Strangers In The Night

UFO

Chrysalis, 1979

http://www.ufo-music.info

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/26/2010

The seventies were truly the golden age of the live album.  Twenty years before the Internet made it possible to not just hear but watch live concert footage more or less on demand in your living room, the best way to capture the flavor (and fervor) of catching your favorite band in concert without actually being in the venue was to buy a live album. 

Ironically, some of the era’s most memorable live acts – I’m thinking especially of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd – experienced difficulty translating and/or packaging their in-concert prowess into worthwhile live recordings.  Meanwhile, a host of otherwise second- or third-tier acts were busy producing some of the best live albums of that or any decade (Peter Frampton, anyone?)

British quintet UFO made their contribution to the latter trend by following up their one-two punch of commercial breakthrough studio albums Lights Out and Obsession with one of the era’s finest live hard rock recordings, 1979’s double-LP Strangers In The Night.

All three albums feature what is often cited as the eternally-in-flux band’s strongest lineup, with Phil Mogg on vocals, Michael Schenker on lead guitar, Pete Way on bass, Andy Parker on drums, and Paul Raymond on keyboards.  (Not to criticize an act for surviving 40 years in the business – they earn much respect here for that feat alone -- but anytime a band’s family tree invites comparisons to Yes, you know it’s got branches to spare…)

What UFO and contemporaries such as KISS and Thin Lizzy succeeded in doing that Zep and Floyd could not, was to capture for posterity the lightning in a bottle that is a band working the concert stage at the absolute height of its powers.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Strangers In The Night isn’t just one of the best live albums from an era full of great ones – it’s far and away the best album UFO has ever released.

The combination of Mogg’s bluesy, emotive vocals and Schenker’s grandly aggressive lead guitar lay at the core of the band’s early successes, as the pair forged track after track of propulsive, melodic hard rock.   The urgent drive of cuts like “Doctor, Doctor,” “This Kids” and “Let It Roll” is redoubled live as the band burns through them in high style, the arrangements further bolstered by the addition of Raymond’s keyboards and rhythm guitar.

The Lights Out and Obsession material is dynamite as well, with “Lights Out” in particular drawing an absolutely blistering performance from the entire band; this is one of those tracks that was strong on the studio original, but ignites like compressed rocket fuel in the live incarnation heard here.  The lyrics might be muddled and vague, but Mogg sings them with such commitment that it hardly matters.

The parade of tight, melodic four- to five-minute hard rock numbers is broken up just twice.  “Love To Love” is a classic arena rock power ballad, a bit overwrought but undeniably memorable (if the phrase “misty green and blue” means anything to you at all, you’ve heard it…).  And “Rock Bottom” is one of the great rock guitar showcases of the decade, as the band balloon what was a lengthy six-minute tune in the studio to eleven here, the extended middle section placing the spotlight squarely on Schenker’s fiery, dynamic soloing.

Still, in the end the most remarkable thing about this album is its consistency.  It had been a decade or so since I’d tracked it from start to finish when I decided to write this review, and what stood out to me while revisiting it is the way it simply never lets up.  The lyrics might be a soft spot, but the performances by all five band members are simply stellar – tight, propulsive, melodic, relentless.  There isn’t a duff track here and the music ripples with energy every moment of the way.

The irony and tragedy of this album is that it marked the end of the band’s most successful era, as Schenker would storm out during the mixing of Strangers, not to return for more than 15 years.  This record offers no clues as to why he would choose that moment to leave – his playing is prominent in the mix and absolutely stellar throughout.  The only way he could have played a bigger role on Strangers would have been if the band had been billed as the Michael Schenker Group – which of course is what the very UFO-ish band he formed immediately after leaving UFO was called.  Draw your own conclusions.

Associated melodrama aside, Strangers In The Night remains 30 years later one of the strongest releases of the live album’s golden age, the unquestioned apex of UFO’s career, and a damned fine piece of hard rock musicianship.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A


Comments

Great review Jason. My buds and I wore the grooves out of this album.








© 2010 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 Chrysalis, and is used for informational purposes only.