I saw UFO back in October of 2019 on what was supposed to be their farewell tour. Thanks to this whole Covid thing, the latest and final incarnation of UFO – singer Phil Mogg, lead guitarist Vinnie Moore, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Neil Carter, bassist Rob De Luca, and drummer Andy Parker – had to put the tour on hold. When I saw that they were going back on the road, I got really excited, only to realize that it’s just the European leg of the tour I already saw two years ago. Oh well. I got my UFO fix, and I should be happy that I got to see the group in a dinky club one last time before they bid the world adieu.

And, I don’t blame Mogg for wanting to retire. In fact, I’m pretty damn impressed UFO made it this far considering how, in the half century since they formed, they didn’t score a single hit! I’m serious! The closest they came to one was probably “Too Hot to Handle”, which gets played on the radio occasionally. But they never had anything like a “Smoke on the Water”, “Hair of the Dog”, “The Boys Are Back in Town”, or “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”, namely that one song that most people know them for. 

And, while I’m sure they appreciate their cabal of hardcore fans, I’m guessing they would have preferred the mega record sales and sold out arena tours of Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, or that little German band from which guitar wiz Michael Schenker came from than to being one of many logos on some head bangers denim vest. And, just so you know, I have seen the UFO logo surrounded by your Motörhead, Saxon, and Budgie patches; so, even if they and their older fans don’t exclusively consider UFO a metal band, we heavy metal kids (pun intended) have made them one of our own! Take that, old man! 

I can’t say why UFO didn’t produce the numbers their talent and skill deserved. Phil Mogg is a charismatic frontman with a tough, macho, and bluesy voice. And, for a good chunk of the 70s, UFO utilized the unparalleled talent of a Flying-V shredding guitarist who basically invented 80s metal five years ahead of its time; along with several other fine guitar players after Michael Schenker left, such as Paul Chapman and latest guy Vinnie Moore. On top of that, longtime original bassist and drummer Pete Way and Andy Parker made up one tight, if a bit utilitarian, rhythm section. They’ve also had quite a few other members, who you can read more about if you choose to read on. 

But what’s really strange is that all three UFO members who have died in the past couple years had names which start with the letter “P”! And UFO’s singer is Phil Mogg! This is getting heavy, man…

UFO 1 (1970)

While on the surface, it would appear that the first UFO lineup, singer Phil Mogg, bassist Pete Way, drummer Andy Parker, and original guitarist Mick Bolton, were just doing what a lot of other bands did at the end of the 60s – psychedelic music with some bluesy guitar, copious wah-wah pedal, and some fuzzed out, heavier riffs – UFO actually might have invented a new subgenre with their first album, one that they will never be given credit for, because they’re not considered “hip” or “cool” enough. Let me explain. 

You can claim that UFO at this juncture kinda sounded like a cross between early Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, and Blue Cheer, even copying Blue Cheer by recording an acid rock cover of the Eddie Cochran classic “C’mon Everybody” the way Blue Cheer did with “Summertime Blues” two years prior. But these comparisons are superficial at best.

UFO 1 opens with the instrumental “Unidentified Flying Object”, a pretty, pleasant, and welcoming intro that makes you feel as if you’re on a relaxing pleasure cruise through the cosmos; and then it viciously shakes you out of your marijuana aided stupor with the opening bass crunch of the raunchy ass “Boogie.” 

And, that’s when it hit me. Pete Way’s bass is turned up louder than Mick Bolton’s guitar, and it’s the album’s freakin’ lead instrument! That’s right; on UFO 1, Pete Way aggressively plays catchy bass lines that Mick Bolton plays bluesy leads and the odd garage rock riff over! This is nearly a decade before experimental punk and post-punk bands like the Stranglers, Public Image Ltd., and Flipper put bass front and center in their music! Surely they should get some points for inventing that!

In fact, if UFO had broken up after their first album, I’m fully convinced that UFO 1 would have been regarded as some sort of proto-punk gem. Hell, listen to their cover of “Who Do You Love”, and tell me the African hoodoo-voodoo drums mixed with guitar fuzz doesn’t make you think of “Little Doll” by the Stooges!

But, because the band in question is UFO and not the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, or the MC5, this would not be the case. Also, because the band is UFO, Phil Mogg establishes from the beginning, that in spite of the unique and esoteric nature of the music, his lyrical concerns involve fairly conventional rock subject matter; “Boogie”, “Shake It About”, and “Follow You Home” are about chicks. And don’t get your hopes up about “Evil”, thinking the song is some spooky Sabbath-y type thing; nah, it’s about a chick too. 

