations having something to do with the lyrical topics of both songs, I guess) and an insert with lyrics and songwriting/band credits. The production values are less than stellar though, and the somewhat muddied sound is a slight detriment to the band's strenghts. Curiously, it seems that "Played Out Angel" is supposed to be the A-side, even if the record is named as "The Artist" on the front cover - I don't know, maybe the band saw the release as an EP or something. This one won't come cheap even without the picture sleeve, mind you, so perhaps it's a good idea to wait for a full package if you really feel like buying it, as the careful presentation really adds to the impact of the music herein.

None of the songs here featured are heavy metal by any stretch, as mentioned above, but I'd say "The Artist" is the most intense tune by far. The drumrolls during the intro may be deceptive for first-time listeners, but don't let yourself be fooled: despite some moments of relative intensity, it's a very melodic, evocative number way more attuned to Pendragon and Liaison than anything more metallic. The lyrics about the carefree, do-what-thou-wilt lifestyle of some kind of artist (oh really?) fit well to the atmosphere created by the instrumentation, and I'm sure those who enjoy the aforementioned bands and/or late 70's prog rock as a whole are very likely to enjoy this particular track. "Played Out Angel", on the other hand, is something of a letdown in comparison: I really like the drumming, and the busy basslines deserve some respect as well, but this tale about the life and regrets of a prostitute (or perhaps a groupie?) seems to never get off the ground properly, a feeling not at all alleviated by the nondescript, unremarkable chorus. Not a disaster really, just a markedly less accomplished tune than its imaginative, way more engaging counterpart. Still, "The Artist" is a nice listen as a whole, and you're well advised to it a chance if a copy ever comes your way (and your wallet can afford it, of course).

The insert says the two  songs are taken "from the forth coming album", but I'm positive such a record was never pressed in vinyl format - in fact, I have a strong suspicion it was never even recorded at all. Similarly, the persisting rumors about a seldom-seen follow-up 7'' from Léargo (including some "test pressing" allegations coming from obscure corners of the collecting scene) can be safely dismissed as little more than urban legend: though Motor City Rhythm apparently did made some preparations for a sophomore release, the label had ceased operations completely by the latter half of 1980, which makes the possibility of marketing a single mere weeks before leaving the business extremely unlikely (furthermore, the fact that no credible sources seems to have seen a copy, let alone own one, speaks volumes). Still, it's safe to assume Léargo did some further visits to the studio, and a handful of non-single tracks apparently got as far as receiving some limited airplay on local radio in the Midlands, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility that some demos and/or cassette-only releases might still exist out there, though I've never heard of any surviving copies anytime, anywhere. If you happen to know better (most of all if you used to have some direct involvement with Léargo in the past), please kindly get in touch!

I'm not sure for how long the band persevered under their original guise, but it's now fair common knowledge that Léargo metamorphosed into Sumo Giants sometime in the early 1980's, adopting a tuneful, more commercial sound. They recorded a session for Tommy Vance's 'Into the Music' in May 1985 (never heard it, and I would really love to!) and got as far as to release the "Tower of Babel" single in 1988, the title track being produced by none another than Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra's fame. The 12'' version of this release presents an old Léargo's track named "Water" as a bonus track, so I guess it's a mildly interesting artifact for obsessive completists, though rest assured it's nowhere near heavy rock territory, let alone NWOBHM. In later years, drummer/backing vocalist Ray Fullard (who seems to have lend a hand for lo-fi/post punk outfit The Digital Dinosaurs sometime in the early 1980's) have been collaborating with Althea Gaye (a X-factor show veteran) in a duo named Octave Tinkling Twosome, while his brother Alan is a reasonably successful artist in UK's folk rock scene. Guitarist Andy Ford would also have a go (now as a bassist) on an early 1990's indie rock band named Hellfire Sermons, so it's fair to say Léargo's bandmembers were (and probably still are) really commited to the cause of playing music.

Many thanks to the Heavy Metal Rarities forum for picture sleeve, insert and label scans!

Alan Fullard (V/K), Andy Ford (G/V), Jules Burrowes (B/V), Ray Fullard (D/V).

01. Played Out Angel (Fullard/Ford) 4:04
02. The Artist (Ford) 4:26

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

segunda-feira, 12 de outubro de 2020

UFO (UK) - No Place to Run (LP, Chrysalis, 1980)


I sincerely think that, if they wanted to soldier on as a band, there wasn't much of an option for UFO in late 1978 but to get rid of Michael Schenker. Let's face it: no matter how much of a genius he was (and still is), Schenker's alcohol abuse, unpredictable mood swings and erratic behavior were all very difficult to deal with, and I fully understand why Phil Mogg (pretty much the mainman on UFO from this point onwards) felt it was about time to let the guitarist go. The excellent results of the "Strangers in the Night" live album may invite some oh-if-all-could-have-been-different meditation on many listeners, but the fact is still there for all to see: Schenker messed things up big time, to such an extent that his stand-in and future substitute Paul Chapman had to fill his shoes more than once, as the German axeman would be too inebriated and/or unwilling to perform. You can use the "there's no UFO without Schenker" card as much as you like, but it takes two to tango, you know.

The problem, as you all can imagine, is that it's not at all easy to replace an outstanding musician such as Michael Schenker. Paul Chapman (another one that has left the building way too soon, so may he Rest in Power forevermore) was a natural choice, almost a no-brainer in fact: he knew the songs by heart and was tested and approved on the live environment (I suggest looking after a semi-bootleg release named "Parker's Birthday" in case you're still in doubt). The new guy sure knew what to do with a guitar on his hands, and UFO were more than well served with him upon a stage. But you don't need more than a couple of spins to "No Place to Run" to know exactly what Chapman's achilles' heel was: he wasn't half the songwriter Michael Schenker is. Considering that Pete Way and Paul Raymond had become more of sporadic songwriters, and Phil Mogg was the kind of collaborative composer that needed someone else's instrumental ideas to work with, it's easy to understand that their ability to write seriously good music was in sensible decline. 

Most of the songs featured on "No Place to Run"  lack the dynamics and the imaginative sollutions so abundant in earlier releases, being little more than competent, but rather formulaic attempts to follow the trend of the times - just like "Obsession" before it, but with perilously poorer results. Play simple music is not that simple, you know: even the most basic of songs need some sort of creativity and/or sense of urgency to capture people's minds, and UFO seems to be running out of both assets in this LP. Perhaps even more worrying is the perceivable decrease in energy, something completely at odds with the youthful enthusiasm of then-arising NWOBHM; a song like the title-track, a tune that wouldn't be more than serviceable under normal circumstances, comes out even less interesting when played in such a bureaucratic manner, like the guys were just trying to get rid of the task as fast as they could. 

Don't get me wrong: these guys were still masters of their trade, and songs such as "Money Money" (an intense heavy rocker with nice use of support vocals and guitar embellishments, perhaps the best composition from the entire record), "This Fire Burns Tonight" (nice chorus) and the competent version of Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" (excellent solos on this one) are sure to make fans happy. I also like ballad "Take it or Leave it", a truly beautiful track with delicate, neat arrangements. But redundant, less-than-enthusiastic rockers like "Lettin' Go" and "Young Blood" don't help matters at all, and poor tracks like "Anyday" (a very confusing composition that fades out to oblivion before threatening to make sense) and "Gone in the Night" (a sort of cabaret-vibe rock and roll that simply doesn't work to any extent) are close to an embarassment, if we're to be honest here. 

