UFO – A Conspiracy Of Stars

UFO - A Conspiracy Of StarsWhen people talk about bands that have sliding doors for all kinds of members to jump through, back and forth, Whitesnake and Rainbow are the most talked about. Why UFO seems to be unnoticed in that department is beyond me because if there’s one band that has been a band member roller coaster throughout the years, then it’s UFO. The band was formed in 1969 by singer Phil Mogg and bassist Pete Way together with guitarist Mick Bolton and drummer Andy Parker and the four of them released their self titled debut the following year and that line-up stayed together for 1971’s UFO 2, but for their third album Phenomenon (1974), Bolton had been replaced by guitarists Michael Schenker and Bernie Marsden, the latter only played on two songs on that record  before he was gone. Marsden later joined David Coverdale when he formed Whitesnake in 1977. That somewhat stable line-up kept intact for four more albums with the addition of keyboard player / rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond, Force It (1975), No Heavy Petting (1976), Lights Out (1977) and Obsession (1978) – all hailed as true rock classics today, before Schenker left after a lot of fighting within the band, mostly created because of drink and drug use. The last thing Schenker played on was their now classic live album Strangers In The Night (1979). He went to form his own band Michael Schenker Group (MSG). The band replaced him with Paul Chapman for the albums No Place To Run (1980) and The Wild, The Willing And The Innocent  (1981) before Raymond left and was replaced by Neil Carter for 1982’s underrated Mechanix, but by Making Contact in 1983, Way had also departed, leaving Carter to play the bass on that album as no permanent replacement had been chosen for that record. After that the band went on hiatus and nobody knew whether they were dead or alive before Mogg started up the band again in 1985 together with Paul Raymond. They hired Asian-born guitar hero Tommy McClendon (aka Atomic Tommy M), bass player Paul Gray and drummer Jim Simpson (ex-Magnum). By then Neil Carter has already joined Gary Moore’s band and had become his right hand, which he was until Moore decided on becoming Mr Bluesman back in 1990. That fateful line-up, minus Raymond again, released Ain’t Misbehavin’, a most lukewarm effort, in 1988 before Mogg called the band quits once again. It took Mogg four years to reconcile with Way, who was back after his own band Fastway had fallen to pieces and a stint with Ozzy had lead nowhere, to start up a brand new version of UFO, a version that released High Stakes And Dangerous Men with ex- Grand Slam guitarist Laurence Archer, drummer Clive Edwards (ex-Wild horses, Electric Sun) and ex- Ozzy / Rainbow keyboardist Don Airey. That line-up didn’t last long either and 1995’s Walk On Water found Mogg and Way re-united with Schenker, Raymond and Parker without making much of a fuss. Covenant (2000) saw Raymond and Parker gone once again and ex-Whitesnake / Journey drummer Ansley Dunbar was at the drum stool, a line-up that also recorded the Sharks album two years later. When both of those albums failed to take the band back to its glory days, Schenker left the band again and Dunbar followed. But with Schenker gone, Mogg and Way recruited axe slinger Vinnie Moore, a former shredder from Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label, that once was guilty of bringing out players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Richie Kotzen and  Tony MacAlpine. Moore was mostly known to the broader audience for his stint with Alice Cooper. Raymond was back as well and together they released the fine, fine You Are Here in 2004 and built a reputation for being a magnificent live act. I saw them at Sweden Rock back in 2005 and they kicked my ass surprisingly hard. On the drums we found none other than Jason Bonham (Bonham, Foreigner, Black Country Communion, Foreigner, California Breed) but he had been replaced by old drummer Parker again by next album, the almost as good The Monkey Puzzle (2006). Three years later and Pete Way was gone once more, this time for health issues. Way’s failure of kicking hard drugs and alcohol had brought him liver diseases and also him being busted for drugs in the US had stopped him for touring there. For The Visitor, a decent album, there was no permanent bass player but ex Yngwie Malmsteen / MSG bassist Barry Sparks toured with them afterwards and on 2012’s excellent Seven Deadly, some guy named Lars Lehmann was the bass player. Of course, that guy didn’t last long.

Which brings us to the latest effort by the old starship. Touring bassist Rob De Luca got the gig as their permanent bass player and legendary producer Chris Tsangarides (Y&T, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Black Sabbath, Ian Gillan, Judas Priest, Magnum, Thin Lizzy) was brought in for production duties. Opening track “The Killing Kind” is brilliant, sounds just the way UFO should, heavy, groovy and a magnificent melody with Mogg’s very personal voice all over it. “Run Boy Run” spawn some really heavy guitars from Moore and the riffing is awesome, but as a whole the song is forgettable, I’m afraid. But “Ballad Of The Left Hand Gun” brings the album back up again with some great guitar grooves and a sound that brings us back to the 70’s – great track! The same goes for “Sugar Cane”, a dirty 70’s rocker with a hot groove and a Hammond organ that lies as a blanket over the hard rock and roll. The melody is also glistening. “Devils In The Details” is a bit of a contrast in itself. It has a great groove, catchy melodies and great guitar playing from Moore and so far, so good, but the problem is that the song doesn’t go all the way through and when it’s done, I can’t remember squat from it. With “Precious Cargo”, Mogg and the boys go a bit jazz on us, it never takes over completely, just lies there in the background and gives their brand of 70’s rock a new feel – a brave move that works like a charm. “The Real Deal” is a groovy blues rocker with some really catchy hooks, “One And Only” has a nice pop fell over its rhythm & blues grooves which works really well and “Messiah Of Love” is a very good Led Zeppelin influenced rocker that will probably go down well live. The album finishes with one of the best tracks, “Rolling Rolling”, a heavy 70’s influenced rock song where the bass and the guitars works very well together in a symbiosis. The over all melody is levitating and feels almost psychedelic in a way.

The line-up with Moog, Moore, Parker and Raymond feels very stable right now and it sure feels like this line-up should be the one they should stick with until the end. Yes, I guess we all would prefer Pete Way to come back, if his health allows it, but my guess is that he has consumed much about all of his organs in his body and that he’s just not strong enough to tour or make records anymore. It’s such a shame, but that’s what drugs and alcohol does to your body. Way should have quit both ages and ages ago. Would we like Michael Schenker to come back and put Vinnie Moore out of his job? I don’t think so. Schenker did help to create many of the classic albums, but he left the band and he got his chance to do it once more, but to no avail. I truly believe that Moore is the right guy for UFO and his metal shredding days are over long ago, the guy really sports a new more melodic and feel based style – and besides, Schenker sure did, and still does, a big bulk of shredding. As an album, this is – even though it has its forgettable moments – UFO’s best album since this line-up came by kicking and screaming with their debut album You Are Here in 2004. The production, however, is a bit of a mess at times and that makes me wonder if Tsangarides has lost his magic touch – this is not the way his albums used to sound. Those minor things put aside, UFO still feels very relevant today and even though this is not the same band as the one who made it huge in the 70’s, influencing as different kind of bands such as Mötley Crüe, Europe and Iron Maiden, I have a hard time seeing that this album wouldn’t connect with the old fans. They might even get some new ones down the road. Check it out!

Jon Wilmenius (7/10)

Tracklist:

01. The Killing Kind
02. Run Boy Run
03. Ballad Of The Left Hand Gun
04. Sugar Cane
05. Devils In The Detail
06. Precious Cargo
07. The Real Deal
08. One And Only
09. Messiah Of Love
10. Rolling Rolling

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