In the rare instance that he doesn’t sing about chicks, like in their cover of the anti-war snoozer “(Come Away) Melinda” (which even Uriah Heep couldn’t turn into a good song) or the goofy Syd Barrett-knockoff “Treacle People”, it comes off awkward and forced. 

Regardless, UFO 1 is a great first album, the kind made by a band that’s not really sure of where it wants to go. But I feel it deserves far greater attention by those who explore rock’s more unusual cul-de-sacs. 

UFO 2: Flying (1971)

When people describe early UFO as psychedelia, progressive rock, and space rock, it actually sounds like they’re describing their second album rather than their first. While UFO 1 is a somewhat psychedelic and garage-y proto-punk album that’s driven by aggressive bass riffs and sounds like no other band at the time, UFO 2: Flying is just an hour of psychedelic jamming that you could lump in with Hawkwind, Guru Guru, Amon Duul 2, Ash Rah Tempel, and even early Pink Floyd. 

And, if we’re playing the whole “emperor has no clothes” game, with a few noteworthy exceptions, UFO 2: Flying is certainly no worse than a number of bands in Julian Cope’s Krautrock Sampler book. It’s just that, once again, they’re UFO and not any of the aforementioned hip German bands, so they get overlooked. But rest assured, if you had no idea you were listening to UFO and not say, I dunno, the Cosmic Jokers, you’d be none the wiser. 

Anyway, even though UFO 2: Flying has the same exact lineup as the one on the first album, UFO sound like an entirely different band! First of all, the cover is a cartoon of some celestial being and some flying saucers in outer space. Actually, it kinda reminds me of that animated film Fantastic Planet. Secondly, as advertised on the cover, the album really is an hour long, with said hour being divided up into five tracks; three shorter ones, and two which are nineteen and twenty-six minutes long! 

But, if that wasn’t enough, the five compositions are called “Silver Bird”, “Star Storm”, “Prince Kajuku”, “The Coming of Prince Kajuku”, and “Flying.” Given what you know about UFO, does that make ANY sense? This is the same band that was singing about girls “shaking it about” and how “you’re telling me lies/girl, these are things that I despise”; and now they have lyrics about silver birds, star storms, and some fictional fantasy prince. I googled “Prince Kajuku” to see if these lyrics are actually about some historical figure, so I wouldn’t seem like a dumbass, but apparently “Prince Kajuku” is just the kind of made up nonsense you find in many of the cheap, pulpy science fiction books I collect.

And Phil Mogg doesn’t sound enthusiastic whatsoever when singing these songs. I can just imagine him in the studio throwing up his arms in frustration and shouting, “Aw, bloody hell! FINE! Do it YOUR way! I’ll sing your nerdy comic book science fiction crap! But, if this album doesn’t make us millions, NO MORE!”

With that said, it’s not a terrible album if you’re looking for wood paneled basement dwelling, pot-smoking, psychedelic mood music with lots of phasing and wah-wah on the guitar, a few pleasant melodies, only the vaguest semblance of song structure, and lyrics that sound like they’re from a Michael Moorcock or Roger Zelazny novel. 

Otherwise, just move along, kid. Nothin’ to see here. 

UFO Live (1971)

But, the Japanese love ‘em! 

By the way, I find early UFO group photos, where they look like student activists with their “mature” facial hair and moody facial expressions, pretty hilarious. Like, oh, I’m sure these UFO blokes have some really profound things on their minds, ha!

Recorded live at the Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall in Tokyo in the fall of 1971, UFO Live contains a total of six tracks, one of which is a medley of the two shortest songs from UFO 2: Flying; “Prince Kajuku” and “The Coming of Prince Kajuku”, if you were wondering. Now, this either means that this 45-minute-long LP simply couldn’t fit the longer numbers from that album, or that UFO just decided to not play more than two songs from it, because it just doesn’t sound like UFO. 

I’m slightly more inclined to believe the second explanation, if only because, not only does UFO Live include extended jam-out versions of “Who Do You Love”, “Boogie” (listed as “Boogie for George”), and “Follow You Home”, all from UFO 1, but it also includes a non-album cover of “Loving Cup” by Paul Butterfield. On top of that, they also recorded a new song called “Galactic Love” at this performance that was released separately as a single. So it only stands to reason that they just didn’t want to play more than a couple of songs, albeit the shortest ones, from UFO 2: Flying.

