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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DIE K├ÂNIGE DES DEUTSCHES METALL



Skorpionalben der Oberseite 10:

1) Lovedrive






Certainly sporting the greatest album cover of all time, 1979's 'Lovedrive' is a tour de force. Top to bottom, front to back, not a weak track on it.

In 1978 guitarist Ulrich Roth left the band amicably to pursue his hendrixian style unhampered by Klaus and Rudy's heavier, more accessible, and less cluttered brand of ass kicking Rock. They were still pals, and Uli even provided them with a replacement in the form of young protege Matthias Jabs.

Work began on 'Lovedrive' at producer Dieter Dierks' studio in Koln (Cologne) with Jabs providing competent and commendable contributions, but the stakes were high. The Scorpions were on the cusp of breaking in America, and competent and commendable wasn't enough; the Scorpions needed great. Matthias was put on waivers. He had the gig, but they wanted him to sit out the proceedings for a bit and keep developing his guitar skills. They could afford to do so because around the same time Rudy's brother Michael had just left UFO and was available to join his old band in the studio. In the end Michael played lead on three songs (including 'Another Piece of Meat'), Matthias appears on three, and Rudy handled the rest himself ('Holiday', 'Coast to Coast', 'Always Somewhere').

The Scorpions were a hard rock band in the process (along with contemporaries Judas Priest) of inventing modern Heavy Metal, and the rockers on the record prove their exemplary ability to kick ass, but it's the slower ballads and less intense numbers on the record that have kept me coming back to it for almost thirty years.

'Holiday' is undeniable, a truly great song, stunningly beautiful layered acoustic guitar picking balanced by a monster Big Rock coda. 'Holiday' is also one of Klaus' shining moments, displaying his great range and power.

'Always Somewhere' is the kind of track that sneaks up on you, digs in, and doesn't let go. So many Hard Rock/Heavy Metal lyrics of that era tend to explore life on the road, most likely because that's where the majority were written, but 'Always Somewhere' manages to avoid the trite and cliche, and deliver an evocative performance.

'Coast to Coast' is an instrumental with a rare groove for a Metal tune, and it remains a staple in the Scorpions live set to this day. 'Coast to Coast' is simply a great and fun tune.

'Can't Get Enough', 'Lovedrive', and 'Another Piece of Meat' provide the muscle, the sheer rocking that the Scorpions do so well, and 'Loving You Sunday Morning' blazes the Heavy Pop trail that Def Leppard would later exploit.

'Is There Anybody There' is a most unusual track, and maybe my favorite. What prompted this band of Teutonic Metal Gods to explore the uncharacteristic territory of Reggae is a mystery, and while there's no question that they're a bit out of their depth in doing so, they manage to deliver a pleasing departure from the format. I do not suggest putting 'Is There Anybody There' up against 'Three Little Birds'; there's no comparison, but the attempt in itself is laudable.





2) In Trance


Jackson has already reviewed this record here, but in summary for those less inclined to click away from my captivating prose, 'In Trance' is Ulrich Roth's finest hour, and also displays some of Klaus' more amazing performances.


In 1975 the Scorpions were still laying the groundwork for their later international success, and on this, their third album, the band delivers their first truly solid work. The only problem with 'In Trance', a factor on all Ulrich Roth Scorpions records, is the questionable decision to let Uli sing a couple of tunes. Uli's voice takes a bit of getting used to, and even then it can be a deterrent, on top of which there's the perplexing nature of Uli's lyrical style. Roth is an apparent fan of psychedelic laden imagery in the vein of Cream or early Hendrix, which is bad enough without the language barrier. One can picture Uli with a German to English thesaurus jotting down his notions of psychedelia.



"Summerday is gone, listen to the evening wind
Singing tunes of tamarind into the setting sun
You lie in twilight sleep dreaming colours deep
Today all life is gone"

Klaus wasn't exactly a master of the English language either, but he wasn't trying to write in an established style like Uli, and his songs turned out more accessible; some even resulting in excellence like the title track, and the splendid 'Life's Like a River'



3) Virgin Killer



Despite the horrid title, the song of the same name, and the ill-advised photo on the album jacket, 'Virgin Killer' is a great record. The 1976 follow up to 'In Trance' finds Klaus and Rudy moving on a more basic riff and hook oriented Hard Rock direction, while Uli is still chasing the ghost of Jimi Hendrix. Don't get me wrong, I love Uli, and I honestly dig his stuff; it's just that I know that Uli's stuff is more than a bit 'out there', and thusly hard for most folks to digest.

'Pictured Life', and 'Catch Your Train' are astounding, and Eddie Van Halen admits to the influence they had on his playing. 'Backstage Queen' showcases the decidedly more accessible direction that Klaus and Rudy were moving toward. 'Crying Days' and 'Yellow Raven' are pleasing down tempo, almost ethereal numbers, and Uli chimes in with three lead vocal numbers: 'Virgin Killer', 'Hell Cat', and 'Polar Nights'. The first two are manic, frightening numbers showcasing remarkable guitar skills and stupid regrettable lyrics. 'Polar Nights' finds Uli competing with Robin Trower for the Hendrix heir apparent crown, and would be a better song had he let Klaus sing it.



