Michael Schenker

REVIEW: Ratt – Reach for the Sky (Part Four of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Four of Five

RATT – Reach for the Sky (Originally 1988, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

One might suspect that Ratt’s decline in sales (peeling off approximately 1,000,000 buyers every album), they decided to change things up a bit.  The first three Ratt platters were very much in the same mould.  Little variation, just repeating that “Ratt N’ Rott” formula.  Initially they ditched producer Beau Hill to work with Mike Stone, but the record label wasn’t happy and brought Hill back to finish.

Indeed, the opener “City to City” does sound like a new rodent.  You can’t mistake them for anyone else once Pearcy starts yowling, but the slick song is fresher.  Chugging away in a mid-tempo style, it’s a bangin’ start.  But it’s the second track (and second single) that really kicks.  “I Want a Woman” retained the sleaze but contained more focus on melody with an arena-sized chorus.

The third track, and first single, was the controversial “Way Cool Jr.”.  Ratt with horns; oh my!  It was the biggest leap for the rodents and it did give them a minor charting hit.  Dipping into the blues, and eschewing the heavy histrionics.  Letting the groove of the song work, and not overpowering it.  Truth is Ratt should have tried stretching out a long time before.

Now that the big tracks are out of the way, how does the rest of the album hold up?  Not too badly.  Old-style Ratt returns on “Don’t Bite the Hand”, but at least with more melody than Dancing Undercover offered.  They go ballady on “I Want to Love You Tonight”, kind of a new thing for Ratt, and one they’d explore again in the near future.  That’s side one.

A heavy shuffle called “Chain Reaction” kicks off the second side, a welcome return to velocity.  They return to the mid-tempo zone on “No Surprise”, which sounds like something Gene Simmons might have written for an 80s Kiss album.  Good song, adequate hooks.  “Bottom Line” is in a similar ball park.  If it sounds like Ratt had help writing these songs, it might be because Beau Hill has a credit on most of them.  He only had one on Dancing Undercover.  That could be why this album has so much more melody and attention to songwriting.  The hit-ready “What’s It Gonna Be” is a prime example, almost sounding like Van Hagar.  A little too hard-edged for OU812, but perfect for a Ratt.  A foreshadowing of the kind of songs they would write for their fifth album.

The album closes on a hard rocker that Hill didn’t co-write called “What I’m After”.  A decent closer that doesn’t quite gel fully, but close enough for rock n’ roll.  Or Ratt N’ Roll.

Of all the discs in The Atlantic Years box set, Reach for the Sky has one of the best bonus tracks.  It’s an acoustic version of “Way Cool Jr.” from MTV Unplugged which chronologically happened in 1990 with Michael Schenker on guitar, filling in for Robbin Crosby who was in rehab.  The unforgiving unplugged format can separate the men from the boys, and Ratt make the grade.  Pearcy proves he can do that Ratt voice without layers of overdubs and effects.  Meanwhile, Bobby Blotzer plays some interesting non-drum percussion parts.  With Schenker on board, the mid-song acoustic segment really smokes.  Ratt could have had a whole new side to their career, had they pursued this swampy acoustic direction with Michael instead of breaking up.

But that is still in Ratt’s future; there is one more album to go on this series.  Reach For the Sky sustained Ratt’s sales.  There was no decline this time and they sold a million.  That still wasn’t good enough.  Phone calls were made and Desmond Child, Dianne Warren, Sir Arthur Payson, and one Jon Bon Jovi were about to enter the picture.

Whether Reach sold enough copies or not is irrelevant to the quality of the music, which polished the sound up to a necessary level after the disappointing Dancing Undercover.  It was a step towards the commercial, but they couldn’t do two tuneless albums in a row and survive.

3.5/5 stars

 

The Atlantic Years 1984-1990:

VHS Archives #101: The Wisdom of Michael Schenker (1987)

‘Twas the Pepsi Power Hour in 1987, and Erica Ehm asked Michael Schenker a question about fast guitar players.  In just a minute and 15 seconds, he responded with a remarkable amount of wisdom.  From MuchMusic.

 

REVIEW: Scorpions – Box of Scorpions (2004)

SCORPIONS – Box of Scorpions (2004 Universal)

Don’t worry – this Box of Scorpions cannot hurt you!  If fact if you allow yourself to be stung, you will find your reality injected with musical ecstasy.

This isn’t a box set to buy if you are looking for unreleased treasure.  It’s strictly a compilation, although you may be able to get a few tracks you didn’t have before.  Box of Scorpions covers every album from the debut Lonesome Crow, beyond 1999’s Eye II Eye, going as far as 2002’s Bad For Good: The Very Best of Scorpions.  That compilation CD included two new songs called “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”.  They were recording specifically for Bad For Good, but it makes sense to get them on the beefier Box of Scorpions instead.

The first disc of this set is inaugurated by “I’m Going Mad”, the same technicolor workout that opened their first album.  The early psychedelic Scorpions songs are only represented by a couple, with “Fly to the Rainbow” being the second.  Stone cold classics form the bulk of the disc, with “Speedy’s Coming” being an obvious focal point.  “In Trance”, “Steamrock Fever”, “We’ll Burn the Sky”, and “Virgin Killer” are all essential cuts.  You can’t fit ‘em all in, of course, but the live album Tokyo Tapes fills in some of the most obvious blanks.  “Top of the Bill”, “Dark Lady” and “Robot Man” are great live inclusions.  The disc ends with the first steps into the modern Scorpions sound with a pair from 1979’s Lovedrive.

