Sound — 8
Scorpions are responsible for a plethora of songs which are now widely considered classic rock staples. While the band has showcased a large amount of talent throughout the years, including a unique lineup back during the group's formation which included guitar virtuoso Michael Schenker, Scorpions currently revolve around lead vocalist Klaus Meine, lead guitarist Rudolf Schenker, guitarist Matthias Jabs, Pawel Maciwoda on bass, and drummer James Kottak.
After releasing a staggering seventeen studio albums, Scorpions' embarked on a final farewell tour (which was thankfully later discarded), and with a new album of newly recorded material on the horizon it appears the best may be yet to come from this iconic rock group. In the meantime, what we have is a new live album, titled "MTV Unplugged - Live in Athens," which should be more than enough to appease the appetites of dedicated fans. While the news of another Scorpions live album may not sound too exciting to those established followers, as "MTV Unplugged" marks the band's sixth live release overall, you can trust when I say there are plenty of surprises waiting the listener after you first press play.
What separates "MTV Unplugged" from Scorpions live albums of the past, including 2001's "Acoustica" is that the band recruited a full stringed section for this one off performance in Athens. While this addition may seem insignificant, it is this same addition which attributes new depth to heavily replayed favorites: so much depth that at times it puts a completely different spin on the entire song. "Blackout" is a strong example; between Schenker's improvisational acoustic guitar riffs and the harmonic strums of the stringed section, at first you'll find it difficult to recognize which song it is you're listening to. The attending audience at this particular concert had a difficult time as well, thus inspiring Meine to toy with the crowd. "Do you know which song this is? No?"
The band's rendition of "Big City Nights" stays incredibly true to the original recording, whereas the introduction to "Wind of Change" for a moment sounds like an old country radio song before Klaus' instantly recognizable singing style soars above the quiet acoustic strumming. During the band's performance of "Wind of Change," the Scorpions are joined by a unlikely special guest, Morten Harket of the band A-Ha, who trades off with Meine on the verses and joins in during the chorus to create some enjoyable vocal melodies. "MTV Unplugged" also includes something which fans will easily be able to enjoy. In an interesting move, Scorpions premier five new songs during their acoustic set. One of the clear highlights is "Dancing in the Moonlight," which boasts all of the same elements which scattered such albums as "Animal Magnetism" and "Love at First Sting." A punching rhythm section, a foot tapping percussion section and captivating lead vocals turn this song into an instant favorite.
Lyrics — 8
For artists in the mid '60s, recording an acoustic album at this stage in the game can be devastating. Vocal talent can dissipate with age, and while a vocalist may still be able to get away with a weakened range or lessened overall strength when backed by adrenaline fueled distortion, an acoustic album doesn't provide much for such a singer to hide his disabilities behind. Klaus Meine doesn't have to worry about such problems, and while you won't find him belting out the ranging screams at the end of "Blackout," that instantly recognizable accent to his voice which distinguishes him from all the rest is still in admirable form. In fact for more than a handful of songs which appear on "MTV Unplugged," Meine's singing is the factor which allows the listener to distinguish which song they are currently listening to, which is a quite the notable feature.
Overall Impression — 8
The approach which Scorpions took when creating "MTV Unplugged" is one that I feel other bands which fall under the same "classic rock" label should try their hand at when they reach this stage in their career. Not only does the band find a way to creatively revamp some of their continuously replayed anthems from throughout the years, but Scorpions add something extra to keep things sounding interesting for their dedicated fan base. In the case of "MTV Unplugged," that means premiering five new songs which have yet to appear on an official studio album. No matter which way you look at it, "MTV Unplugged" is a standout effort which any familiar rock fan should at least pay attention to.