It’s About The Music – What’s New On Qobuz? Pt. 9

By: Gary Alan Barker
September 30th, 2021

“Fly to the Rainbow” was the first Scorpions album I ever heard and it was admittedly a mess, so much so that I ignored the band for many years. I mistakenly thought it was their first album which I knew to have featured both of the Schenker brothers, which was why we bought the album, to begin with. When I sat down to write this article I had intended to feature “Animal Magnetism” which was my favorite Scorpions album, but when I discovered that “Lonesome Crow” was in fact the Michael Schenker album I had to give it a listen, and much to my surprise I discovered a fantastic gem in the rough. The album combines ‘60s style psychedelic with ‘70s style garage band metal ala early Bowie. Fast-paced intricate bass lines via Lothar Heimberg punctuated by Wolfgang Dziony drumming, are interwoven with 16-year-old Michael’s blistering though primitive guitar leads. Klaus Meine on vocals and Rudolf Schenker on rhythm guitar add in more than competent performances to create something special.

This lead me to want to listen to “Fly to the Rainbow” to see if it was as bad as I remembered, which unfortunately was not available on Qobuz, making me piece it together from greatest hits albums. “Speedy’s Coming” the opening track, while not exactly horrible, droned with a forgettable three-chord refrain. “They Need a Million” was a little more interesting opening with a bit of pseudo-classical guitar and ballad vocal, transitioning to frantic classic metal. For “Drifting Sun” I had to resort to YouTube which was understandable once I had heard it. Again not completely awful, but a bland derivative mix of styles including Bowie, Uriah Heep, Led Zeppelin, and Hendrix without doing justice to any. Which brings us to “Fly People Fly” (also YouTube) a sleepy sloppily executed heavy metal ballad that is best forgotten. “This Is My Song” has a hint of the band that Scorpions would become but remains mediocre at best. By far the best offering of the album is “Far Away” which again reflects a heavy Uriah Heep influence, though lacking in energy, still not a bad song. Lastly but not quite least we have the title track “Fly to the Rainbow” (YouTube) which begins with some very nice acoustic guitar work spoiled by some poor harmony vocals, but that’s okay since it devolves into another slow-paced (despite some desperate drum work) conventional rock song. All in all, this was a clear example of a band trying to find its way after losing its lead guitarist to a better band.

Bringing me back to where I started “Animal Magnetism”. It occurs to me, looking at the band’s blatantly sexist album covers, that this album cover, in particular, may have been the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s “Smell the Glove” cover, just saying. Anyway, after losing yet another guitarist, and producing an album with two former guitarists as well as their new guitarist (after a quick listen I discovered that despite being a fan favorite “Lovedrive” was so dreadful that I so no point in including it here), Scorpions entered the ‘80s and whether intentional or not, produced a New Wave album, so much so that I first heard it on KROQ (which was New Wave only at the time, and the only station I listened to as KNAC abandoned their Progressive Rock format in favor of Heavy Metal, eventually I would discover KCRW and all would be right with the world for several decades. KCRW is still the only channel I listen to, though since they discovered EDM mornings are not so eclectic anymore.). To say that the stark, clean, overproduced sound that was the ‘80s had a positive effect on the sound of the band is an understatement. This is evident right from the first song “Make It Real”, the tight synergy of the bass and drum with the crisp staccato of the rhythm guitar creates a real head-bopping pulse, and Matthias Jabs’ leads seem to really fit the sound of the band. Once again that tightness offers up an almost funk beat in “Don’t Make No Promises (Your Body Can’t Keep)”. In a departure from their previous albums, Rudolf tries his hand at lead guitar on the majority of the songs, starting with “Hold Me Tight”, which as the band’s primary composer (he writes the music for all but two of the songs, while the lyrics are written by either Meine or drummer Herman Rarebell) adds a different dimension to the music. The airy ballad “Lady Starlight” actually offers the backing of a pair of violins, a viola, cello, contrabass, oboe, and two French horns, and though it strongly smacks of Uriah Heep’s “Firefly” is a sweet and engaging number. The standout song, and the song that caused me to run out and buy the album was “The Zoo”. Everything about this song is perfect, and very representative of the whole feel of the album, from the crescendo intro to the pulsating verses to the powerful chorus, to the ending dissolving into chaos. There is really not a weak song on the album up to the haunting Zeppelin-like ending track the eponymous “Animal Magnetism” which feels like an appropriate consummation to the effort. Not so oddly, given the departure from their previous sound, this is not a favorite of the hard-core fans, but artistically I believe it to be their best.

Another, more famous artist to be lured into the New Wave arena at that time was Alice Cooper with his “Flush the Fashion” which could easily stand beside the likes of Tonio K, the Jags, or 3-D. From the opening cover of The Music Machine’s “Talk Talk” to the culminating “Headlines” (which could be an anthem for the era) Alice fully captures the dystopian almost Punk atmosphere of the time. “Clones (We’re All)” was the big hit from the album (number 40 on the Pop Singles chart and 69 on the Club Play Singles), though “Model Citizen” is the song that really speaks to me. Despite making 44 on Billboard’s 200 for 1980 this appears to be a chapter that Alice wishes to forget as he rarely performs songs from the album, but it still stands as one of my favorites.

Lest you think me fixated with the year 1980, though it was a very seminal year for New Wave seeing in not only the above-mentioned albums but Jamie Sheriff, Tonio K, the Jags, 3-D, and the Buggles all of which chart at the top of my favorite bands of the era, I took a quick look at the Qobuz new releases for this month. What caught my eye was “The Four Quarters” by The Solem Quartet. Sporting an album cover reminiscent of ‘60s rock bands, it promised to be an interesting delve into modern classical music. Exploring pieces from Thomas Adès, Ivor Gurney, Cassandra Miller, Henry Purcell, William Marsey, Florence Price,  Béla Bartók, Robert Schumann, Aaron Parker, and Kate Bush, this boded to be something both wonderful and eclectic. Opening with “I. Nightfalls” from Thomas Adès “The Four Quarters” both haunting and thought-provoking with unusual rhythms and eerie long-drawn notes with the occasional plucked string, they certainly lived up to the promise. “No.5 Sleep (Arr. W. Newell for String Quartet)” from Ivor Gurney’s “5 Elizabethan Songs” while maintaining the solemn tone that appears to be the signature of the artists was more gentle and quietly lovely. Cassandra Miller’s “Warblework” came up next with “III. Hermit Thrush” a light frantic work eliciting images of the wild bird in question. Outstanding were the horn-like tones drawn from the cello. “Ca’ the Yowes (Arr. S. Tress for String Quartet)” a traditional pastoral piece arranged by Stephanie Tress (cello), with woodland sounds provided by Stephanie electronically highlighted the quartet’s versatility. The other three members of the quartet are William Newell (violin), Amy Tress (violin), and Stephen Upshaw (viola). Part two of Thomas Adès’ “The Four Quarters” “II. Serenade, Morning Dew” was energetic with precise timing and an intricacy that is amazing from only four instruments. The inclusion of what many would consider a Pop tune, Kate Bush’s “And Dream of Sheep (Arr. W. Newell for String Quartet) sums up the lack of temerity exhibited by The Solem Quartet. The heart-rending beauty they draw from the piece is a testament to the virtuosity of both Kate and the Quartet. I’ll spare you the details on the rest except to point out that every track was further proof of the amazing timing and talent that makes up this brilliant quartet.

That brings us to a close for this month and until next time remember it’s all about the music.

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