The first album Phenomenon of the Schenker years and the 3rd studio record in the long history of UFO is probably also one of the most famous. Nomen est Omen! Because young Michael Schenker and his guitar prowess hit the Hard Rock scene like a bomb back in time.
Coming over from the Scorpions, he actually launched UFO on this track of stellar Hard Rock and Heavy Metal with a more melodic approach. And – I daresay – a fuller sound to their music than other bands of this era were able to do. Of course, that the album wasn’t very refined yet surely was a factor as well. The record often sounds like a bunch of rough diamonds that are not yet cut and polished. Later albums like Lights Out or Force It – in contrast – already showed a much glitzier veneer.
Yet, Phenomenon is also proof of too much influence.
Any undue focus on any one member’s genius of the band can end up in a negative spin on the overall quality of the record. Apart from some of the rockier tracks, the album gives you this gut impression of someone holding the horses. Not letting this wagon run at full speed as it should. And THIS is a pity really, even if the overall product is not bad at all.
Just think about tracks like Doctor, Doctor. Or the stellar contribution Rock Bottom that hides a great fucking solo that still fascinates the hell out of me to this day. Both of those tracks contain the jolly good Hard Rock that made UFO famous and transforms Phenomenon into a kick-ass album.
Then you get more spacey interludes in this mystery series of songs like Space Child that is only saved from mediocrity by the stellar riff in the middle. Crystal Lights serves as proof that someone was actually standing on the brake holding Mr. Schenker’s horses. The track itself is not bad, but it does not have this rock-hard touch and feel that it should have.
Then towards the second half of Phenomenon, the record loses steam big time with some – for the time – typical contributions. The tracklist starts to sport a fair number of fillers that didn’t jazz up my juices then, and they won’t do so now. This all smacks of olden times a bit too much. UFO kinda lost the sense of direction that was building up nicely before. But then, not all is bad in this part of the album either. For example, Time on my Hands gets you into the nice, mid-tempo reverie that you can induce after smoking some pot – pretty good that one.
And what about the rest of UFO?
Now, you heard me referring a lot to Michael Schenker. And this is because I believe he actually blew some life into Phenomenon. Phil Mogg – in this album at least – behaves like a good vocalist must, no more. Singing along, but without giving you this warm and cozy feeling of humming energy that you could expect from a lead singer of his quality. And here I am missing the juice, the mana, the energy! Apart from that, the other members of the band are just hitting it right. Not more, not less.
Any other mysteries of the deep void on Phenomenon?
Actually, there are. Lipstick Traces never made sense to me, for instance. Apart from ‘hey let’s throw this tune into the album for fun because there is space’, I never quite understood where this snippet came from. A filler, and a mistake to boot.
And then – lo and behold – if you were brave enough to suffer through the second half of the album, emerges the Queen of the Deep. Stellar Blues Rock delight, complete with a riff that will leave you speechless. And this is the track where Pete Way‘s bass work really comes out well. Just great – so the diamond of this mixed bag of goodies comes last. Who would have thought? Yet, this track is more looking back towards the past than taking the band this important step forward they so much needed at that time.
And then there are the tracks that – maybe – should have been there too. For example, the ’74 single Give Her the Gun / Sweet Little Thing gives you a taste of that. These two would have been nice add-ons to the actual album – perhaps with a bit more (much more) power. The way they are presented remember me of some sort of a Beatles song on some weak steroids. So, way out of the energy level needed to kick it up a notch, but the bases are there alright.
Ultimately though, Phenomenon really serves you with a taste of things that are still to come. Many tracks really still dwell in the past area of UFO I & II. But this album already takes you into a different arena – the one of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Still a little too hazy in style and not as crystal clear as it should have been.
But in all, Phenomenon is a good album and one of my favorites. If I am not in the mood for really hard, down-to-earth Rock and Metal sound.
Ed’s note: Oh, and don’t forget to hit up the UFO Top 10 Songs list, too.
Record Rating: 6/10 | Label: Chrysalis Records | Web: Official Site
Release date: 1974