Spitfire Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/12/1999
Some years ago, I remember when Procol Harum tried to make a return to the music scene with their album The Prodigal Stranger. I happened to think it was pleasant enough (though I honestly haven't listened to that album in many years), but it seemed to lack the edge in the music that the band had in their days of songs like "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" and "Conquistador". The consumers weren't buying it, either, and the album, unfortunately, failed.
I got a feeling of deja vu when I got to Sonic Origami, the latest release from British rockers Uriah Heep. Never mind the band has gone through more lineup changes than Spinal Tap went through drummers. If you pick this album up expecting to hear the harder-edged music that made hits out of songs like "Easy Livin'" or you expect to hear the sci-fi imagery of albums like The Magician's Birthday or Demons And Wizards, you're going to be disappointed. For guitarist Mick Box and crew put forth a more contemporary sound that, while pleasant enough, might not be a change for the better.
Only Box and drummer Lee Kerslake remain from the band's glory days, and neither members has lost a single step despite well over 25 years in the trenches. BAssist Trevor Bolder, keyboardist Phil Lanzon and vocalist Bernie Shaw round up this lineup - which, it should be noted, has now been together for some time.
Make no mistake, the musicianship on this disc is powerful, and the band is as tight as ever. Tracks like "Perfect Little Heart," "Question" and the first single "Across The Miles" all are catchy enough to make some people's heads turn in disbelief. (The "limited edition" bonus track, "Sweet Pretender," is also a wonderful number, and I have to wonder why it wasn't made an official part of the album.
But for all the radio-friendly smoothness and polish that Sonic Origami has, it does occasionally feel like Uriah Heep has lost the edge that made them popular in the '70s. Now, I recognize that music must change with the times, but I can't help but be a little disappointed when I hear songs like "Heartless Land" and "Change", and I'm left wondering what happened to the music.
Of course, I'm willing to admit that I'm reading too much into the album than I should be, and I should probably just take this product at face value. After all, chances are that Generation X will hear songs like "I Hear Voices" and be wowed by the music coming from their radios - that is, if some stations actually have the gumption to play this album. The older fans, however, might have a harder time adjusting. Even after a few listens to this disc, I still have a hard time coming to grips, though I do find more to like on each listen.
Sonic Origami is an album that Uriah Heep hopes will unfold into new recognition for the band and some chart success. It's got some material on it that suggests that this should indeed happen to the band, and for their sake, I hope they get a warmer "welcome back" than Procol Harum did.