Indeed, in spite of the cool Hawkwind-ish album cover, the psychedelia and space rock are gone, and UFO basically just sound like an energetic blues rock band with some of the proto-punk rawness from their first album. And, while this still isn’t the signature UFO sound, since Mick Bolton uses only the slightest level of distortion and mostly just plays solos, UFO sound powerful, enthused, and, er, energized. 

Hell, Phil Mogg even sounds excited to belt out “Prince Kajuku” and “The Coming of Prince Kajuku”, which is pretty funny, since those sound more like something Jon Anderson would sing.

Still, it matters little in the grand scheme of things; UFO 1, UFO 2: Flying, and UFO Live may be interesting artifacts from a bygone era, and people into weird, old, and obscure music might enjoy ‘em, but as far as the band is concerned, the UFO legacy truly began with the group’s next album…

Phenomenon (1974)

If you’re a 70s rock geek like me, you’re aware that a team of artists called Hipgnosis created iconic, if often nonsensical, cover images for many of the era’s most popular bands. Indeed, as eye-catching as some of them were, these works did virtually nothing to give the listener an idea of what the music on the record actually sounded like. The most popular of these is probably Dark Side of the Moon

But, in the case of the UFO album Phenomenon, the Hipgnosis cover, which shows a man and his wife outside of their modest middle class home, with the man throwing a hubcap into the air, and his wife about to snap a photo of said hubcap midair in the hopes of creating the illusion of a flying saucer in the sky, perhaps to sell to a tabloid, is the perfect analogy for UFO admitting that their space-rock era, and all the fairies, wizards, and space princes that went with, were also an illusion, and that they’re just a down to earth rock band. 

If you know the UFO story, feel free to skip the next paragraph.

After the release of UFO Live but before Michael Schenker joined the group, UFO actually went through two other guitarists, Larry Wallis, who played with the Pink Fairies and on the 1975 Motörhead recording which eventually came out as On Parole, and Bernie Marsden, who played with Wild Turkey and the early version of Whitesnake. In 1973, Marsden missed his flight to a UFO gig, UFO asked their opening act, the Scorpions, who were only on their Lonesome Crow album, if they could borrow their lead guitarist for the gig, and the rest is history. 

Thanks to new guitarist Michael Schenker, on Phenomenon, UFO have reinvented themselves as a riff-based hard rock band bordering on heavy metal… on three songs. Phenomenon can be broken down thusly; it has three straight-up hard rock/heavy metal tunes, three ballads, two pop-rock songs that sound more suited for producer Leo Lyons’ band, Ten Years After, a pointless blues cover, and a pretty, but also pointless, instrumental. 

I’m not sure why the album has such a schizophrenic approach, other than maybe Michael Schenker wanted to show off all that he was capable of the first time around just in case he wouldn’t be able to do it again, but similarly to the Scorpions’ In Trance album, Phenomenon is marred by having too many ballads or slow tracks placed between the rocking tracks. Thankfully, at the very least, “Crystal Light”, “Space Child”, and “Queen of the Deep” are good ballads that I don’t skip! They’re also remarkably pensive, the kind of songs you listen to on a lazy Sunday, laying about on a couch doing nothing and thinking about stuff; which seems kind of odd for guys in their early/mid-20s on the road looking for easy snatch. 

With that said, Phenomenon kicks off with “Oh My”, a tune which basically, more or less, gives us the quintessential UFO sound; Michael Schenker dominates both with his crunchy guitar riffs and his lovely, flowing guitar solos, only hinting at the proto-80s metal, neoclassical playing that would become his big thing, predating Van Halen by like four years; all while bassist Pete Way and drummer Andy Parker thump a 4/4 beat, and Phil Mogg shouts about whatever’s on his mind at the time. The only other songs on Phenomenon which are like this are “Doctor, Doctor”, one of rock’s earliest, caustic warnings about getting VD from loose chicks, and “Rock Bottom”, a scorching guitar “work-out”, which is, of course, far better than the Kiss song of the same name; and all three of these tunes could easily place UFO among New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like Saxon or Tygers of Pan Tang if they had been recorded five years later.

As for the rest of the album, “Too Young to No”, which appears to be a double entendre implying that a girl is both “too young to know” AND “too young to say no” (yikes!), and “Time on My Hands” are still good and catchy songs, and “Lipstick Traces” is a pretty instrumental meant, I’m guessing, for Schenker to show off his ability on the acoustic guitar. 