As a whole, "No Place to Run" sounds too midtempo and tamed to be a strong contender, let alone in a moment when the NWOBHM was taking the world by storm with a much more energetic, dynamic and forceful musical approach. Much of the blame should go to the production / mixing job by George Martin - a household name that may have seemed quite a strong choice at the time (he used to be the Fifth Beatle, for God's sake), but turned out to be disappointing due to the bland, faceless results of his work here. Nothing sounds real bad, but nothing stands above average either, a shortcoming that only adds to the run-of-the-mill feeling of the proceedings. While bands like Judas Priest, Scorpions and even Black Sabbath were successfully adjusting their sound and image to the new times, UFO were missing the wave they pretty much saw before anyone else.

"No Place to Run" wasn't that good when it came out in early 1980, and it surely didn't get better with age, so there's no urgency to buy it unless you're already a fan (like myself, for instance). The great comercial success of "Strangers in the Night" would still keep UFO's head above water a while longer, but they seriously needed to deliver something more substantial next time around, if they really wanted to survive as a relevant group in the very competitive rock/metal environment of the 1980s. And credit where is due: they surely tried hard.

Phil Mogg (V), Paul Chapman (G), Paul Raymond (G/K), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D).

01. Alpha Centauri (Chapman) 2:06
02. Lettin' Go (Way, Mogg) 3:51
03. Mystery Train (J.Parker, S. Phillips) 3:55
04. This Fire Burns Tonight (Chapman, Mogg) 4:31
05. Gone in the Night (Way, Mogg) 3:47
06. Young Blood (Way, Mogg) 3:59
07. No Place to Run (Way, Mogg) 3:58
08. Take it or Leave it (Raymond) 3:01
09. Money, Money (Way, Mogg) 3:29
10. Anyday (Way, Mogg) 3:48

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

MANOWAR (USA) - Battle Hymns (LP, Liberty, 1982)

RATING: ****

I really don't like Manowar that much, you know. This is quite a strange way to start this review, no doubt about that - but, if it makes sense to warn the casual reader about my huge appreciation for Iron Maiden before writing about their records, it's equally reasonable to let you all know the forthcoming analyses about Manowar's merits and shortcomings are from someone who was always less than impressed by them in the first place. I only have one CD from Manowar in my collection, a piece of "Louder than Hell" I bought way back when it first came out; a record that never really impressed me, and I haven't listen to for nearly a decade. Besides, I always felt that the band's antics were too contrived and silly for comfort, and the "born to rock drink and fuck" bullshit aged even worse than expected, now sounding like a truly moronic display of eternal adolescence - not to say an apology for alienation, mysoginy and hatred against difference, but let's leave it at that. I won't delve into the subject of Joey DeMaio's arrogant and unfriendly behavior towards other bands, or waste any time with ex-guitarist Karl Logan and his repulsive connection with child pornography, because I'm pretty confident you have already catch my drift.

Oh yeah, I totally can read your mind right now: if the guy despises Manowar so much, why bother? Well, I guess it's something of a challenge, you see - trying to be fair and reasonable while talking about a band that, despite not being my cup of tea at all, undoubtedly left quite a mark in the metal music scene. But don't expect me to suffer through self-indulgent re-recordings, redundant live recordings, pointless compilations and so on: the reviews will be restricted to their studio input, and I'm not going to move beyond the aforementioned "Louder than Hell", unless someone pay me good money to do so. I mean, I just couldn't care less about listening to cringeworthy stuff as "The Lord of Steel" ever again, let alone with so many yet-unheard records from respectable artists waiting in my personal queue. Similarly, there will be little (if any) comments about the band's history and development, as 1) it takes some research, and I'm not inclined to make such an effort 2) you surely can find it elsewhere, done by people with far more commitment to the group's cause than myself. The albums, and the albums only: that's what you're going to get, so be warned!

That all said, let's get the party started, huh?

For starters, I feel it's interesting to note that Manowar was clearly a more collaborative band back then, with Ross the Boss and Joey DeMaio sharing most songwriting credits and, dare I say, a common vision about what Manowar should try to achieve. Actually, I can hear something of Ross' former band The Dictators on "Death Tone", a biker-friendly heavy rocker that also has more than a hint of late-70s Kiss to it. It could have been a real good song under different circumstances, but it ultimately leaves something to be desired when it comes to songwriting, most of all in the nonsensical chorus. I certainly wouldn't choose this kinda ramshackle track as an opener for my debut LP, but what do I know? "Metal Daze" comes next, and it is as over-the-top as it gets, the first in a long row of brain-dead lyrics about how cool it is to be a metal fan - and it comes with an immensely cheesy chorus most groups out there would be really ill-at-ease to employ. That said, it's all very light-hearted and catchy, this being a good-time, celebratory tune rather than anything more arrogant or contrived. Though far from an all-time classic, I must say that I like "Metal Daze" way better than, say, "Army of the Immortals" or "Brothers of Metal" - maybe because Manowar don't seem to take themselves too seriously on this one, and being over-pretentious is hardly the best approach when singing about something as trivial as enjoying a particular kind of music.

The production job is far from stellar (actually, it manages to be both thin and murky at the same time, which is an achievement of sorts I guess), but the early 80s metal records aren't exactly renowned by their pristine sound, so let's not overreact about it. In fact, it's not all out of place when you consider the rock-based structure of songs like "Fast Taker", a tune that could easily have been a Saxon song due to its (probably unintentional) NWOBHM feel. The solos from the Boss sound quite bluesy on this one, and it's a nice touch if you ask me. Lyrically, early Manowar were obviously miles away from any sophisticated poetry, but they didn't have completely lost their grip to reality just yet, and their macho-man imagery isn't there to embarass us just yet, fortunately. It even gets quite political on "Shell Shock", a heavy rocking tune about surviving the Vietnam War that is surely the more street-level and down-to-earth Manowar ever got - and I must say it's easily one of my favorite songs from their entire repertoire! It's a formative number for sure, and the fact that Manowar chose not to further pursue this particular formula should come as no surprise really - let's face it, there's nothing on this particular track that most competition weren't doing at precisely the same time, often with more accomplished results. But it's cool to hear Manowar trying to say something meaningful about the world around them for a change - and, though the innovative features in Manowar's music sure laid elsewhere, maybe they could have been a more endearing (and less self obsessed, and funnier) metal entity if they had kept some of the not-totally-serious spirit you can hear on the A side of their debut LP.

