Monday, March 12, 2012
Michael Schenker – Temple of Rock
Having recently reviewed the latest super effort from UFO, it only seems fitting that I turn my Ripple gaze towards former-bandmate/crazy guitarist’s new album, Temple of Rock. After all, Michael and UFO will be forever linked on the strength of their early-mid ‘70’s output--some of the best rock of the time.
Now, Michael Schenker for me as a solo artist has always been a hit or miss proposition. Some albums positively cook, while others . . . well, . . . don’t. A friend once told me that buying a MSG record was “a lot of waiting around for the guitar solo.” And I get it. Without Mogg, Schenker’s songs were patchwork at best. The last Schenker album I’d picked up was the decidedly mediocre Be Aware of Scorpions with a hillbilly bearded and disheveled Schenker on the cover, looking daze and confused. Now, Schenker’s battles with his demons has been well-chronicled, as has his problems with alcoholism, and I’m not going to go into those, other than to say that Schenker’s peace of mind clearly has an impact on the quality of the album being produced.
So, having said that, it’s great to see Schenker, looking fit and trim on the cover of Temple of Rock—his muscles ripped, his flying V held aloft as if a sacrifice to the Gods. The inside photo that the cover was drawn from confirms this. Schenker looks healthy and strong. That’s a good sign.
Seeing the list of artists contributing to the album is another good sign. The main band consists of a “Who’s Who” of Schenker’s career with Pete Way on bass, Wayne Findlay on Keys and Herman “the German” on drums. UFO, MSG and Scorpions represented right off the bat. Way cool. I’m not going to guess about the politics that had Way performing on Temple of Rock, but not UFO’s Seven Deadly, I’m just going to enjoy this all-star band. Add to that, contributions from UFO-alum, Paul Raymond, Michael’s brother/Scorpion Rudolf Schenker, Former-Rainbow keyboardist Paul Airey, the bass of Neil Murray and some drum adds from Carmine Appice, Simon Philips, and Chris Slade and we have a who’s who of 70’s-80’s AOR rock. Tasty.
So, the big question is; how does it all sound? And the answer is a resounding “kick ass.” Man, at times Schenker sounds more brilliant than he has in decades. Songs like “End of an Era” find the mad axeman rejuvenated and brimming with passion. Just about as mean as I’d ever heard him play. The riff is nasty and carnivorous, ready to eat right through your cranium. Carmine Appice and Elliot Rubinson drive that song from the rear while Airey drops in some tasty Hammond B3 organ. But most important, the song is about Schenker and he doesn’t disappoint. Fills and riffs and screeches and solos fly from the German’s fingers like the good ol’ days. Positively testosterone raged and inspired. And as always, at this best, no one solos like Schenker. A mighty combination of flying speed and control of melody. Overall, the song is fast and furious.
“Fallen Angel” also has a beefy Schenker riff played with flair and style all leading up to “that” guitar solo. “How Long” also tears right out of the starting gate, charging along on the back of Schenker’s guitar. Then, in a really cool moment of inspiration, “How Long” gets a reprise at the end of the album in a monstrously extended jam version called “How Long” (3 Generations Guitar Battle Version)” And the song is just that. Bring in Michael Amott and the legendary Leslie West, let them loose with Schenker in a call-and-response assault and we got a guitar freak out to make fanboys drool. If you’re like me, you’ll be listening to each frame, trying to identify each guitarists contribution. Note by note.
“Hanging On” is another standout track with its slow build over Schenker’s stuttering riff. We got the main band here with Raymond and Rudolf joining in. And it all works. The song propels itself with a meaty bite and some killer guitar work. This song also features the best performance of producer/songwriter and vocalist Michael Voss, with his thin, raspy voice working perfectly with Schenker’s guitar.
But this also brings us to the major weakness of the album. Voss may have done a helluva job producing the album, and for the most part, his songwriting contributions are solid (there are some blasé filler songs here) but to my ears, he’s just not the right vocalist for this album. Not that there’s anything wrong with his singing. Hell, he sings better than I could. I’m just not a fan. There’s something generic in his tone, a distinct lack of distinction. On some other album, that may not be such a downside. But with Schenker playing so inspired, Voss’s vocals stand out for me as not living up to the promise.
Never is this made more clear than on “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” where Doogie White steps up to the microphone. Holy crap! I didn’t know I was a Doogie White fan, but damn, does he blow it apart here. Now we got it going. A strong powerful voice, channeling the best of Dio on this track. And that to some killer keyboard fills and another inspired Schenker run and we get a glimpse what the whole album could’ve sounded like. Man, if only White had sung the whole thing. Later, when Robin McAuley rejoins his old partner on “Lover’s Sinfony” we get that same sort of feeling. Not as strong as White (and the song’s not nearly as good as “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) McAuley nonetheless brings more of a voice to the song and helps it to soar. If either singer had taken the lead, this may rank as one of the best Schenker albums ever. As it is, it’s still a damn good album, just not quite to it’s potential.
Still, it’s great to have Schenker back. May the mad German axeman stay healthy and continue to reign over his Temple of Rock.