Though, I feel it’s a bit dishonest for such a skinny band to sing a song called “Built for Comfort.”

Force It (1975)

Get it? The album is called Force It, and the cover has a bunch of faucets on it, because when British people say “force it”, it sounds like faucet, I guess. Also, that’s Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti from Throbbing Gristle neckin’ in the tub. Of course, none of this has anything to do with the songs on the album. 

Unless UFO is trying to say that they’re now a "force" in hard rock…

…which they would be correct about!

While it was merely hinted at with three songs on their previous album, on Force It, UFO have emerged as a tough, no nonsense hard rock/heavy metal combo, focusing on knocking out one compact, riff-filled banger after another. The album still has one ballad, the gorgeous “High Flyer”, but otherwise, there are no pointless cover versions or instrumentals. And, though others may recommend you start your UFO collection with Lights Out, Obsession, or their double live album Strangers in the Night, in my humble opinion, Force It is the quintessential UFO album, the purest example of the UFO vision of pure, loud, and heavy hard rock, which aided the birth of 80s metal, and also happens to be my favorite UFO album. 

For one thing, Michael Schenker has one of the most insanely crunchy guitar tones of the 1970s. It begs a very important question about heavy metal. How do you define heaviness? Is it tuning your guitar to drop-D, so that your tone is way lower, or is it piling on the distortion, so that when you play a palm-muted E-string, it goes “jigga-jigga”? Which is the heavier album; Master of Reality or Reign in Blood? One thing I can say for sure is, Michael Schenker has a crunchier guitar tone than Sabbath and Priest. Don’t believe me? Compare the “jug-jug-jug” riffs in “Mother Mary” to the “jugga-jugga” riffing in Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe” or Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor.” I rest my case.

For another, I defy you to tell me that the colossal album opener “Let It Roll” isn’t metal! It’s got a similar kind of “da-da-diggida-da-da-diggida” head banging riff that’s in Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”, and it even prompted one of my friends to actually say, “This sounds like Black Sabbath!” Only, Michael Schenker added the classically influenced guitar parts that Toni Iommi could only dream of! Furthermore I dare you to tell me that “Shoot Shoot” doesn’t sound like something Priest or Saxon would do five years later! Or that “Out in the Street” doesn’t become a metal tune after the soft piano intro! Or that “Too Much of Nothing” isn’t heavier than Black Sabbath!

What separates UFO from, say, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, or Montrose and helps draw a distinct line between hard rock and heavy metal is that Schenker has almost no blues in his sound, and Pete Way and Andy Parker just play straight-forward, tight, and non-funky 4/4 beats. Also UFO is neither as basic as Kiss, Slade, or AC/DC; nor are they as progressive as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, or Uriah Heep. And while Michael Schenker is indeed a flashy player and basically the star of the show, UFO is still a song-oriented band.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s still some 70s bluesy hard rock residue sprinkled throughout Force It, like on the Zeppelin-y but way harder  “This Kid’s”; and both “Dance Your Life Away” and “Love Lost Love” have the good-time 70s hard rock groove of a band like Free. But plenty of metal bands that would come out of the NWOBHM still had 70s elements in their sound as well. 

And, if you’re wondering what kind of metal band sings about Buster Keaton, you clearly haven’t seen Steamboat Bill, Jr. with the insane house falling stunt!

No Heavy Petting (1976)

UFO is so heavy metal, in fact, that they went and hired a fifth member named Danny Peyronel from a band called the Heavy Metal Kids! 

But, what the hell am I even looking at here? The cover has a picture of some woman with buzzed hair and intravenous tubes going from her neck into a monkey. I’m guessing, potentially, that this is what inspired the Spinal Tap Intravenus de Milo album. 

And, just like with Force It, neither the album title nor the cover have anything to do with the music on the album. It’s like UFO recorded an album, handed off the masters to the label, and said, “Call it whatever you want, and slap anything you want onto the cover.” 

Oh, and if you’re American, and you’re confused by the lyrics to “I’m a Loser”, that’s Euston not Huston. 

Although No Heavy Petting is pretty musically similar to Force It, in that it’s a metallic hard rock album, having Danny Peyronel on keyboards has added a unique and interesting touch to the group’s proto-NWOBHM head banging rock. See Peyronel isn’t a keyboardist in the Jon Lord sense, where he shows off his talent with complicated solos or anything. Nope, he just plunks away at piano keys, adding more color, texture, and depth to an otherwise dry and bare bones guitar/bass/drums rock production.