Despite this mild appreciation to the not-at-all-brilliant, but still charming results of the first half, it's undeniable that the songs that made "Battle Hymns" a landmark release for the power metal scene are pretty much confined to the B side. "Manowar" is decent, but hardly a song to deserve more than a very brief mention; in fact, I'd say "Dark Avenger" is the first song here to really show what the fuss about the band was all about. The storytelling (helped in no small part by a cheesy, but still amusing narration by none other than Orson Welles) works remarkably well, and the contrast between the plodding first part and the fast paced attack when the main character gets his 'revenge' is expertly built and very effective. It's widely seen as a classic, and deservedly so, easily being one of the highlights of this album. "William's Tale" comes next, and it's the first instalment in the seemingly obligatory series of pointless instrumental cuts laid down on tape only to please Joey DeMaio's ego. He is a very precise bass player of course, with a fast picking that is all of his own, and the results are far from atrocious this time around, as this track (written by Gioachino Rossini) is a more well-humoured (there you go again) and (slightly) less indulgent display of dexterity than like-minded efforts like "Black Arrows" or "Thunderpick" (oh my).

But the true gem in "Battle Hymns" is its near-title track, no doubt about that. There's little doubt in my mind that this single tune is the crowning achievement in the band's career, most of all because it was a truly innovative number by the time it officially came out. Granted, there were lots of epic numbers in metal since at least the early 1970s ("War Pigs" comes immediately to mind), but playing a song that actually sounded like being in a battle wasn't that much a thing way back in 1982, believe me. The way the galloping basslines from DeMaio evoke an actual march is truly amazing, and the generic lyrics are actually a strong point rather than a hindrance: this ancient battle could be any battle, you know, and it doesn't take much imagination to picture yourself right there, holding a sword and shield to kill or die. It's one of the defining moments for Eric Adams' career as well: I'm not that huge a fan of his allegedly unbelievable singing prowess (more about that on future reviews), but here his over-the-top style is perfectly in place, adding to the grandiose imagery of the lyrics in no uncertain terms. Even the drumming of Donnie Hamzik, that pretty much keeps the beat and not much else through most of the record, works perfectly fine on "Battle Hymn", giving the exact muscular drive it needs to create its cinematic, all-conquering atmosphere. A true classic, no doubt about that, and a song that will forever keep Manowar among the true innovators from the heavy metal scene.

All things considered, "Battle Hymns" is a mandatory listen for anyone who wants to understand how epic power metal came to be, and it still holds its own remarkably well after nearly 40 years - let's face it, some of their later albums sound way more dated than this one nowadays! They were still trying to find their own niche, and some drastic changes were just around the corner (the arrival of powerhouse drummer Scott Columbus being the most significant of all), but this is the work of hungry musicians willing to leave a mark and fully commited to their cause, and I think it's always something to admire. It would be quite a bumpy ride for these American stalwarts in later years, but this is a CD I wouldn't at all be ashamed to have in my record collection -  but don't expect me to buy a copy of "Battle Hymns MMXI", as I'm not at all enamoured with pointless re-recordings of classic releases!

Eric Adams (V), Ross "the Boss" Friedman (G/K), Joey DeMaio (B), Donnie Hamzik (D).

01. Death Tone (DeMaio, Friedman) 4:48
02. Metal Daze (DeMaio) 4:18
03. Fast Taker (DeMaio, Friedman) 3:56
04. Shell Shock (DeMaio, Friedman) 4:04
05. Manowar (DeMaio, Friedman) 3:35
06. Dark Avenger (DeMaio, Friedman) 6:20
07. William's Tale (DeMaio, Rossini) 1:52
08. Battle Hymn (DeMaio, Friedman) 6:55

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

domingo, 11 de outubro de 2020

UFO (UK) - Strangers in the Night (Chrysalis, 2 LP, 1979)

RATING: *****

Yeah, I know. A perfect score for a live album? Not only that, but a live album being the landmark of a band's career, the best thing they ever done, the crowning achievement that will be remembered by the thankful masses long after they're gone? For most bands, a live recording is little more than a money grab, often a way to celebrate a successful period and turn it into even more albuns sold - or else, if your band are on a down, a subterfuge to milk some extra cash out of past glories. Sometimes, it also works as a quick and effective stratagem to get rid of disadvantageous or obstructive record deals. But there aren't that many bands out there that could (or can) release a live album strong enough to leave a lasting mark, capturing their efforts upon a stage in such a favorable light that you can't help but wish you were there, every single time you listen to it. UFO surely could, as they were always an outstanding live act with a strong repertoire to match - and they surely did it with "Strangers in the Night", easily one of the best live albums a heavy rock band ever managed to release, and I mean it.

Recorded in autumn 1978, during a string of shows in the USA, this 2-LP package is so unbelievably good that it even makes UFO look bigger than they really were at the time. If you never heard the band before, this is the record that will almost fatally turn you into a big fan, and you're likely to search around like crazy for the studio releases, just to find out that the live versions are actually better in nearly all cases: they never captured in a recording studio the same magic they created live, which is a compliment to their powers when in concert rather than anything detrimental to UFO's usual releases. Take "Doctor Doctor" as an example: a good-enough-but-nothing-memorable song in "Phenomenom", it comes out as a near masterpiece in live form, a perfect mix of melody, hard riffing and exhilarating energy. "Rock Bottom" is perhaps even better, its 11-minute-plus showcase of strong riffs and powerful guitar-keyboards interplay being a tour de force of jaw-dropping proportions, dwarfing the studio version in no uncertain terms. 

All musicians deliver great performances here. Maybe Pete Way and Paul Raymond are slightly less prominent than the rest, but they sure provide a great backbone for both Phil Mogg and Michael Schenker's sterling performances to shine, whereas Andy Parker (never mentioned in any drummer's hall of fame, as far as I know, which is a bit of a shame if you ask me) shows in no uncertain terms just what a highly capable sticksman he is. Contrary to most live releases of the time, there's very few overdubs to be heard around here - the guitars, for instance, couldn't be overdubbed, as they also came through the drum mics and any extra tracks would hopelessly mess the whole thing. Therefore, "Strangers in the Night" is mostly very faithful to the experience of being in a UFO concert - despite the fact that the tracking order bears but a passing resemblance to the actual setlists of the tour in question, but nevermind. 

It's no easy task to pinpoint highlights around here, as there's such an abundance of remarkable moments that nearly all tracks are memorable in each own right. "Love to Love" sounds even more grandiose than its (already very good) studio counterpart, with an atmosphere that enfolds the listener from start to finish, while "Out in the Street" and "I'm a Loser" are highly emotional pieces carried along by beautifully played, near-hypnotic keyboard parts. On the other hand, "Lights Out" fulfills its heavy metal promises with great aplomb, and even undemanding hard rocking tunes like "Too Hot to Handle" and "Only You Can Rock Me" sound surpringly powerful and intense, way more enthusiastic than their rather tepid studio versions. These are songs meant to be played upon a stage, and the production (handled by Ron Nevison with Brian Chubb as a live sound engineer) deserves a lot of accolades for capturing UFO's energy in all its glory. All things considered, this is a truly impressive affair, and everyone involved should be very proud of having a part on it.

