Uriah Heep - Outsider (2014) Jun 6, 2014 13:13:40 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Jun 6, 2014 13:13:40 GMT -5
After taking a decade long break from making new studio albums, Uriah Heep came roaring back with the outstanding Wake The Sleeper in 1998. It was the first album with new drummer Russell Gilbrook, and he provided the band plenty of new firepower to give the band a renewed spark. (Not that previous, and long time, Heep drummer Lee Kerslake was any slouch - he was a great drummer, but health problems forced him out of the band.) Wake The Sleeper was an album that combined strong melodies with a hard and heavy presentation. The band had become a powerhouse. (At many times they had been a musical powerhouse prior to this album, but never this powerful, and never this consistently.)
But that wasn't enough for Mick Box and the boys. They followed Wake The Sleeper with an even more vital and energetic album, Into The Wild in 2011. Uriah Heep was on fire, both in the studio and live on stage. They had renewed interest from the fans (both albums were very well received), and even the critics who had often slagged the band in the past gave them good marks for their new studio work. Everything was looking up for the Heep.
And then long time bass player Trevor Bolder was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Sadly, it wasn't long until Trevor was gone as he passed away in May of 2013. Into The Wild and the subsequent world tour turned out to be his last. His death was a huge loss to the band as Bolder could always be counted on to write a great song or two on each of Heep's albums. How much would his presence and songwriting prowess be missed?
As it turns out, a lot.
Don't misunderstand, the new Uriah Heep album, Outsider, is a solid album. It continues the styles shown on Wake The Sleeper and Into The Wild, and long time Heep fans and new fans alike should be fairly happy with their latest release. What really brings the album down a notch are two things - the lack of a Trevor Bolder song (or two), and the lack of a real killer instinct. There are a few songs that start out as energetic as many of the songs on Into The Wild, but then the vocals come in and the songs lose just a little of that vitality.
On Into The Wild the vocal melodies were written with an edge, sounding not unlike the kind of vocal melodies you'd hear on an Iron Maiden album. They were often aggressive and powerful. On Outsider the vocal melodies are slightly restrained compared to the approach taken on it's predecessor. Some of the vocal melodies here are slightly odd (on occasion) and just a little cheesier (not much, but a little) than on the previous pair of albums. It almost seems as if the age of the band members is starting to catch up with them. When Box and keyboard player Phil Lanzon (the band's songwriting duo) try to get aggressive with the vocal melodies it seems a little forced on a couple of the songs, whereas on Into The Wild it sounded natural. The songwriting approach almost sounds like that taken on the band's more laid back Sonic Origami from 1998, and then beefed up a little with more guitar and more aggressive (often double bass) drumming. Even the mix is more muted and restrained than the mixes on the last couple of albums.
Now, it may seem like this is a critical review slamming the album. Not true. It's just when you follow up a pair of great albums a good album is less satisfying in comparison. Unmet expectations create a lot of disappointment, opportunities lost and all. But once you get past any expectations based on the two previous albums and really judge Outsider on it's own merits it does stand on it's own fairly well.
There is no question that Outsider fits in well with Wake The Sleeper and Into The Wild. There are some very cool guitar riffs to be found on Outsider, and the band's performances are excellent. Mick Box is one of the more underappreciated guitar players in Rock, and he has been for decades. His work on Outsider is excellent. Bernie Shaw is a great frontman live, and in the studio he is a huge asset with a great voice and delivery, and that is reflected in most of the songs on Outsider. Phil Lanzon is a very, very good keyboard player, and his tasteful work once again helps elevate a Heep album. Russell Gilbrook is a powerhouse on drums, with a similar style to what Eric Singer played from the late 80's through the mid 90's. He is another huge asset to the band. New bass player Dave Rimmer brings a good, solid, melodic style to the band, and he does as well as could be hoped for in filling the position previously held by the perfect bass player for Uriah Heep.
The songs range from uptempo bursts of energy ("The Outsider," "Looking At You"), to mid tempo songs with a pulsing beat ("The Law," "Rock The Foundation") to dynamic tracks with multiple tempos ("Kiss The Rainbow"), to the slower, darker, "Is Anybody Gonna Help Me." There's even a bit of the classic Heep shuffle in, "Can't Take That Away," for the long, LONG time fans.
Outsider is a classy, melodic Hard Rock album that fits in very well with most of the Uriah Heep catalog. Heep fans will be happy with this one (overall), and they may yet convert some new fans with the sheer professionalism of the album.