UFO - Phenomenon (Remastered Edition CD) 1974 Jan 1, 2011 20:22:07 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Jan 1, 2011 20:22:07 GMT -5
The Michael Schenker era starts here.
And it starts of with something less than a bang. Despite featuring two of their best songs Phenomenon is not one of UFO's finer efforts. It's not bad, but compared to the albums that came immediately afterward it does come up short.
So Phenomenon starts off with, "Too Young to No," (spelled Know on the American release), a middling track that kind of, sort of rocks in a nearly laid back sort of way. The guitar tone is reminiscent of Rush's, "Fly By Night," (the song) - it could use a little more distortion to give the song more bite. This one isn't bad, but it only hints at what UFO would become over the next year.
The rest of the album is loaded with mellow (or mellow-ish) songs that are more mood music than kick ass Rock and Roll that became the band's signature. Now songs like, "Crystal Light," "Lipstick Traces, and, "Space Child," show more than a little Pink Floyd influence (especially, "Space Child,"), but while they're decent songs for that sort of thing, that sort of thing only works if the songs are really good - and these aren't that good.
"Time on My Hands," for example, is loaded with that acoustic guitar armed singer songwriter kind of music, and while drummer Andy Parker does get involved in the song it is still somewhat mellow and lacks energy - it lacks spark. It's just sort of...there. It's inoffensively filling space.
The three songs where the band shows who they really were (and still are, for that matter) kick the album firmly into high gear - at least for the spans that those songs take up.
"Doctor Doctor," is an absolute classic UFO song. It starts off as a mellow track, but even there the song is more inspired. The mellow intro is excellent - it's memorable and has character. The song builds from there until it reaches a point where it explodes and becomes something of an early Heavy Metal boogie. The song's simplicity in the verses allows singer Phil Mogg free rein to take the song and make it his own. The harmony leads breaking up the verses give the song even more class as UFO shows an understanding of what it takes to write and perform a GREAT Rock and Roll song.
"Rock Bottom," kicks in two songs later, and when I say it kicks in I mean it KICKS in! With a riff as big as Gibraltar, "Rock Bottom," is a statement of intent. The intent being to kick your ass musically. The power and energy of the song is undeniable and almost comes across as a force of nature. This is one of those riffs that you hear for the first time and just say, "WOW!" The chorus hook is every bit as good as the verse riff as the band careens forward like an out of control freight train. Just when you think this train is going to fly off the tracks it slows down a bit before speeding back up, but in a slightly mellower fashion with an extended solo section that highlights the up and coming talents of the mad German axeman Michael Schenker. This song is a masterpiece and is worth the price of the album by itself.
The third track that signals where the band is headed is one that is often overlooked. "Oh, My," may not be as heavy as, "Doctor Doctor," or, "Rock Bottom," but it's not far off - and it's a great track that still has a rock solid pumping beat that gives it a character of it's own. It's an infectious bit of UFO history that helps elevate the album above the pedestrian nature of four of the album's eight songs.
EMI and Chrysalis remastered the entire UFO catalog through their mid 80's work, and they started here. The album sounds better (which is good), but the big selling point for this series are the bonus tracks.
Here the bonus tracks consist of five demo tracks (three songs unreleased on any UFO album until now, with one song given two different demo versions here - a song called, "Sixteen"), and a live version of one of their classics.
The demos are a nice bonus. The first two were produced by the legendary Dave Edmunds ("Sixteen," and an early version of, "Oh, My"). "Sixteen," is actually a decent rocker, and would have made a more appropriate selection for the album than most of the mellow songs that producer Leo Lyons and the band settled on for the final official track listing back in '74. Sadly, the sound quality is less than spectacular (although I've heard far worse for old demo tracks).
Fortunately, the Dave Edmunds produced demo of, "Oh, My," has held up much better sonically (or the record company had a better source). The song is still very, very good, but it's interesting to hear the verse riff played just slightly differently. It's a great complement to the final album version and it does make you wonder what the album would have ended up sounding like (and which songs would have appeared) if Edmunds had produced it.
From there we get the Leo Lyons produced demos, starting with the previously unreleased, "Give Her the Gun," which is another track that would have made the album better (if it had taken the place of, say, "Lipstick Traces"). It's a song rooted in the late 60's and early 70's, but it features some decent riffing and vocal melodies and has an infectious beat.
Actually, ALL of the non-album studio tracks included here as, "Bonuses," would have made Phenomenon a stronger album if they had released the mellower tracks on the album. "Sweet Little Thing," being just another example. It's not a great track, but it does have a strong pulse and is every bit as well written as most of the mellow songs that actually made it to vinyl in 1974. It also features piano, which foreshadowed the incorporation of a keyboard player into the band a couple years later (first Danny Peyronel, and then Paul Raymond).
The Leo Lyons produced version of, "Sixteen," isn't all that different from the Edmunds version except for maybe a slightly slower tempo (ever so slightly) and a production that more closely resembles that of the final album. There's more energy in the Edmunds version, but this one is pretty close. (This one also features too much bass in the mix - as does, "Give Her the Gun.")
The final bonus track is an early live version of, "Doctor Doctor," which foreshadows the future remasters heavy reliance on live tracks for the bonuses. The crowd is almost completely inaudible here (except at the very end where you can hear almost each and every one of the 30 or so people in the audience), and the song isn't all that different from the studio version - just a little rowdier and a tad sloppier. (Then) new second guitarist Paul Chapman is evident on the recording - he joined the band immediately following the album's release but quit prior to the recording of the next album. Chapman would have two future tenures with the band replacing the erratic Schenker (his final tenure lasting about four years and four albums).
Ultimately, Phenomenon is not a great album. It does feature two great songs and one very, very good song, but the album itself is a bit of a letdown if you listen to it after hearing the band's later work. The bonus tracks make this a worthwhile purchase, however, as they give an interesting idea of what could have been (had they made different song selections for the album).
Original album - 3/5
Bonus tracks (as bonus value) - 4/5