I do not know what it is with UFO (the band, not the friggin’ aliens…). On one hand, they are brilliant, but on the other, the stuff they strut is like – mediocre in a way. And this very specific thread at least leads right through their early records. Their 5th studio record No Heavy Petting released in 1976 is no exception.
Now imagine 1976 for a minute: These were the times where you saw vehicles like the ‘Stutz Blackhawk’ come into fashion. No kidding. Big, gas-guzzling monsters were all the rage at that time. Of course, you could also get sleeker machines they – the car makers – gave us in the ’70s. Corvette, Mustang, Firebird come to mind. The oil crisis of the early ’70s was already forgotten. These were also the times of almost 15% inflation in the UK, earthquakes, and tsunamis everywhere. Fidel Castro became president of Cuba. And he is still there at the time this review is written – well almost.
And in the midst of this, you got Hard Rock that was all the rage too, mixed with the emerging Heavy Metal movement. So, cruising along the highway in your thirsty, big gas guzzler with some good hard rock blazing away was the best feeling ever. Of course, for today’s youngsters, this is like the dinosaur age, likely to turn up as fossils in the fucking mountains that are towering above us.
This was also the year when AC/DC released their stellar debut album High Voltage, and Kiss kicked their fourth studio album out into the world. Whereas Uriah Heep added to Progressive Rock prowess by delighting us with High and Mighty. Black Sabbath gave birth to Technical Ecstasy – only hitting Gold in the US – not really a top performer. This came some six years after their stellar debut album. The band’s namesake, and what a piece of creativity.
It is into this mighty mix of influences that UFO landed another good one with No Heavy Petting back in 1976 after their ’74 success Phenomenon. Back in the day, UFO sported that mighty and hard sound many yearned for. Meaty and powerful this superseded everything that others were able to produce in their flower-power-addled state.
Whilst still including a lot of fillers, No Heavy Petting clearly is a precursor to more glamorous things to come like Lights Out or Obsession a few years later. The album also sets cornerstones as to how Hard Rock and early Heavy Metal ought to sound. On top, they wrote one of the most amazing rock ballads of their career called Belladonna. The track was great back then, and still is the same today. But more to that later.
1976 was part of the Schenker years, meaning the guitarist Michael Schenker, whose very precise guitar prowess shames many of today’s guitar wizards still. I am absolutely loving the talent, whereas later he had trouble establishing himself. But what do you expect: If at 18 years of age – starting with Phenomenon – you are told that you are the greatest so many times, then this is what you believe. And it will show in later years.
But you need to give him (a lot of) credit. The very precise riffs and solos on No Heavy Petting are absolutely stellar, no doubt about it. Just listen to the one on Can You Roll Her. He even pulled records like Reasons Love and Highway Lady out of the bad sector into the mediocre arena, simply because he adds this friggin’ solo that is just amazing.
And his influence shows in all of the tracks on No Heavy Petting. This combined with the excellent, high soaring vocals of Phil Mogg gets you a combination that you just cannot ignore. For the better tracks at least.
And then there is UFO‘s ability to throw out rock ballads. Holy. Metal. Cow. Yes, you guessed right, Belladonna is probably one that is never gonna be topped. Subtle references between the beautiful woman excelling in intrigues of the murderous kind and the poisonous plant of the same Italian name. Soft melody, powerful lyrics, just great. But, actually, powerful does not describe it. This one is hitting home, like too near to reality to be comfortable. After all these years.
Now, let’s not forget Martian Landscape written by Danny Peyronel, who by the way only stayed with UFO for No Heavy Petting. A pseudo country-style, mid-tempo ballad, speaking of a still intact way of life in the countryside. Well, not bad and a fitting end to the record.
Ultimately, No Heavy Petting is a mixed bag of goodies. You have absolutely stellar contributions – of the Hollywood Walk of Fame kind – like Natural Thing or Can You Roll Her. Just to pull everything down with terrifyingly bad tracks like Reasons Love. This is a pity.
Judging by the talent that was afloat in the band at that time, UFO could have done better. I guess it is their exceedingly bad lifestyle back in this time that is at least partly to blame and may have taken some of their thunder and quality away. This is still a good album and for sure a must-have for UFO fans all around the world.
Record Rating: 6/10 | Label: Chrysalis Records | Web: Official Site
Release date: 1976