UFO – Phenomenon (1974) – Review

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RockmusicRaider Review UFO Phenomenon - Album CoverThe first album Phenomenon of the Schenker years and the 3rd studio record in the long history of UFO is probably also one of the best. 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. And also because the album is not yet very refined. Like a bunch of rough diamonds, not yet cut and polished. The raw stuff. Go and take that, big guy. ‘Cause later albums like Lights Out or Force It showed a much shinier veneer already. But more to that in in their very own reviews.

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 to 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 waggon 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 containing a great fucking solo that to this day rips me out of my chair when writing on blogs to rave around the cubbyhole serving as my writing spot. 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. Kind of boring and not so cool at all. To my taste this all smacks of olden times a bit too much, kind of losing the sense of direction that was building up nicely before. But then, not all is bad in this part of the album neither: 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 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; 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. 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 my mind. 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 backwards 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.

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 sounds.

*****

Record Rating: 7/10 | Label: Chrysalis Records | Web: Official Site

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