For most of their illustrious career, for one reason or another, UFO have been better than anyone has had a right to expect them to be – and, perhaps, never more so than after the final dissolution of their relationship with the legend that is Michael Schenker. The band’s stunning renaissance, with the brilliant Vinnie Moore filling the shoes of his illustrious predecessor with remarkable aplomb, has yielded some of the finest music that the band have ever put their name to – most notably on the solid gold classic that is You Are Here (2004), which I would have to rank as the album of the last decade. The Monkey Puzzle (2006) was almost equally as good and, while 2009’s The Visitor – which sadly did not feature founding member Pete Way; a situation that does not appear likely to change – was not quite as well-received, most long-standing fans of the band will certainly have been eagerly and optimistically awaiting its follow-up, which hit the shelves in the UK just a few weeks ago.
I cannot imagine that any of them would have been disappointed. In fact, if they are anything like me, I can confidently assert that they’ve been in hog-heaven from the moment that they got it in their CD player and pressed play for the first time (I’m guessing that most UFO fans, like me, are still CD people). Opener ‘Fight Night’ is pure bliss for the UFO diehard; a muscular hard rocker laced with punchy riffs, a straightforward but utterly irresistible hook, a terrific signature vocal from Mogg, and superbly fluid leads from Moore. Listening to this song, I was powerfully impressed by the fact that, like Steve Morse in Deep Purple, Moore, faced with the formidable task of replacing a supreme and utterly distinctive guitar hero in an iconic band, has pulled off the incredible achievement of stamping his own equally distinctive signature style on their identity to create something that is iconic in its own right, while also remaining true to what made them beloved in the first place. No mean trick, that, and he deserves all the plaudits and accolades that rock music can offer – as do Mogg, Paul Raymond and Andy Parker, for their talents, tenacity, drive and vision, in keeping this wonderful hard rock institution going all this time, and holding it to such impeccably high standards throughout.
‘Fight Night’ sets the standard, and there is literally no let up. The driving ‘Wonderland’ pulsates and pulverises, while the blues-laced, whiskey-soaked ‘Mojo Town’, with its deliciously sleazy main riff, is a compulsive delight. Next up is the album’s first ballad, ‘Angel Station’, which immediately takes its place in the band’s glittering pantheon, alongside ‘Baby Blue’, ‘Good Bye You’, ‘Belladonna’, ‘I’m a Loser’ and ‘Looking Out for Number One’, to name but a few of UFO’s many sublime forays in the gentler veins. Songs this good should carry a public health warning; the raw emotional power of UFO at the top of their game can really be quite devastating. And the songwriting partnership of Mogg and Moore that accounts for all but three of the album’s cuts (‘Year of the Gun’, ‘The Fear’, and the aforementioned ‘Fight Night’ arriving courtesy of Mogg and Raymond) continue to hit it out of the park with the ridiculously catchy ‘The Last Stone Rider’, the morosely compelling ‘Burn Your House Down’ and – perhaps the album’s jewel in the crown – the majestic closer, ‘Waving Goodbye’. Poignantly affecting without ever veering towards twee sentimentality – Phil Mogg arguably walks that particular line better than anyone in hard rock – it features, along with its wonderfully astute melodic sensibility, a riveting virtuoso solo from Vinnie Moore that you just don’t want to end. Song of the year for 2012? It’ll take some beating, that’s for damn sure. If we are meant to take Phil’s valedictory lyric literally, it’s a hell of a way to bow out.
Ladies and gentlemen, the almighty, all-conquering, UFO. Legends, with and without Michael Schenker. No question.