Unfortunately, this remarkable release would also be the swansong for a very fruitful period in the band's history, as Michael Schenker would make his leave almost as soon as the tour from which it was recorded was over. Not a surprising development anyway, as the axeman's erratic behavior had become too exasperating for his bandmates (most of all Phil Mogg) to endure - to such an extent that they seemingly had a replacement at hand, clearly anticipating the worst case scenario to come. It took them no more than a few days to confirm Paul Chapman as a substitute, the new guitarist having already filled in for Schenker a number of times during the "Obsession" tour, as the German guitar hero's unreliability and excesses more than once rendered him unable to perform. It's a shame that such a strong formation had to come to an end, but maybe good things can only last so long, who knows? Whatever the story, "Strangers in the Night" is an album any self-respecting heavy rock aficionado simply can't live without. If you don't have it, do yourself a huge favor and go buy it straight away. Like, right now. 

Phil Mogg (V), Michael Schenker (G), Paul Raymond (G/K), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D).

01. Natural Thing (Schenker, Way, Mogg) 3:55
02. Out in the Street (Way, Mogg) 5:12
03. Only You Can Rock Me (Schenker, Way, Mogg) 3:58
04. Doctor Doctor (Schenker, Mogg) 4:30
05. Mother Mary (Parker, Schenker, Way, Mogg) 3:17
06. This Kids (Schenker, Mogg) 4:40
07. Love to Love (Schenker, Mogg) 7:37
08. Lights Out (Parker, Schenker, Way, Mogg) 4:55
09. Rock Bottom (Schenker, Mogg) 11:02
10. Too Hot to Handle (Way, Mogg) 4:17
11. I'm A Loser (Schenker, Mogg) 3:49
12. Let it Roll (Schenker, Mogg) 4:35
13. Shoot Shoot (Parker, Schenker, Way, Mogg) 3:45

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

sábado, 26 de setembro de 2020

UFO (UK) - Obsession (LP, Chrysalis, 1978)



It's a common (and mostly very correct) assessment to say that UFO were one of the main inspirations for what would later be known as the NWOBHM. But saying that our much beloved flying saucer of a band  were something of natural forerunners of the British Metal scene of the 1980s is a bit over-simplistic if you ask me, just as labeling NWOBHM with a 70s-metal-plus-punk-rock tag, or implying that the heavy rock scene was 'dead' during the height of the punk rock phenomenon. The evolution of music is anything but simple, and I honestly don't think you can hear "Lights Out" and the following LP "Obsession" without acknowledging the sensible changes from one record to the other, unless you're not really paying attention. It was the end of the 70s - the end of the century, as Ramones would put it less than two years later - and the smell of the 1980s was already all over the place. And UFO sniffed it.

To be fair, similar bands like Judas Priest, Scorpions and Budgie were also right in their sense of smell, all showing a clear understanding that a new mood was around the corner - a mood for uncomplicated songs, less experimentation and a more down-to-earth (and less thoughtful) lyrical approach. There's precisely zero doubt that the punk rock influx had a lot to do with that (and Judas Priest, for instance, didn't shy themselves from admiting it in later years), but I still think it's more of a common perception, an incoming ethos if you prefer: let's make things as simple and direct as we can, so our songs can have an immediate impact and it will be easier to get our point across. It's not like Dee Dee Ramone or Johnny Rotten made an informed interpretation of the times and boldly decided it was time to reinvent the wheel; I'm personally more inclined to think they were just reacting to a collective unease, and talented enough to translate it into sound and music.

It wouldn't be that hard for UFO to jump into the train of times to come, you see, as they were never that keen to experimentation in the first place. Furthermore, the forward-moving nature of most of their songs sure shared something of a connection with the keep-things-simple spirit of the times, so there was no need to reinvent themselves as so many rival acts had to do, with varying degrees of success. Still, it required a shift in direction, and, where "Lights Out" was a 70's album in sound and spirit, "Obsession" is almost ahead of its time in a sense, as it could easily have been released five or six years later without any major adaptations. The subtleties and musical adventures of its predecessor are almost totally gone, and back is the hard-rocking, street-level approach of earlier efforts - although, and it must be clearly stated, in much more concise and restrained (even radio-friendly) terms. 

It works out fine to a great extent (it's not like so many NWOBHM stalwarts decided to mention UFO as an influence just to make the lads a favor, you know), but it also tastes of decadence to a certain degree - and even though "Obsession" is miles away from being a bad album, it's also sensibly inferior to its predecessors. Of course, much of the misfires must be credited to the growing tensions within the band, with Phil Mogg and Michael Schenker reaching for each other's neck on an almost daily basis, the guitarist's heavy drinking being the main topic of conflict. Such tensions would ubdoubtedly have a negative effect on the band's songwriting, and "Obsession" is perhaps the most predictable UFO album so far: many hard-rocking tunes, a ballad to close each side of the LP, a few extra arrangements here and there and that's pretty much it. Paul Raymond's keyboards are very discreet most of the time too (a detail that adds to the impression that UFO were trying to veer away from "Lights Out" as much as possible), and the Way/Parker duo just play along with the songs most of the time.

"Obsession" starts quite well, with two very good rockers in the form of "Only You Can Rock Me" (a staple to their setlists even today) and "Pack it Up (and Go)", but starts to worringly lose steam from that point onwards - the two final songs, "One More for the Rodeo" and "Born to Lose", being instantly forgettable, to put it on polite terms. Of course there's some seriously good stuff hidden between the grooves here, as the slow rocker "Ain't No Baby" (despite it loans more than a few ideas from Black Sabbath's "Lord of this World"!) and the truly excellent "Cherry" (nice bass riff from Pete Way) are happy to testify. But it doesn't hit the nail right on the head most of the time: "Hot 'n' Ready" is no more than serviceable, "You Don't Fool Me" is too more-of-the-same to leave any lasting impression, and "Lookin' Out for No. 1" is an anodyne ballad that seems to exist for the sole purpose of filling a blank on the album, if you know what I mean - two blanks, actually, as there's also a pointless reprise halfway through the B side of the LP.

"Obsession" is a mostly decent record of course, and it makes for an effortless listening experience with some replay value to it (while also being the very first album to display the now iconic UFO logo, in case you didn't notice). But it doesn't rate that high on my Metalomether, I'm afraid, being the starting line for a long stretch of unspetacular records packed with adequate-but-not-really-memorable moments of competent semi-mediocrity. And hold your breath, because there's quite a lot of these waiting for us around the corner!

Phil Mogg (V), Michael Schenker (G), Paul Raymond (G/K), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D).

01. Only You Can Rock Me (Way, Schenker, Mogg) 4:08
02. Pack it Up (and Go) (Way, Schenker, Mogg) 3:14
03. Arbory Hill (Schenker) 1:11
04. Ain't No Baby (Raymond, Mogg) 3:58
05. Lookin' Out for No. 1 (Raymond, Mogg) 4:34
06. Hot 'n' Ready (Schenker, Mogg) 3:16
07. Cherry (Way, Mogg) 3:34
08. You Don't Fool Me (Raymond, Parker, Mogg) 3:23
09. Lookin' Out for No. 1 (Reprise) (Schenker, Raymond) 1:14
10. One More for the Rodeo (Way. Mogg) 3:45
11. Born to Lose (Schenker, Raymond, Mogg) 3:31

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

domingo, 6 de setembro de 2020

IRON MAIDEN (UK) - The Soundhouse Tapes (7'', Rock Hard, 1979)


Oh boy, this is going to be one hell of a ride.

