Michael Schenker Group

Chrysalis Records, 1981

REVIEW BY: Chris Harlow


Michael Schenker is an enigma. No doubt about it. Countless episodes of absenteeism throughout his days with UFO and notable bouts with band members, including Phil Mogg and Graham Bonnet, have only cemented this reputation over the years.

My Michael Schenker story, in the last five years, includes him canceling two tours at the last minute for sketchy reasons that will probably never be accurately told as I found myself sitting on botched travel itineraries due to his whimsical shifts in character. So, as I found myself in Las Vegas a couple of weekends ago overlapping his recent gig with the new millennium version of the Michael Schenker Group, I naturally swore off my moratorium of anything to do with the guy and took in the show.

Now, I can just hear the jeers being tossed my way for my shift in character. Why, might you ask would I do such a thing?

The answer is simple, really. It has as much as anything to do with the material found on side one of the Michael Schenker Group's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 MSG album. This was Schenker's band with the all star lineup including Cozy Powell playing drums, Paul Raymond performing keyboards, Chris Glen commanding bass guitar duties, and Gary Barden handling the vocals.

And yes, listing Barden last was intentional as I normally find his vocals to be of average quality, realizing that there are quite a few MSG fans out there that are polarized on the issue. But hey, this album works wonders for several reasons; most notably it's for Schenker's ability to craft some of the most wicked guitar solos of the era weaved in between the harder crunch of guitar and softness of the keys. "On And On" exemplifies this claim in its finest fashion and as far as I'm concerned, is a track I could easily listen to over and over. Barden is at his best on this track probably because he is forced to harmonize over a complex Schenker/Raymond-led mixed-tempo arrangement. And for the non-plussed Barden sentiment I've just shared, I have to admit that I can truthfully only imagine his voice singing on this track.

While Barden's lyrical composition on the opening song, "Are You Ready To Rock" will confuse nobody, Schenker more than makes up for the shortfall with his accelerated riffing. The same can be said for the makeup of "Attack Of The Mad Axeman." It's here where Cozy Powell most noticeably rises to the challenge with a marching back-beat that gives Schenker the foundation to lay his serpentine solos intermittently through the effort. When Barden is required to harmonize in the middle of the song, it comes across rather forced. Even Stephen Stills' guest appearance on "Never Trust a Stranger" can't bail out Barden's inability to carry a soft tune.

Rest assured, though, this is Michael Schenker's band and he plays guitar. And on this album, very little of his playing can be identified as anything other than a resonation from his soul. As far as I'm concerned, Schenker is one of the few guitarists out there, past and present tense, who can actually force a vocalist to take a back seat to his playing with his creative string-bending.

It's for this reason that I "flaked" and resisted the temptation to honor my self-imposed isolation from Michael Schenker in a live setting. Creative fretwork -- call it my guilty pleasure.

MSG is an album that has gone overlooked in the metal genre largely in the same way that the early 80's version of the Michael Schenker Group was overtaken by MTV and the Hollywood hair explosion a couple of years after the band's formation and release of this album.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2003 Chris Harlow and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Chrysalis Records, and is used for informational purposes only.