Track listing from European promo CD: Rude Awakening, What A Mess I've Made, In And Out Of Time, Hello Angel, Fat City, The Tower, Pilot Of Your Soul, Forever And More, Turn Off The Emotion, Live For Today, Illusion, Carry On. Running time approx 58 minutes.
US promo differs slightly in order, and contains a track called 'The Storm'.. this may be the same song as 'Carry On'.
Whenever MSG produce a new album with a significantly changed line-up (which, lets face it, happens quite often), you expect a change in the overall feeling of that album, and 'The Unforgiven' is no exception.
MSG veterans Shane Gaalaas on drums and Seth Bernstein on rhythm/keyboards fit into the tight execution of the songs like a well-oiled cog, and with the able abilities of new six-string bassist John Onder and last, but not least, vocalist Kelly Keeling what we have is a polished performance which should see MSG last well into the Millennium. Personally, I would like to have seen a studio album recorded by the line-up which toured with Joe Satriani last year, but alas this was not to happen, but this is in no way meant to demean this offering.
So what of the music? If you buy it as a Schenker fan, who wants to hear some outstanding fret-work then of course this album will suit you: it is filled with all the Schenker frills and guitar runs we've come to expect. Since the now almost classic Walk On Water, Schenker has appeared to enter a new era in his artistic life and certainly on the G3 tour was probably as close to perfection live as he is likely to come. Saying that though, this album is not all guitar solos, and in some respects there seems to have been a conscious effort in the mixing to get a more balanced sound (backed up by the fact that the album was produced by a fairly competant guy who goes by the name of Mike Varney!). A sound that, it must be said, you need to wack your volume up loud to really appreciate; as a very rough guide the style leans more towards Walk On Water than Written In The Sand
Although you can track influences from the last MSG album Written In The Sand way back to Save Yourself via Walk on Water, the style of this album I think will surprise a lot of die-hard fans. This surprise can be lessened by skipping the initial two tracks the first time you listen to it. Both 'Rude Awakening' and 'What A Mess I've Made' have their fill of neat guitar work, bass fills and strong vocals but come across as very `80s Whitesnake' in flavour and, by MSG standards, rather tame. Unfortunately these may well be the songs which the press base their reviews on which would be a shame.
It is then that the album really starts to take off with the fast tempo 'In And Out Of Time' and 'Hello Angel', two songs that for me really set the theme for the remainder of the CD before jumping into my personal favourite, 'Fat City'. I LOVE this song! It's just a strong tempo, feel-good rocker, and at this point you just know that this album has reached orbit, and there's no stopping it.
It's then straight into the haunting tones of 'The Tower', slowing the tempo a little and giving Keeling a chance to show the versatility of his voice which impresses throughout the album. The mid-tempo 'Pilot Of Your Soul' follows before we reach the first ballad 'Forever And More'. This, I suspect will be the first single and features plenty of Schenkers characteristic guitar work and soulful vocals. The pace then picks up again for the catchy 'Turn Off The Emotion' and 'Live For Today' before we come to 'Illusion' which certainly, for me, lives up to its name. Don't get me wrong, it's a good song.... but Keeling sounds SO much like Sammy Hagar on this track I personally find it extremely off-putting!
The album, or at least this promo, finds a perfect finish in 'Carry On', a second ballad in the Scorpions 'Still Loving You' type of arrangement flicking between soft keyboards and fleeting guitar to a fuller guitar sound. This one for me has echos of the 'Save Yourself' album, and near the end has a guitar run which I'm sure has come straight off that album, but the song is flawless in its' execution, and gently brings you back down to Earth in time for the final notes to fade away.
So what are my feelings overall? If the running order was changed, and perhaps two or three songs taken off then this would have been a GREAT album. As it is, it is still a damn good album which fits alongside Michaels back-catalogue quite happily, but there are a few songs which by MSG standards seem a little too much like we've heard them before, or at least they somehow feel a little out of place. But having said that, each to his own... I'm sure that many people will disagree with me, but then if we all agreed on everything life would be boring!
To sum up, I'll give 'The Unforgiven' an 8 out of 10 and carry on playing it to death in my car! Unfortunately, the only reason this, and some previous albums, suffer is because of the exceptionally high standard of music we have come to expect from MSG, UFO and off-shoots... would we want it any different?
(c) Dave Wood 1999