Iron Maiden is my favorite band. Period. Their music moves me, all the shows I had the chance to witness were no less than amazing, and I would have never picked up a bass guitar if not for Steve Harris' galloping triplets. I have all of their albums (often in more than one version), lots of bootlegs in audio and video, near a dozen t-shirts and so on, so I guess you got my drift. Still, I'm confident enough that this batch of reviews will be more than a barrage of embarassing and unbridled adulation - believe it or not, I'm not the kind of guy that will scream "genius!" to the sound of Adrian Smith tuning his guitar or something, and I actually do have a fair share of criticism waiting to be done in places. Not that I hold any illusions that yet further reviews of such an entity can make the faintest difference for the heavy metal world (let's be frank, few subjects in the history of rock and roll are more frequently addressed than Iron Maiden's biography and/or record analysis), and rest assured that I won't delve into minute detail when it comes to the group's convoluted history, as it would be a very exhausting (not to mention pointless and hopelessly out-of-place) enterprise. But oh well, perhaps the exercise can at least be of some amusement to the (very) casual reader, and I'm damn sure it will be a lot of fun to get it done, so there you have it.

That all said, let's skip the opening credits and go straight to "The Soundhouse Tapes", shall we? (Don't worry, I won't be reviewing every single slice of vinyl ever released by Iron Maiden, but this particular EP played such an important role in the history of the band and NWOBHM as a whole that it would be silly to ignore it. Studio LPs next, you can take my word for it!)

By the time the four musicians then comprising Iron Maiden entered the Spaceward Studios in Cambridge, on New Year's Eve weekend 1978, the group were still climbling the ladder from youthful hopefuls to genuine promise. Though the band existed for a mere three years, bassist Steve Harris already was the sole original member, and the line-up that recorded the original tapes were together for no more than a couple months before entering the studio. Guitarist Dave Murray was Harris' faithful squire since late 1976 (despite a brief intervail in 1977, when he got as far as to record in Urchin's "She's a Roller" 7'' single), and drummer Doug Sampson (who Harris knew from the time both shared kitchen duties in Smiler), was pounding the drums in Maiden for roughly a year, but the final piece of the jigsaw came together only in November 1978: Paul Di'Anno, a bloke from East London formely associated with a punk act named The Paedophiles (not much of a chance to become world beaters with such a politically-incorrect moniker, lads). Though with no previous background in metal (you can dismiss any claims he used to sing with Bird of Prey, for instance, as it's completely unfounded), Di'Anno clicked remarkably well into Maiden's setup, and his raspy, aggressive vocal delivery was one of their defining features during their street-level-metal days. (and no, I'm not at all convinced guitarist Paul Cairns had any role on these recordings, so he won't receive any further mentions around here. If you happen to know better - most of all if you're Paul Cairns himself! - feel free to get in touch)

It was a simple plan, as it were: record as many songs as possible, mostly in a one-take-no-dubs approach, and tout the tape around in a bid to get more gigs. Things went well during the recording sessions, and a rough mix was handled to the musicians soon after. The studio wiped out the master tapes after a few weeks though, in what seems to have been a misunderstanding around the payment of an additional fee. Therefore, the recordings never received a final mix, let alone a proper mastering - something that may have been a blessing in disguise in a sense, as the rough edges add an extra dose of charm and attitude to the proceedings. And, despite any production shortcomings, the tapes served far betten than its original purpose: "Prowler" turned into a fan favorite at Neal Kay's Bandwagon Heavy Metal Soundhouse, a certain manager named Rod Smallwood also got hold of a copy and oh well, we all know the end of this happy story. 

With fans clamoring for something to buy during their increasingly-packed shows, Iron Maiden felt it would be a good move to press some 5.000 copies of their now one-year-old Spaceward recordings, and labeled it as "The Soundhouse Tapes" for greater effect. Famously, the band had to send the vinyl 7'' to customers in advance, as the front covers took a bit longer than expected, and things were developing so fast for the lads that holding the release for a few weeks simply wasn't viable.

From the four tracks laid down on tape, three cuts were selected for Maiden's innaugural release - "Strange World" was also recorded, but suffered the most from the lack of a proper mixing, and was deemed too substandard for release as a result (it would appear officially many years later in the "Best of the Beast" compilation, incidentally, but let's not rush things). The songs here featured are played in a  considerably slower tempo, more attuned to the late-70s metal approach rather than the NWOBHM revolution waiting just around the corner: in fact, this EP is an almost unique opportunity to hear the transitional days of not only Iron Maiden, but British heavy music as a whole, as you can easily compare these early, semi-formative numbers with their later, now canonical counterparts. No significant changes in arrangements and such, just a band soon to become huge, still trying to find their signature sound.

Doug Sampson does a commendable job with the drums, and it's curious to realise that this is perhaps the less prominent basslines ever appearing in a Maiden record - it's still there of course, and perfectly audible all the way through, but not up front in the mix as it would become mandatory in later releases. Di'Anno deliver the goods without missing a note too, but it's funny to note how he was still trying to figure out how to be a proper "metal" singer, being pretty much a punk rock singer trying to sound right. And there's precisely nothing wrong about that, you know, as the crossover effect of his voice was one of the nicest things about early Maiden. They were never a punk band, and never really wanted to be, but the unbridled energy of punk rock surely had its influence on making metal what it is now, as I'm sure your nearest Glenn Tipton or Lemmy Kilmister would be more than happy to point out - and it's fascinating to hear such a process going on almost in real time, this being one of the coolest things about listening to "The Soundhouse Tapes" on retrospect.

"Iron Maiden" opens proceedings in a very passionate manner, and the more mid-tempo rendition gives it sort of a pub rock vibe that sounds really nice to my ears. Though far from being the most accomplished piece of songwriting ever penned by the group, it's an extremely efficient tune nonetheless, and it comes as no surprise that it became one of the defining songs for the outfit's convoluted history. "Invasion" didn't really survived that well the test of time, that's for sure, and it's hard to imagine any die-hard fans asking for it to be featured in the band setlists nowadays; still, I'd say it's a pretty decent tune all the same, and I personally like the early version better than the hurried, too-fast-for-its-own-good recording that would pop up as the B-side of their "Women in Uniform" single roughly a year later. The instrumental bits are kinda confusing, and the vocal lines drift from aggressive to overtly melodic without making much of a sense in the process, but it's nice to hear a band making a perceivable effort to learn their trade, and this early effort surely paved to way for many history-related epic numbers to come.

But the truly outstanding number on "The Soundhouse Tapes" is "Prowler", hands down. I have always consider this to be one of the archetypal songs from the entire NWOBHM, and I still think the same way.  It has it all really: the tasty guitar leads, the commanding bass, the infectious drive, the quirky twists and turns, the immature lyrics, the catchy chorus, all packed in a slightly unusual song structure and carried along with loads of youthful enthusiasm. It was Maiden's very first hit, and it's no mystery why: even with less-than-stelar production values, it's a song that grabs you by the neck and just don't let go. A truly classic song, and easily one of the decisive recordings for the development of heavy metal as a whole - perhaps not as bombastic as the LP version, but still a listen sure to put a smile in any metalhead's face.

