From UFO to Scorpions to Michael Schenker Group to McAuley Schenker Group to Temple Of Rock to Michael Schenker Fest. And in between there has been some solo efforts that made few people happy plus short-lived reunions with both UFO and Scorpions that both ended on a disastrous note. Michael Schenker’s career has therefore been a somewhat bumpy road with its ups and downs. Fact is, Schenker lived pretty much in the shadows for a long time due to confused musical efforts and a fights with alcohol and drug demons but in 2011 things started to look bright again when he released his very underrated Temple Of Rock album. Two more records under the Temple Of Rock moniker – Bridge The Gap (2013) and Spirit On A Mission (2015) – with new singer Doogie White (Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tank) following Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley, Leif Sundin and Kelly Keeling to mention a few singers that Schenker had worked with in the past.
The two latest Temple Of Rock albums wasn’t as great as the debut but they did show that there was a lot of life left in Schenker and on stage Schenk showed us that none of his brilliance as a guitarist had gone missing at all. Fact is, Schenker and his new band were a killer live act so when he announced that he was going out on tour again a few years back under the Michael Schenker Fest that featured Barden, Bonnet, McAuley and White all as singers, no Schenk-fan could (I guess) turn out disappointed. I saw the band play at Sweden Rock and disappointed I was not, even though expectations rose to the moon. Sure, Barden had some vocal issues and Bonnet, who had played a solo gig earlier, had to really give his everything and more to reach the high notes, something that didn’t always work. McAuley was completely faultless and to me, he’s easily the best vocalist in Schenker’s vocalist stable. The success of the tour made for a follow-up which, of course, is a record with everyone involved. Very interesting, to say the least. And it also needs to be noticed that his old rhythm section of bassist Chris Glen and drummer Ted McKenna and guitarist/keyboard player Steve Mann (McAuley-Schenker) plays on the record.
The album opens with “Heart And Soul”, an uptempo, faster rocker with a clear early 80’s MSG touch that also sports a Metal influence. At first I was sure that Barden’s voice would jump at me from my speakers but it is McAuley who sings it – and he does it damn well. The song itself is ok, a good song with a catchy enough melody. Kirk Hammett of Metallica guests the tune and the way I see it, he’s there because he’s a friend of Michael’s and that he probably thinks that Hammett’s name will bring up the sales a notch or two. Because as a guitarist, Schenker’s in a totally different league than Hammett – completely superior in every way.
“Warrior”, a slower paced rocker with a heavy crunch that contains all four singers and it works splendidly. It comes with a lot of catchiness but it’s mostly a pretty punchy and tough stomper. The main melody is really good which makes the track memorable but it’s more an album track than a single-contender. Great tune. “Take Me To The Church” with Doogie White at the mike, chugs away with a galloping rhythm and a ridiculously catchy main melody. It’s a rocker with a slight Metal vibe that screams classic MSG. I love how the church organ comes in and gives the song a new dimension as well. It also has a chorus to die for – easily one of the best songs on this album. The Bonnet sung “Night Moods” have the commercial big chorus of a song like “Dancer” (Assault Attack, 1982) – no they don’t sound alike at all – but what strikes the most is that it could be a Bonnet solo track. A slower, pop-laden rock track with a insanely catchy refrain – love it!
“The Girl With The Stars In Her Eyes” – sung by White – is great Melodic Rock track that lands somewhere between early 80’s MSG and the Bonnet version of Rainbow. With the classic Schenker guitar playing and a big pop vibe, this rocker is yet another winner here. Very good indeed. “Everest” is faster and rougher and it sends a pretty clear nod to the Assault Attack record, both musically and the fact that Graham Bonnet sings on it. It’s a ballsy tune with a good punch, a fine rocker that will make fans of the classic MSG-sound happy. The ZZ Top like, bluesy, boogie hard rock groover “Messin’ Around” is the first Gary Barden sung tune. The tune feels very alive and kicking and I’m sure this will be a real crowd pleaser live. I can admit that I have never been that big on Barden’s voice, even though I have never disliked it per se, but I really dig this tune – it really rocks.
“Time Knows When It’s Time” features a lead vocal by Robin McAuley, my favorite Schenker vocalist. Even though it’s an uptempo Hard Rock tune with traces of Metal it also sports a massive Pop vibe, especially in the chorus, which makes the song very catchy and a clear single contender. To me, it’s a great mix of classic MSG and the McAuley-Schenker era. Very good. It’s not only Doogie White’s voice that makes “Anchors Away” sound like it could have been an outtake from one of Temple Of Rock’s albums. It’s pretty rough in a faster pace with a kicking beat and a good, memorable refrain. As a whole, it’s a good track that never reaches great. “Salvation” is Schenker’s turn to shine all on his own. It’s an instrumental track that contains Schenker’s classic, melodic and even hummable way of guitar playing. Fact is, the tune is actually damn catchy – Michael have always been the master of melodic guitar playing and on this song he shows us all that he has forgotten nothing about that.
“Living A Life Worth Living” is Barden’s turn to go Pop on us. It’s a mid-tempo Melodic Rock song with AOR-ish undertones and it brilliantly mixes a fine Pop vibe with classic 80’s Hard Rock. I think that maybe this kind of rock would suit McAuley’s voice better but Barden really pulls it off. The final track on the record is called “The Last Supper” and contains all four singers and when you think of how different their voices are it’s really cool how well they fit together. The title is of course inspired by the album cover and the tune itself is a classic, melodic Hard Rock piece that is MSG all the way. It’s a memorable tune but also groovy and it do rock like a fine rocker should. It comes with a very catchy chorus but it’s completely cheeseless. A great tune and a perfect closer for an album like this.
I think it’s great that Michael have found his creative vein again and the move to involve his most famous singers on one album is a really good one – although on a personal level, I’d have loved to have found Leif Sundin, who sang on the underrated Written In The Sand (1996), on at least one track. Musically, a lot on this album takes a trip back to the classic MSG style from the early 80’s but there are also times when the Pop-metal that McAuley Schenker Group did so splendidly on three albums in the late 80’s/early 90’s shows up. The quality of the songs here is at the most really high even though it took me a couple of spins to really grasp them but I’m not too sure about the production. It’s a bit too mushy and daft, especially when it comes to the rhythm section I miss some punch and dynamics and I’d love a bit more attack over-all. Still, Schenker’s playing is of the highest class and his melodic solos are still spot on. I still hope for a MSG resurrection (with McAuley at the mike) but until (if) that happens, this album is a really good substitute. I’m sure most Schenker fans won’t be disappointed by this album – I know I’m not.
1. Heart And Soul
3. Take Me To The Church
4. Night Moods
5. The Girl With The Stars In Her Eyes
7. Messin’ Around
8. Time Knows When It’s Time
9. Anchors Away
11. Living A Life Worth Living
12. The Last Supper