Hell, it takes a you a sec to even notice that there is a piano banging away on “Natural Thing”, “Highway Lady”, and “On with the Action”, while the Spanish piano on “Can You Roll Her” actually adds tension to the whole high speed chase vibe of the song. And, of course, the ivory keys sound right at home in the Foghat-style cowbell rocker “A Fool in Love.”

There are also a couple ballads; the lousy and boring break-up song “Belladonna”, with the particularly nauseating phrase “the ‘t’ so delicately laced”,  and Peyronel’s superb, album-closing “Martian Landscape”, a love letter to his native Argentina, which he for some reason describes as if it’s the planet Mars. Otherwise, Mogg, Schenker, Way, and Parker, along with new member Danny Peyronel, still make a tight, hard-edged rock combo that few, if any, bands at the time could touch. 

But, there’s one tiny, little thing I want to address, which I don’t think anyone has really talked about before with regards to No Heavy Petting; and that’s the lyrics to “On with the Action.” As great as this slow, heavy burner is, the lyrics sound as though they’re coming from a conservative watching his street turn into a slum, punctuated by the final line “It’s down our street, is it in yours yet?” What is this “it” he’s referring to? Is “On with the Action” an actual warning against the ghettoization of once prosperous urban neighborhoods, or am I reading too much into lyrics that were probably jotted down minutes before being recorded?

Maybe we should ask Eric Clapton.

Lights Out (1977)

The Heavy Metal Kid Danny Peyronel is gone, and it looks as though he took all the heavy metal with him! Because, sir, the UFO album Lights Out may be many things, but heavy metal it is NOT. Well, mostly not. There are some heavier moments throughout the album, specifically the galloping, proto-NWOBHM title track and the couple of heavier songs at the end. But, otherwise, as indicated by the radio friendly opening cut “Too Hot to Handle”, UFO are definitely trying to expand their audience beyond their denim clad rocker crowd. 

While Danny Peyronel was replaced by Paul Raymond, who plays keyboards AND guitar, and would be in and out of UFO over the course of their career, the group also hired new producer Ron Nevison to give the band a bigger, lusher, more professional sound than the stripped down hard rock production Leo Lyons gave them on their previous three albums. Therefore, if you’re a heavy metal fan just in it to hear Michael Schenker rip it up on his Flying V, you might be disappointed by all the strings, pianos, acoustic/electric double tracked guitars, and the overall more inviting and less aggressive approach on most of the songs. 

But, if you’re a rock fan who just wants to hear a band attempt to get to the next plateau by expanding their aural palate, then you still might be disappointed, since Lights Out only has eight songs, one of which is the mostly boring but passable-due-to-the-Schenker-solo-at-the end piano ballad “Try Me” (I’d rather NOT try you, hahaha!!!), and the other is a perfectly fine but completely pointless cover of “Alone Again Or” by Love. It really does sound odd hearing this hard partying, groupie shagging proto-80s metal/arena rock band with armadillos in their trousers covering a decade old relic from the Summer of Love. 

And before anyone mentions Van Halen covering those Kinks songs or “Dancing in the Streets”, I think those covers are terrible. UFO did a good but pointless cover, with Mogg doing his best Arthur Lee impression and Schenker perfectly replicating the original’s psychedelic solo; Van Halen make “Dancing in the Streets” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” sound clumsy and oafish. 

Lights Out still has six other good-to-great songs. The aforementioned opening cut is, sadly, the most popular song in the entire UFO discography and the only UFO song I’ve ever heard played on the radio when I was young. It’s catchy and lively enough to get the fist a pumpin’, but when you really break it down, it’s just a re-write of “All Right Now”, and it gave me an entirely wrong impression of the group. 

Otherwise, you have the absolutely lovely piano based arena-rocker “Just Another Suicide”, which is easily one of my favorite UFO tunes, the aforementioned galloping metal of “Lights Out”, the basic electric/acoustic pop-rock of “Gettin’ Ready”, the riff-heavy Schenker guitar showcase “Electric Phase”, and the somber and lovely string and piano backed Queen-meets-Black-Sabbath epic closer “Love to Love”, which already has Mogg reflecting on the emptiness of the degenerate rock ‘n’ roll life. This is one of the few “emotional” rock songs where the emotions seem genuine and not just made to generate an income.