4) Taken By Force



This hard to find LP from 1977 was the follow up to 'Virgin Killer', and Ulrich Roth's swan song with the band. 'Steamrock Fever', 'We'll Burn the Sky', and 'He's a Woman - She's a Man' are featured on the much more well known live album 'Tokyo Tapes' recorded during the tour in support of 'Taken By Force', and 'The Sails of Charon' has benefited from it's inclusion on their first greatest hits package, 'The Best of the Scorpions'. If, then, you're thinking that you don't need this record, you are mistaken, because you need 'Riot of Your Time', and, if you buy the CD re-release you get the previously unreleased studio cut of 'Suspender Love', another killer 'Tokyo Tapes' track.






5) Blackout




Their breakout LP from 1982, 'Blackout' established the Scorpions in America with the hit 'No One Like You', a commendable commercial effort that stands up to the test of time. The title track continues the thematic formula of a narrative about sexual encounters gone wrong set to a massive riff.


What saves the LP, along with the hit song, and the solid Rocking displayed throughout, are the last two cuts, 'China White', and 'When the Smoke Is Going Down'. 'China White' is a super heavy down tempo number based on the 'less is more' ethos, and 'When the Smoke Is Going Down' is another beautiful ballad in a long line of such offerings.



6) Animal Magnetism



The title track is worth the price of purchase, simply wicked, it's Matthias' finest moment. Also included on the LP is 'The Zoo', which most people thought of as Matthias' finest moment until they read this post and were corrected in their thinking, which is not to suggest that 'The Zoo' is anything less than uber super duper. Who doesn't love Talk-Box?

'Hold Me Tight', 'Twentieth Century Man', 'Falling In Love', and 'Don't Make No Promises (Your Body Can't Keep) are notable tracks in the grand Scorpions Rocking tradition, the latter being the second installment of the sexual encounter gone bad series, and 'Lady Starlight' admirably fills the mandatory ballad spot on the record.



7) Love At First Sting


Okay, I'll concede based solely on the undeniable greatness of 'Still Loving You', but for me, that's all that this record has to offer. I can do without being rocked like a hurricane, and being that I live in a big city, every night for me is a big city night.

This is where I draw the line with the Scorps. The album is mostly formulaic drivel, 'Big City Nights' being a prime example of style over substance, a stratagem that dominates this gazillion selling package of eight turds and one gem.



8) Fly to the Rainbow



The Scorpions sophomore effort from 1974 is also Ulrich Roth's debut. In '74 Uli's freaky acid infused style was still fairly relevant, and his sole composition, and vocal, is the truly wonderful 'Drifting Sun'. 'Speedy's Coming' was the single, and it's a fun little number that references the Rock scene in '74, name checking Ringo, Bowie, and Alice Cooper. Jackson quite likes the title track, and finds the whole album enjoyable, but he also knows you prefer to be rocked like a hurricane. If there was one song as good as 'Still Loving You' on 'Fly to the Rainbow' this record would give 'Animal Magnetism' a run for it's money.




9) Lonesome Crow


The 1972 debut record from the Scorpions features an amazingly skilled sixteen year-old Michael Schenker in the lead guitar spot. 'In Search of the Peace of Mind' is a highlight which warranted inclusion on 'Tokyo Tapes', but the LP opener 'I'm Going Mad' is the standout track despite, or maybe due to, it's utter ridiculousness. If anything it's highly entertaining, even more so in video form.



10) Humanity: Hour 1


The most recent Scorpions offering (2007), 'Humanity: Hour 1' contains at least two great tracks: 'Humanity', and, you guessed it, 'Hour 1'. I don't own the record, but based on the performances of those songs at their recent visit to the Beacon Theater in NYC I'd have to place 'Humanity: Hour 1' above 'Savage Amusement', which has no good songs, and 'Crazy World', which contains the mediocre but timely composition and massive hit 'Winds of Change', and, I'm convinced without hearing any of it, nothing else of any worth.


Besides it's a Skorpionalben der Oberseite 10 list, so 10 it must be.

Comments:
Scorps and UFO had such great album covers in the 70's (psygnosis?) with the exception of VK. Never noticed how huge that whammy bar is on the "In Trance" cover (wonder why).. and what is that thing on the center of the headstock?
Uli Rules
 
Great run down as always...

I like Love at First Sting. everything after it, what you said.

Lovedrive was never topped in my mind. Coast to Coast is genius.

Sails of Charon is a dumb song.
 
Was fuer ein echtes Metall ist die Musik des Scorpions!
 
Yes it is a big whammy, isn't it? I had always thought so, but thought it was my imagination.

Hipgnosis.

I think it's the truss bar.

Jah!
 
they have always been my favorite heavy metal band. and i agree about the album covers. classics, every one of them, including VK which is really in bad taste.
 
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