Schenker's work on the band's 1977 release "Lights Out" makes it arguably one one of the best guitar albums of the decade. Yet in the United States, it was almost as if UFO was out-shown by the meteoric rise of Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. And they seemed to reach their peak - then somewhat disintegrated - "seconds" before the pyrotechnics of Eddie Van Halen burst onto the scene.
Legend has it that in the middle of the tour for their follow-up effort "Obsession," Schenker became prone to alcohol-induced disappearing acts, eventually leading to his departure from the band. Although both Mogg (as UFO) and Schenker (with The Michael Schenker Group) continued to produce sometimes great, if often uncritically recognized, rock music in the years that followed, neither of their follow-up incarnations was able to match the combination of flair and ruggedness they achieved together. Despite this, both remained relatively popular in Europe and (especially) Japan . . . keeping alive the "maybe someday" reunion dream.
Now, 17 years after they last recorded a new album together, and free of the nasty habits that, in-part, lead to their splinter, Schenker and Mogg have reunited with bassist Pete Way, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond and drummer Andy Parker for "Walk On Water," a disc of new material that reproduces the UFO sound that only this combination of guys can deliver. Unfortunately "Water," as of yet, has only been released in Japan causing a clamor amongst the relatively fewer but just as faithful fans elsewhere. Hopefully the band will come to terms with other labels and make this disc available to all.
The new album kicks off with "A Self Made Man" a hard rocker about an evil man of sorts who relishes in the pain and anguish others. Going all out, it's a wickedly written tune that immediately shows that these guys haven't lost one bit of the power they had twenty years ago, and that they still have the musical ability to push - or tear apart - the envelope of hard rock-n-roll. Blasting away with power and sincerity, Mogg sounds as good as ever. With close to twenty albums under his belt, Phil is a juggernaut of a vocalist who deserves much more credit than he's gotten over the years.
What was always most captivating about this version of UFO was the rapport between the acoustic guitars, keyboards and Schenker's frenzied fret work. At times it could be a slow-flowing tapestry, then, switch to a gushing river. But in each case, it was composed of interweaving talented musicians displaying their great skills, yet never stepping on each other's toes. This was something missing from later UFO and MSG line-ups. But that interplay returns here, no doubt in large part to Raymond's ability to compliment, not compete, with Schenker. And in "Venus" and "Dreaming of Summer" they do it well, bringing back that great old UFO feeling. "Dreaming of Summer," a beautiful but haunting piece about economic stress in life and love, is the album's closest thing to a ballad. It kind of recalls the feel of their "Force It" album of (wow) twenty years ago.
"Stopped By A Bullet" carries that sound further, almost a parallel to "Just Another Suicide." And for two guys who (to my knowledge) haven't played together much in the last 15 years, Way and Parker provide power and sizzle to a base on which the rest of the band confidently builds.
And added bonus on the CD are brand new studio versions of "Lights Out" and "Doctor, Doctor." Although both almost mirror the originals, (better covers can be found on the 93' release "Lights Out in Tokyo") the new mix with CD technology makes this release worth it's weight in gold to Schenker and UFO fans.
A nod too to Producer Ron Nevison who manned the boards on the last two, and best, UFO albums with this line-up. I can't imagine these guys getting together without Nevison at the helm. Cheers to Nevison for agreeing to produce the new album and for the guys in seeking him out.
Yet despite all that is wonderful about Mogg, Schenker and the band mending fences and getting back where they belong (together), this isn't the best of the, now, six albums they've recorded together. Although all the pieces of the classic UFO are in place, "Walk On Water" really doesn't feature a landmark cut that reaches out and grabs you and just blows you away as "Love To Love" and so many of their tunes did when this line-up was last together . . . but hey, that doesn't mean this isn't a good album.
Schenker, in the band's message to their Japanese fans, says he feels the band has "picked up where they left off" 16 years ago. For the most part he's right . . . the look, feel and sound of the old UFO is here, but the hooks that spawned some of the catchiest of UFO's tunes are not. The riffs and raw emotion that spawned "Cherry," "Shoot, Shoot," "Try Me," or "Too Hot Too Handle" seem to be missing this time around. I wanted very much to like this album and had to listen to it two or three times for it to take hold. It seems that like basketball superstar Michael Jordan's recent return to the Chicago Bulls, it must take a while for members of a team to reach their peak when getting back together . . . time to get into rhythm and gel.
But "Walk On Water" is an excellent restart to a line-up that should have stayed together in the first place. And for fans who for years have anticipated this album, they will find the excitement, flashes of brilliance and energy that drew them to UFO so long ago. "I'm already looking forward to our next album," says Schenker. "Our first stroke" in reunited form says Mogg. To me, that sounds like a promise of at least one more studio release from our reunited heroes . . . now older and wiser than they were when they got wrapped up in the dizzying fog of the 70s rock scene.
Michael, Phil, Pete, Paul and Andy owe it not only to their fans, but to themselves, to stay together and play together - and not to ignore the fans in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York either - because we've been waiting a long time for this and "hot-damn," what a freakin' blast it would be to see these guys - our old friends - once again on stage together rockin' us silly.
Thanks for finally puttin' this one together guys . . . and welcome back.