"The Soundhouse Tapes" would be the only independent release in the outfit's career (the Rock Hard label never really existed, you know), and for good reason. The response to the EP was so overwhelmingly positive that record retail chains, bombarded with requests from customers, made enquiries to order thousands of copies - only to learn it was a limited run and nearly all pieces were sold by mailorder in a matter of days. Such resounding success no doubt raised a few eyebrows in the music industry - and you must take into consideration that NWOBHM was all ready to go by this juncture, with bands like Angel Witch, Saxon, Samson, Praying Mantis and Tygers of Pan Tang just waiting for a chance to stand out of the club scene in a bid for world domination. We all know who won this race by now, but it's fair to point out that Iron Maiden was one of many contenders back then - one of the most promising perhaps, but hardly a clear favorite. 

The noise would finally be heard at the offices of the mighty EMI, and those gentlemen (who undoubtedly knew a thing or two about music) swiftly concluded there was a bit of a mileage in investing some money on all those long-haired hopefuls after all. This led to the seminal "Metal for Muthas" LP compilation in the early days of 1980 - a slice of vinyl that, in a sense, served to create a sense of anticipation towards the Iron Maiden debut (the recordings sessions going on pretty much at the same time "Metal for Muthas" hit the shelves). This compilation will hopefully be reviewed around here in due course, but let's stay on focus, right? As something as a business card for Iron Maiden, "The Soundhouse Tapes" surely served its purpose, and then some - and I'm sure any obsessive Maiden collector drools over the prospect of obtaining an original copy (if not owning one already, that is), though this is an item that won't come cheap at all. 

Thanks a million to Discogs for picture sleeve and label scans

Paul Di'Anno (V), Dave Murray (G), Steve Harris (B), Doug Sampson (D). All songs written by Steve Harris.

01. Iron Maiden 4:03
02. Invasion 3:10
03. Prowler 4:19

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

sábado, 29 de agosto de 2020

UFO (UK) - Lights Out (Chrysalis, LP, 1977)

RATING: ****

NOTE: This is the first UFO review I (re)write after the sad demise of legendary Pete Way in August 14, 2020. Not that I can add much to the massive (and thoroughly deserved) amount of love and admiration outpoured by the rock/metal community since his passing, but I would just like to take a moment to say that all UFO reviews from now on will be a personal homage to him, one of the guys that really made a difference in my personal liking of heavy rock music (and I'm glad to have Steve Harris by my side on this). Thanks for all the music, Pete, and may your soul forever rock in peace. I'll drInk to that!

Widely regarded as the best studio album ever recorded by UFO (and, according to some, the only truly classic offering from their long and convoluted career), "Lights Out" is indeed a great record, but one that caused me contradictory feelings for a while. In a sense, I still feel UFO never recorded their truly quintessential LP: the band's releases are mostly very good, but there never was that stand-out record, the crowning achievement able to emcompass all their fundamental features in the most positive light (I have a somewhat similar feeling about Iron Maiden BTW but... let's not rush things). For me, "Lights Out" always sounded like an excellent, but slightly flawed record in places, and I still hold pretty much the same opinion today - but, as years passed by, I kinda reached the conclusion that yeah, this is UFO's best studio offering after all. Which means I also had to come to terms with the fact that a recording facility is not a rock venue, and that's precisely the reason why "Strangers in the Night" will forever be the pinnacle of UFO's career (more on that later, hopefully).

The recruiting of Paul Raymond (formely with Savoy Brown and Danny Kirwan, and another guy that left us way too soon if you ask me) to substitute Danny Peyronel was a wise move, as his versatility with both keyboards and rhythm guitar opened a lot of new musical avenues for UFO to explore. His arrival was all for the best really, and it should come as no surprise to learn that "Lights Out" is one of the most experimental and adventurous records in the group's canon. With a new player of such calibre, it's only natural that one would want to explore what things could our could not be done, and UFO did exactly that. 

This inventive mood also had a lot to do with market concerns, I suppose. It's clear for me that UFO were trying to find their big hit by this point, the song that would chart high enough to bring the elusive commercial success they were striving so hard to achieve with no tangible results. Nothing fundamentally wrong about that of course, but I think that explains the tendency to soften things up that marks "Lights Out". There are lots of acoustic parts, neat string arrangements and multiple layers of melody to embellish the songs - something that works beautifully in the context of some songs, but also tends to erase some of the usual energy and heavy groove of the band. Michael Schenker seems to be the one who suffers the most in such scenario: his solos are as kickass as ever, that's for sure, but the diminished heaviness results in a pitifully small percentage of bona-fide riffing, which is quite a waste when you have such a strong riffmaker plugged in the band's Marshall amps. 

They still rock, granted. The title track is arguably the closest the band ever got to full-blown heavy metal, with some truly impressive guitar work and clever lyrics about the bombing of London during WW2 - not to mention a muscular, hard-hitting drive that will set most headbanging necks in motion in a matter of seconds. "Electric Phase" is a less galloping effort, but it also brings some healthy heaviness to the table, and "Too Hot to Handle" is a singalong hard rock ditty if I ever heard one: the baffling fact that it never threatened to conquer the charts (despite definitely deserving to do so) comes as strong evidence that the universe didn't wanted UFO to be hitmakers after all. But the songwriting is pretty much stellar overall, and the relative lack of in-your-face heavy rockers doesn't mean the listener will be let down in any sense. How can one not be moved by "Just Another Suicide", an extremely inventive piece of music where countless layers are perfectly put together for great effect? How can anyone say a bad word about "Love to Love", a marvellous epic ballad with impressive arrangements and a unique atmosphere throughout, without having his mental condition seriously put into question? Even a somewhat less memorable number such as "Gettin' Ready" has a lot to offer to the more inquisitive listener, fusing some old-school-rock edge with sensitive, even poetic subtleties. 

It's not a flawless record by any means: I can't help but feeling that the sedated ballad "Try Me" didn't aged very well, and I could have lived without Love cover "Alone Again Or", no matter how groundbreakingly good the original actually is, or how decent UFO's rendition turns out to be. But these are but minor shortcomings in a otherwise near perfect record: "Lights Out" is an album you really should have if you want your record collection to be a respectable one. More straightforward records like "Force It" or even "No Heavy Petting" will probably offer you a better picture of the landmark UFO sound and vision, but when it comes to a package of great songs, I guess this one is the real deal - at least when it comes to studio releases, of course.

Phil Mogg (V), Michael Schenker (G), Paul Raymond (G/K), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D).

