The Visitor


SPV/Steamhammer, 2009

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Picking up the threads of a long-since abandoned relationship with a band can be treacherous territory.  Expectations run thick and with the passing of time it’s easy to come away disappointed by latter-day efforts -- all the moreso when you were only a passing fan of said band in the first place.

Which is to say, 70s hard-rockers UFO’s new album The Visitor had a hill to climb from the start to gain my respect.  And damned if it didn’t climb right up, song by song.

After much personnel turnover in the 80s and 90s, in recent years the five-man UFO lineup has often featured at least four longtime members – founding members Phil Mogg (vocals), Pete Way (bass) and Andy Parker (drums), and the long-tenured Paul Raymond (keys/rhythm guitar).  UFO has been somewhat notorious for rotating people through the lead guitar slot, which is almost inevitable when the golden age of a band features a guitar-slinger with as big a rep as Michael Schenker -- I mean, how do you replace that? 

The “new” guy (this being his third album and seventh year with the band) is Vinnie Moore, a very talented guitarist in his own right.  What he does here is what a guy who is about being in a band rather than about showing off does, and that is, he plays to the band.  He plays UFO-style (i.e. Schenkeresque), assertive, aggressive electric leads, but with a little less bombast and a little more groove, and with a notable affinity for the blues.  The bluesy slide intro to opener “Saving Me,” for example, adds fresh flavors and textures to the UFO sound, and it’s a welcome evolution.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Up front, “Saving Me” and “On The Waterfront” have a heavy-blues Bad Company-ish feel that works very well for this lineup.  The evolution turns to devolution when you get to “Hell Driver,” though, a track that could have been recorded by the 1978 lineup.  Not that this is anything other than a compliment -- it’s simply classic UFO transplanted into the 21st century, a sweet, propulsive hook that Mogg soars over and around as the rhythm section locks in underneath.  

Driving, riff-powered tunes like “Stop Breaking Down” and “Can’t Buy A Thrill” are similarly reminiscent of past UFO glories, while the thumping “Rock Ready,” the slide-and-sustain-heavy “Living Proof” and the honky-tonk metal of “Villains & Thieves” fill out the hard-blues side of the band’s maturing musical identity.  “Forsaken” offers a break from the heavy vibe with a gentle ballad that manages to be lyrical without losing the essential urgency of the UFO sound.

The quality of this disc is especially notable given the major ups and downs and personnel shifts UFO has been through over the years.  They’ve nearly folded more than once, but they’ve always found their way back.  This time out, founding bassist Pete Way was sidelined on account of health issues and didn’t participate, but you get the feeling the rest of the guys hope and expect him to be back, and in the meantime, they’ve made a really solid album. 

“Really solid” being a description that applies especially to Phil Mogg’s songwriting.  Mogg is never going to win any awards for poetry with his lyrics, but they work.  More often than not he reminds of Paul Rodgers, both in terms of the blues-rock grit of his vocals, and the fact that he’s neither the greatest lyricist in the world nor the worst.  He’s workmanlike; he gets the job done. 

Coming as it does in the 40th year of UFO’s existence, The Visitor is an album I feared could veer off into Spinal Tap territory.  What a pleasure it was, then, to discover an album of entirely respectable and often quite entertaining blues-influenced hard rock.  By the time Moore’s strutting riff kick-starts the rather Deep Purple-ish closer “Stranger In Town,” I’m sold.  Far from a nostalgia wallow, The Visitor is a worthy and welcome new chapter in the ongoing saga of UFO.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2009 Jason Warburg 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 SPV/Steamhammer, and is used for informational purposes only.