Disc two showcases the 80s and all the big Scorpions hits.  The band streamlined their sound.  Some may say “dumbed down”.  The Scorpions of the 80s were massive, but certainly were not challenging your grey matter with complex music like the 70s band were prone to.  They also lost the regality of the Uli Roth era, something his guitar brought to the band.  It was replaced by solid 4/4 hard rock, with plenty of hits.  There is only one live song (from World Wide Live) here, “Another Piece of Meat”.  The rest are all studio originals:  “Big City Nights”, “Still Loving You”, “Rhythm of Love”, “The Zoo”, “No One Like You”, and of course that unstoppable “Hurricane”!  Deeper cuts like “Coast to Coast” and “Dynamite” provide some serious meat.  This disc would make a pretty good standalone compilation.

The third disc concentrates on the 90s, which saw the Scorpions reborn by the success of “Wind of Change”.  Unfortunately, this ushers in a slew of ballads.  The few rockers like “Tease Me, Please Me”, “Alien Nation” and “Don’t Believe Her” are almost drowned by the ballads.  There are some songs you may have missed the first time around.  In addition to the aforementioned “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”, you’ll also get “Over the Top” and “Life Goes Around” which were released in 1997 on Deadly Sting: The Mercury Years.  “Cause I Love You” is really the only keeper of these four obscurities.  It was originally written in 1978 for Lovedrive, and recorded in 2002.  That’s how it sounds, too.  As for the rest, at least getting by these songs all in one place, you don’t really need the other two compilations.  Disc three also contains the unfortunate “Mysterious” from the dreadful Eye II Eye album, and the soul live song “Hurricane 2000” from Moment of Glory with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Neither are really essential though “Hurricane 2000” has its fans.

Box of Scorpions adds up to a good set with plenty of value and a few minor surprises.  If you don’t own all the albums already, this is a good buy.  Be sure to get a copy with the outer plastic slipcase still intact!

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Scorpions – Lonesome Crow (1972)


Scan_20150722SCORPIONS – Lonesome Crow
(1972 Metronome)

What an odd album this is, considering where the Scorpions went a decade later. Young kids from West Germany finding their musical feet, Scorpions seemed to be a psychedelic band at the start. Their major asset was the 17 year old guitar prodigy Michael Schenker. Throughout Lonesome Crow, it is Schenker’s sparing solos that hint that Scorpions may in fact be a rock band. Throwing down the wah-wah hard, Schenker hadn’t found his direction yet either, but the talent was clear.

Also obviously gifted was 24 year old singer Klaus Meine. Although his thick accent probably didn’t help gaining international appeal, he sure could wail. The one single scream on opening track “I’m Going Mad” revealed that perhaps there was a rock star here in cocoon form.

Some fans have developed great love for Lonesome Crow over the years. When I first found the album in 1990 (a cassette reissue at a Zellers store), I thought at the time that it was perhaps the worst album I had ever bought. My stance has softened considerably over the years, as I’ve managed to penetrate its foggy haze. I have friends who have offered great praise to Lonesome Crow after ingesting certain intoxicants.

There are indeed some stellar musical moments. The song “Action” for example boats a jazzy walking bassline and some stellar playing. Bassist Lothar Heimberg only ever appeared on this one Scorpions album, and the bass is one of the biggest noticeable differences to later Scorpions records. You just don’t hear busy, walking basslines like this on the rest of their catalogue. Drummer Wolfgang Dziony (also on his only Scorpions album) accompanies him appropriately.


Klaus should grow this beard back.

The factor that makes Lonesome Crow difficult to penetrate is the tendency towards long, meandering (often directionless) psychedelic rock jams. “I’m Going Mad” (though it has no vocals for almost 2 1/2 minutes) is pretty instant, and “In Search of the Peace of Mind” has its moments too. Other songs like “Inheritance” are head-scratchers. One of the most interesting (but also difficult to penetrate) songs is the 13 minute title track. I’m sure a more seasoned band could have trimmed the fat a bit. In general, the album has several flashes of brilliance, but you have to slog through long meandering slow jams to get there.  Producer Conny Plank, he of many Krautrock releases, allows the Scorpions to run wild with their imaginations.

Lonesome Crow isn’t a bad album. One reason it’s unlike other Scorpions records is that they broke up shortly after. When a new Scorpions formed, the only members remaining from this album were Klaus and rhythm guitarist Rudolph Schenker. Michael Schenker was noticed by UFO, who snagged him from the fledgling Scorpions. When the band folded, Klaus and Rudolph joined Dawn Road featuring another smokingly talented guitarist named Uli Jon Roth. Dawn Road was then renamed Scorpions, and together the new lineup began embarking on a harder rock and roll journey. With Roth’s help, and a growing songwriting duo of Klaus and Rudolph, great things were ahead.

2/5 stars