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 (drequon@gmail.com) 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 (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!