01. Too Hot to Handle (Way, Mogg) 3:37
02. Just Another Suicide (Raymond, Mogg) 4:58
03. Try Me (Schenker, Mogg) 4:49
04. Lights Out (Schenker, Parker, Way, Mogg) 4:33
05. Gettin' Ready (Schenker, Mogg) 3:46
06. Alone Again Or (MacLean) 3:00
07. Electric Phase (Way, Schenker, Mogg) 4:20
08. Love to Love (Schenker, Mogg) 7:38

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

sábado, 8 de agosto de 2020

UFO (UK) - No Heavy Petting (LP, Chrysalis, 1976)

RATING: ****

The general response this record received through the years really baffles me, you know. I mean, nearly all reviews to "No Heavy Petting" you can find out there (most of all from the 1970s and 1980s, but more recent analyses too) are at least a little bit dismissive, some actually getting close to ripping the record to shreds - and I truly, sincerely never could understand why. For many years, it was my favorite UFO album; as time went on, "Force it" grew on me to claim number 1 status, and nowadays I guess I'd say "Lights Out" is my favorite studio LP from the band. But I still think "No Heavy Petting" received a lot of unfair criticism through the years: it's a pretty strong set of compositions IMO, and it also signalled a step in the right direction for the lads, showing UFO to enrich their sound to a great extend and with mostly very pleasant results.

As I believe most of you are aware, the Mogg-Way-Parker-Schenker nucleus were looking for a fifth member at the time, and the good results achieved with the use of keyboards in previous record "Force it" strongly hinted that this was the route to go down. After some consideration, UFO decided to recruit Danny Peyronel, a keyboardist born in Argentina that had enjoyed some quality time with Heavy Metal Kids previously. Some critics say that Peyronel never really clicked into the band's set-up, his contributions being mostly obstrusive to the overall sound of UFO - a notion that may be essentially true (it would be his only album with the band after all), but that I feel to be somewhat at odds with what we can hear on the album itself. 

To my hears, "No Heavy Petting" shows UFO as an increasingly stronger entity, sounding more cohesive and confident than ever. The band's performances are sterling throughout, most of all from Michael Schenker and Phil Mogg. The latter's singing is top-notch here BTW: not the most technically gifted delivery you'll ever hear perhaps, but his sense of interpretation is close to perfection, balancing the necessary heavy rock energy with healthy doses of emotion that would make some bluesmen proud. In a sense, I always felt Mogg was something of a crooner, instead of the typical hard rock singer, and giving this LP a few listens may provide some solid evidence on that. As for Mr. Peyronel's presence, I feel he does a commendable job here, adding interesting layers and ambiences without trying to be too much on the foreground. He also shows himself to be a good songwriter, you know: two of his contributions, the boogie-rocking (but still peculiarly charming) "Highway Lady" and the intense, atmospheric final ballad "Martian Landscape", sit easily among the best songs on this LP, and he also lends a hand in "Can You Roll Her", which is also not a bad tune at all.

I know this review is becoming something of an apology, but I also need to address the supposedly repetitious nature of most songs - that, according to detractors, were more of the same when compared to "Force It". Oh well, I wholeheartedly beg to differ. I'm not at all convinced that compositions like the heavy, almost doomy "On With the Action" (the solo from Schenker on this one has to be heard to be believed), the straight-to-the-point "Reasons Love" or the aforementioned "Martian Landscape" are indications of stalled creativity in any sense, and the heartfelt "I'm a Loser" may be one of the best things ever written by the band, and I mean it. OK, the band already did have a lot of hard rocking ditties under their belts, but "Natural Thing" is nearly unsurpassable on the field: an opening riff to die for, with obligatory double-meaning lyrics, a far-from-obvious chorus and soaring guitar licks all over the place. It's no surprise that it would become a recurring opening number on the band's setlists for many years afterwards.

I would agree that "A Fool in Love" was a mostly uninspiring addition (the song, penned by ex-Free stalwart Andy Fraser, would later be successfully re-recorded by Delbert McClinton), and that the extremely serious, almost solemn ballad "Belladonna" does not seem to have survived unscathed the test of time: I enjoy listening to it, you know, but its lack of perceivable variation may be a bit difficult to some tastes. But I suppose most of the criticism towards "No Heavy Petting" comes down to album sales in the end: this one didn't sell, so everyone involved with it would regard it as a substandard effort, and the notion would be perpetuated in the years to come. Excuse me, but I beg to differ: "No Heavy Petting" is a great record, in the same league of the most well-regarded releases of UFO, if not better than most of it. Give it a try with an open mind and without prejudgements and perhaps you will like it a hell of a lot. And if you don't, please take a few minutes of your time to tell me why, as I simply can't understand what is supposedly so crappy about it.

Phil Mogg (V), Michael Schenker (G), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D), Danny Peyronel (K/BV).

01. Natural Thing (Schenker, Way, Mogg) 4:00
02. I'm a Loser (Schenker, Mogg) 3:54
03. Can You Roll Her (Peyronel, Parker, Mogg) 2:56
04. Belladonna (Schenker, Mogg) 4:30
05. Reasons Love (Schenker, Mogg) 3:19
06. Highway Lady (Peyronel) 3:47
07. On with the Action (Schenker, Mogg) 5:02
08. A Fool in Love (Fraser, Miller) 2:47
09. Martian Landscape (Peyronel, Parker, Mogg) 5:08

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

segunda-feira, 20 de julho de 2020

UFO (UK) - Force it (LP, Chrysalis, 1975)

RATING: ****

It's funny how UFO built a great reputation for themselves without actually recording a proper "classic" studio album. Don't get me wrong: they sure released some memorable stuff in the mid-to-late 1970s ("Force It" being one of these, of course) but I have the distinc feeling there's no album on UFO's studio discography that actually stands out as the pinnacle of their career or anything like that. Actually, live album "Strangers in the Night" is the best thing they ever did IMO, the crowning achievement of their career - the only album from the lads that's going to get a 5-star rating around here, sorry for the spoiler. I personally think that a perfect album must be a near flawless compilation of songs, or else a truly groundbreaking release in its own right, and none of UFO's studio LPs really fit the criteria, I'm afraid - a feat that their marvellous second live album achieves with great aplomb, but let's take reviews one at a time, right? Which is not to say their studio efforts are useless, of course: "Force It" is the first of at least three excellent albums in a row, and surely one of the finest in their discography too. You can count the 4-star rating as an almost perfect score if you like!

The metamorphosis ignited by "Phenomenon" is now complete. The lenghty jams and pieces of experimentation from their early releases are left behind for good: from this point onwards, UFO comes out like a confident and intense hard/heavy proposition, a group of musicians that know very well what they're doing and what they want to achieve. What was loose now is real tight, if you know what I mean, and still it's not like the adventurous spirit is nowhere to be found - quite the opposite actually, as many of the band's finest moments are more than adequate to demonstrate. The fundamental change here have little to do with creativity: it's a matter of approach if you like, being in control of the songs rather than trying to catch clues while playing them. It was the right choice in the end, and a lifetime of rock and roll achievements are there to bear witness of their triumph.

Schenker and Mogg are a much stronger songwriting theme now, and Pete Way's contributions are well fit into place too, so even the most casual listener may rest assured there's lots of fun to be found within the grooves. Opening  tracks "Let it Roll" and "Shoot Shoot" represent their harder edge in no uncertain terms, both being staples to UFO's setlists to this day. I'd even say that "Let it Roll" is one of the finest songs ever penned by the group: heavy and engaging, but also featuring a convoluted instrumental section that captures the listener's imagination and never let it go. Trully brilliant stuff. On the other hand, tunes like ballad "High Flyer" and the excellent, somewhat somber "Too Much of Nothing" are prime examples of how serious and pensive UFO could be when circumstances allow.

