Sound — 8
Before I began listening to this album, UFO's 21st, I believed that it was going to be the epitome of a stereotypical '80s heavy metal band. That is what I have been lead to believe from the little amount of UFO's material that I have heard before; that UFO would be slightly less creative than Iron Maiden and slightly less flashy than Van Halen, that their appeal would come more from leather clothes and a hot front man, than from skilled musicianship. What's more, it appears the band has made no real waves within the last few decades; they are just releasing another album to fulfill a songwriting urge and relying upon a small, aging legion of fans to convince the record company that their brand of songwriting can turn a profit.
That is what I expected.
What I found was something much more complex. It does appear that UFO is staying the same as they have been and are relying on that aforementioned legion of fans to buy the record. In this sense, the album relies on standard heavy metal guitar riffs, drumbeats, and lyrics. That being said, UFO still has a more than decent amount of talent left. For example, I found most of the guitar solos to be excellent. Whether they are similar to past material or not, the guitar solos are inspired, mixing a good amount of creativity and dexterity in with the perfect amount of taste. The guitar solos do not drag despite their often mammoth length, and each song delivers a new one that feels after a first listen that it was worth my time.
The tone of the guitars is also spot on: punchy, clear, double-tracked, and powerful. In fact, all production aspects of the album look sound like they are optimized as far as they can be. Some might say this should be expected for a band that has had over thirty years of experience recording albums, but experience has taught me that a well-produced album (or at least my opinion of one) is a rarity regardless of who the band is. The drums smack with reverb, the vocals have the right amount of clarity and weight.
From a skill perspective, the bass and drums are not overpowering. Maybe there are a few well-placed drum fills. Maybe it is an enviable characteristic of the bass that it only backs up the guitars and has no flashy parts. My guess is that the members of UFO are skilled and experienced enough to know exactly what they want from a rhythm perspective, so I trust their judgment. Nevertheless, it feels like they could have been more creative here if they wanted. One of the things that Brent Fitz, the drummer for Slash/The Conspirators, has taught me is that it is entirely possible to inject pinpointed amounts of taste and experimentation to songs that appear to demand simple and benign drumming.
Lyrics — 7
Lead vocalist Phil Mogg, has been in UFO since the beginning. Over that time, he has developed a certain brand of vocals and he is certainly not deviating from that brand with this album. His voice feels typical for a '70s rock singer, albeit his voice is deeper than the norm. One interesting point of note is that his voice has aged remarkably well throughout the years; it sounds much the same as it does on older albums. And personally, I feel that the slight change that there is in his voice is for the better; it seems like he sounds more unique as a vocalist than he did in the '70s and '80s.
Despite the fact that his voice has aged well, the melodies that Mogg has come up with for this album are uninspired. There is barely anything catchy enough to remember after a first listen and there are not any memorable parts in general. Of course, the vocals do not detract from the rest of the album. It's just that they could have added more, could have sent the album to another level. And again, the lyrics are not bad, just par for the course, pretty much what I expected.
Overall Impression — 8
Overall, this album was much more charged than I anticipated. The lead guitar is by far the best part, though the rhythm section holds up nicely as well. Actually, this album fits into a select group of albums whose songs are all fundamentally the same, yet they all come across as different, making it sound fresh and exciting at all points. Much to my surprise, UFO still has a lot left in the tank. Maybe that is why their past three albums have slowly climbed their way up the UK charts. In any event, I am sure to keep this album on my iPod for a good couple of weeks and if UFO decides to release a 22nd album, I will await it with newfound glee.