ON TRACK: UFO every album, every song – Richard James
Another band who on reflection, had their heyday with a run of excellent seventies albums (stand up Renaissance, Genesis, Yes…and plenty more On Track subjects).
Richard James takes on the UFO catalogue with a critical fan’s eye. He tells the recorded story without pulling any punches. Whilst recognising their classic work, he’s not afraid to call a spade a spade and doesn’t let his love of the band colour his judgement on below par work. In a nutshell, when they’re good, they’re very very good. When they’re bad they’re horrid.
He even bites the bullet and starts at the very beginning with the first couple of albums where the band thankfully don’t hang around the space rock world for very long.
It’s a story of re-launches and crash landings. And there are several via the highs – Obsession, You Are Here and The Wild, The Willing And The Innocent in particular, and the lows – where uttering the word “Misdemeanour” suffices. What’s also apparent is how those highs and lows come thick and fast. No sooner do the band gain a peak and have the world at their feet, than they fall and fail spectacularly. Even after the highs of the acclaimed classic reunion album, Walk On Water which certainly delivers as an attempt to follow up Obsession, ignoring what had followed that album, It’s their version of the Eagles Hell Freezes Over period, the el classico line-up of Mogg/Way/Schenker/Raymond/Parker having one last hurrah until another implosion and the debacle of Sharks.
Accompanying UFO is a constantly revolving door of different guitarists and more: Neil Carter’s saxophone, the chase for American successes, the drugs and alcohol and the constantly simmering personality clashes that on the one hand provided the spark for some amazing hard rock but also saw the cracks appear.
He even levels a fan’s frustrated criticism at Strangers In The Night, the landmark double live album that cemented the UFO place in the annals of rock history. The doctoring a couple of tracks – in studio with live effects – and the missed opportunity (of sorts) with the recent reissue come in for a justified slating, although the expansive box set of live recordings from the era sort of makes that itch a little more bearable. Criticisms aside, Strangers still stands as one of the best of all time in the double live genre.
There are moments of revelation. Anyone swimming below the surface of hardcore fandom might appreciate Phil Mogg’s solo album that gets mentioned in dispatches and will be the place many lapsed or casual fans might head toward. Dancing With St Peter under the $ign Of Four moniker might be an undiscovered gem so thanks Richard!
Ultimately, while recognising UFO for all their faults and all, there’s no denying their influence of inspiration for the likes of NWOBHM and Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. The evidence? Wee, how about when one of your tracks has been chosen as the final track for the pre-show playlist by Iron Maiden? Guaranteed immortality.
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