Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The Michael Schenker Group
In The Midst Of Beauty
Review by Nightwatcher
Who woulda thought it? A year after seemingly going off the rails once again, turning in pathetic, drunken live performances, canceling his U.S. tour, and most probably turning up on at least some people's lists for most likely to end up in a pine box, the mad axeman himself, ex UFO guitar legend Michael Schenker is back with possibly his best album in over a decade or more with 'In The Midst Of Beauty'.
Featuring 4 out of 5 of the original Michael Schenker Group, namely besides Schenker original vocalist Gary Barden, bassist Neil Murray, keyboardist Don Airey and drummer Simon Phillips, in a day and age when bands are reforming under the old moniker with only 1 or 2 members remaining, this is truly a welcome reformation indeed.
The album kicks off in fine style with the hard driving "City Lights". A throwback to the sound of what the original band put down on the first 2 albums, this is a great start, and immediately those who were there at the time will be magically transported back 25 some years, when denim and leather were the fashion, and long haired guitarists ruled the hard rock world. Propelled by the stellar drums of Phillips, and featuring a great, melodic riff, this lays the groundwork for but the first of Schenker's many excellent solos throughout the album. Playing like a man redeemed from a death sentence (And perhaps he was), this is Michael in high form, and it's truly joyous to hear him back playing like we know he can.
Along the way there are many highlights, notably heavy Deep Purplesque workouts such as "Summerdays", with the vocal work recalling a more subdued Ian Gillan in "Child In Time", while "Night To Remember" crosses the classic MSG sound with a riff similar at times to "Smoke On The Water", only different enough to not be a rip off. Mainly the vibe is the same, with Airey's keyboards lending a credibility to the Purple - like sound. "Wings Of Emotion" is yet another strong rocker with yet another stirring Schenker solo. Barden also impresses here and throughout the album, his vocal abilities not having lost one bit from long ago.
By the time one gets to the album's final track, "This Time", you'll know that you've just listened to, with all the events which have transpired as of the recent past, a resurrection of one of hard rock's most mercurial guitarists, and in that context, ranks as one of the most surprising comebacks the genre has witnessed in quite some time.
The production, suitably vintage, is reminiscent of the band's early 80's albums, so if you don't go into this expecting a modern sounding album, then you won't be surprised at the classic sound conjured up here, and as the style is decidedly retro, is quite fitting indeed.
While this isn't quite to the classic status of the first 2 albums, this is a damn fine classic hard rock album, and is certain to be one of the finest released this year. Welcome back Michael, now please stay awhile this time, okay? 8.5/10