Towards the end of the ’70s, Uriah Heep lost their compass somewhat after their fulminant successes during the earlier years. Demons and Wizards, The Magician’s Birthday or again Salisbury, all of them great records, were already behind them.
In between the band produced a bunch of somewhat unfocused and seemingly hastily assembled records that frankly pulled the overall quality of the offering down. And this tendency accelerated as the first decade of their career slowly came to an end.
Uriah Heep also had that knack to produce one or two hits in those aforementioned otherwise unremarkable albums. A famous example would be Look At Yourself. On the inside you will find a meager 7 original tracks. Out of which two of them – Look at Yourself and July Morning – really hold their water.
Or the 1977 record Innocent Victim, the one with the snazzy snake cover. This one sports Free Me, embedded in an arrangement of okay and way too commercialized tracks. Free Me – in itself – is frankly already quite removed from stellar. But the song nonetheless garnered some undeniable attention on the charts back in its time. And it is in truth the sole survivor to fame on this specific vinyl disc. With – perhaps – Free’N’Easy as a far second.
And then, along came the 1977 piece Firefly. The one that managed to stand out from the crowd.
With David Byron gone in 1976, many a music adept predicted the downfall of Uriah Heep. Yet suddenly, we find ourselves with a new record that harkens back to the early days of this band. John Lawton surely did not boast the pipes Byron possessed. But in the end the choice was right, even if he only stayed for three studio albums.
All this hullabaloo reminds me very much of the fate of one Graham Bonnet, who graced Rainbow’s album Down To Earth, for the length of just this record. After Dio‘s departure, many doubted the future of Rainbow. But nope, Blackmore just forged on, hired Bonnet to save this ship and won.
Firefly is probably one of the most rounded records Uriah Heep mastered around this time. The charts were a bit subdued, though. But I will forever get a kick out of the top ten position on the Norwegian ones. Looks like the rock and future metal fans started to get their bearings, before they turned to more blackened business.
And why do I remember Firefly so well?
Precisely! Because of Sympathy, the second before last track on this album. The one track that really hit hard, and got some solid grip on the fan community for a long while. Wise Man got some claim to fame, too, and actually reached single status. And truly, this is most definitely the # 2 track on Firefly.
But coherence does not stop there. The unsung qualities of Firefly rush to the forefront already with The Hanging Tree. Out the door is the slightly confused and soft-bellied approach to synthie powers on High and Mighty. And in comes the tasty powerful singing style of one John Lawton. Complete with somewhat bare-bone song structures. In addition, the no-nonsense, corny riffing and soloing style of Mick Box turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for this album.
Now, Progressive Rock tracks like Been Away Too Long will still remind everyone that this is indeed Uriah Heep. This is probably THE track, where Lee Kerslake‘s complex drumming comes to the forefront most. Typical UFO-ish rock’n’roll tracks like Who Needs Me just round up this tasty offering Firefly could muster.
Glossing over the track list, Firefly turns out to be one of the most varied albums Uriah Heep created during their heyday. Much better structured than some of its predecessors, the collection offers something for everyone. The band really mastered that balancing act between early Progressive Rock and Hard Rock.
In other words, by cleaning up their former, sometimes overly sophisticated arrangements, the band created one of their most remarkable albums.
If you are a Uriah Heep fan, then Firefly should definitely live in your music collection. So, if you don’t have it, get it.
[Ed. note: If you would like to find out how the individual tracks on this album fared, do check out the Top 10 for Uriah Heep.]