The album's stand-out track, though, has to be the truly amazing "Out in the Street". It's easily one of the most well-crafted things they ever recorded, an emotional roller-coaster of a song which is also their first recording with prominent keyboard arrangements (performed by Ten Years After's Chick Churchill). I guess the excellent results of this composition set the collective minds of UFO into augmenting their group with a dedicated keyboardist, something that took them some effort to fulfill but undoubtedly was all for the best in terms of music itself.

The hard-rocking "Mother Mary" would also become a live favorite, and it's a shame that the unremarkable "Dance Your Life Away" is here to lower the album's rating, as it could surely have been replaced by something more substantial. The final duo "This Kid's / Between the Walls" is also something of a letdown if you ask me - and yeah, I know many rockers out there regard the first portion as a classic, but I honestly feel it pales somewhat compared with everything that happened before it, and the anodyne accompanying instrumental cut doesn't help matters at all. Apart from these minor shortcomings, though, "Force it" is a excellent and extremely respectable LP that deserve every cent of your hard-earned money, and the eye-catching, provocative cover (at the time, at least) is a personal favorite for me as well. If you want an introduction to UFO and would prefer not to start with a live album, "Force It" is the perfect buy for you.

Phil Mogg (V), Michael Schenker (G), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D).

01. Let it Roll (Schenker, Mogg) 3:57
02. Shoot Shoot (Schenker, Mogg, Way, Parker) 3:40
03. High Flyer (Schenker, Mogg) 4:08
04. Love Lost Love (Schenker, Mogg) 3:21
05. Out in the Street (Way, Mogg) 5:18
06. Mother Mary (Schenker, Mogg, Way, Parker) 3:49
07. Too Much of Nothing (Way) 4:02
08. Dance Your Life Away (Schenker, Mogg) 3:35
09. This Kid's (incluiding Between the Walls) (Schenker, Mogg) 6:13

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

domingo, 19 de julho de 2020

UFO (UK) - Phenomenon (LP, Chrysalis, 1974)


This is when UFO really got their party started. Not that everyone would agree with that, you know: the departure of original axeman Mick Bolton in early 1972 was not at all easy for the band to come through, and a fair percentage of music fans still feel the early incarnation of this much-loved flying saucer was the best of all - an assessment I don't really agree with, but everyone's entitled to their own opinions of course. There was a long-enduring misconception  going on that Mick Bolton was  the same guy involved with Mott the Hopple, Dexy's Midnight Runners and Linda McCartney's "Wide Prairie" LP (I even made such mistake myself for a while), but it's now safe to say that it's a simple case of similar names: as it transpires, the talented guitarist opted to settle down after his run with UFO was over, not being involved with any other bands of note. It seems he did a bit of guitar tech work for Michael Schenker and his Group back in the early '80s, and some say it was also the case during UFO's "Mechanix" era, but that's pretty much it as far as I know, which is a bit of a shame really. But oh well, just hope the guy is still enjoying a nice life in whatever activies he decided to focus on after his brief stint with the rock 'n' roll universe was over.

After trial runs with Larry Wallis (from Pink Fairies) and Bernie Marsden (then a near-unknown guitarist, that went as far as to record a few songs with UFO in 1973) the nucleus of Mogg-Way-Parker decided to invite German guitar hero Michael Schenker (from Scorpions) to join the fun. The kid was something of a child prodigy really, having made his first live show at age 11, and recording Scorpion's "Lonesome Crow" when he was only 16 years old. Scorpions were an opening act for UFO in Germany (a country where the British band was quite successful) and, though being a mere 18-year-old and not even knowing how to speak English, the youthful Schenker was tempted by UFO's offer and ultimately decided to embark. As you all know far too well by now, there couldn't have been a better choice, as Schenker was a decisive feature in metamorphosing UFO's sound and taking the band to a whole different level of popularity.

Although their collective talents are not fully developed just yet, "Phenomenom" (their first record with Chrysalis, a label that would provide them a much needed backing for over a decade) brings to the forefront all the things we learned to immediately recognise and love on UFO's trademark sound - most of it already present in the group's formula from an early stage, but surely not that prominent up to this point. The space rock days (that would mostly be confined to their "Flying" LP, to be fully honest) are not completely gone just yet, but now UFO are determined to be a hard / heavy band to make you shake your head and sing along, while keeping the subtlety and the will to experiment from the first records. And it works, no doubt about that.

'Intense' always have been, in my humble opinion, the perfect word to describe Schenker's playing: the man can attack the strings of his guitar like a demon, but his riffing and soloing never lack emotion, and this is the exact formula that made him one of the most inspiring guitarist in heavy rock. Pete Way and Andy Parker are more than happy to provide a tight backing for their youthful monster of a guitarist, and Phil Mogg's unmistakable voice was growing stronger with every release. Still, "Phenomenon" lacks something in the songwriting department, as Schenker and Mogg (both sharing the lion's share of composition at this point) were probably still getting used with each other, I suppose - something they seemingly never fully did, at least on a personal level, but oh well. It shows even on an all-time classic like "Doctor Doctor": unlike the exciting live staple of later years, the original studio version sound almost like a (very promising, admitedly) unfinished demo here, with some "oooh the mess I'm in" thrown in to fill the gaps in the lyrics. It's clear that this particular song would only fully mature in the grind of the live environment, which is to say something about just how good these guys worked together upon a stage (but that's a subject for another review, so let's not rush things just now, right?).

But it's only a minor criticism, you know, so don't be afraid to buy this album if you still don't have it in your collection. Songs such as "Too Young to Know", "Oh My" (one of my personal favorites here) "Queen of the Deep" and "Time on My Hands" may not be as powerful as the stuff soon to come, but are pleasant examples of concise, easy-to-enjoy hard rock songwriting, whereas "Crystal Light" and "Space Child" are nice semi-ballads with a melancholic touch that don't overstay their welcome at all. And if most of "Phenomenon" may fall short of being truly memorable, there's at least one tune here that is an undisputed classic for the ages: "Rock Bottom" is EASILY one of the finest guitar riffs I've ever heard, and I mean it! What a bloody awesome tune, and an everlasting testimony of UFO's ability to write engaging, ground-breaking hard/heavy music.

Phil Mogg (V), Michael Schenker (G), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D).

01. Oh My (Schenker, Mogg, Way, Parker) 2:26
02. Crystal Light (Schenker, Mogg) 3:47
03. Doctor Doctor (Schenker, Mogg) 4:10
04. Space Child (Schenker, Mogg) 4:01
05. Rock Bottom (Schenker, Mogg) 6:32
06. Too Young to Know (Way, Mogg) 3:10
07. Time on My Hands (Schenker, Mogg) 4:10
08. Built for Comfort (Dixon) 3:01
09. Lipstick Traces (Schenker) 2:20
10. Queen of the Deep (Schenker, Mogg) 5:49

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!