Regardless of the group’s loftier ambitions, Lights Out was only a moderate success. In fact, no joke, I got into a discussion with an old fat guy wearing an Alice Cooper t-shirt at Dearborn Music who grew up with 70s rock, and he revealed to me that the only UFO song he knew was, you guessed it, “Too Hot to Handle.” What does THAT tell you!

Obsession (1978)

Although UFO used Ron Nevison again on Obsession, it’s clear that both band and producer learned the lessons from Lights Out. While, on one hand, UFO are writing more accessible, radio-friendly material with simplified song structures and big choruses, they’re also still a loud, hard, and heavy rock ‘n’ roll band; not a group of prog nerds that “utilizes the studio as an instrument.”

There are no vocals and piano only ballads or pointless cover versions, and the band make only minimal use of strings, pianos, and acoustic guitars throughout Obsession. I still take issue with the fact that the band chose to close the album with the ballad “Born to Lose”– I said there were no vocals and piano only ballads like “Try Me”, dumbass! I didn’t say there weren’t any ballads at all! – rather than a rocker, but other than that minor complaint, Obsession will rock your balls off as much as any of the earlier UFO albums!

Probably the most subtle change to the average rock fan is that “Pack It Up (and Go)”, “You Don’t Fool Me”, and “Ain’t No Baby” all have that sleazy, Aerosmith style funky groove that never really was part of prior UFO works, since Pete Way and Andy Parker tend to stick to straight-forward 4/4 beats. But they’re the perfect cock rock songs for strippers to wax the pole to. Elsewhere, I’m guessing the piano-infused “Looking Out for No. 1” was at least partially inspired by the Queen song “Spread Your Wings”, with its theme of a small-town kid trying to make his way in the world. Then there’s “Cherry”, a love letter to a stripper, presumably one who dances to the previously mentioned funkier UFO cock rock songs in the small town that the kid from “Looking Out for No. 1” hitch-hiked out of.

And, of course, you have “Only You Can Rock Me” and “Hot ‘n’ Read”, which should have been huge hits, but for some reason, were not. There are also a couple of throwaway tracks; the minute long “Arbory Hill”, on which Michael Schenker plays a recorder, and a brief reprise of “Looking Out for No. 1.” Did the record company insist that Obsession needed to have eleven tracks or something? 

But, the song I found most interesting is actually “One More for the Rodeo.” It’s a grim little ditty about a guy discovering somebody he knows, presumably a friend, lying dead on a mortuary table. The song makes it clear he was some hippie guy he knew in the 60s, but the song makes it ambiguous as to what exactly happened. Did he die from a drug overdose? Was he in bad with some loan sharks? Did he get hit by a car? Furthermore, is the song saying that his obsession with his Eastern philosophy is what brought him down this road? 

I don’t know for sure, but in “Pack It Up (and Go)”, Mogg sings, “you made the impact back in 1969/but now move over friend, I think you’ve had your time/and all our yesterdays go sailing out of view/I hope there’s something left, hope you can make it through.” Something left of what; his brain? Is he saying his friend did too much acid? 

Strangers in the Night (1979)

If you think the quintessential UFO experience is their 1979 double live album Strangers in the Night, or you think similarly of the Motörhead album No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith, you might just be a boomer!

Nah, but one thing that is pretty cool about Strangers in the Night is that Paul Raymond plays the keyboard parts and the “ja-jigga-ja-jigga” rhythm guitar part in “Lights Out.” And he gets to show that he’s a bit more than just a hired gun on the extended-jam version of “Rock Bottom”, where he adds an extra keyboard part that wasn’t on the original. He also adds piano to the pretty intro to “Doctor, Doctor.”

But, as your slightly more dedicated hard rock and heavy metal fan should know, Strangers in the Night is the swan song of the Michael Schenker era of UFO. Whereas most live albums from the 70s were meant to catapult a band into mega-stardom, ya know, like Kiss’ Alive!, Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, or Cheap Trick’s At Budokan, Strangers in the Night is more like a bittersweet send-off that caps off a chapter in the group’s career. 

Look, I ain’t gonna lie; Phil Mogg, Michael Schenker, Paul Raymond, Pete Way, and Andy Parker do a terrific job at the couple of Strangers in the Night performances, but it still is just a live album. I’m not trying to make this review sound so negative. I’m just saying that, unlike the five albums that precede it and the many that follow it, I don’t listen to Strangers in the Night very often. 

With that said, UFO perform the two proto-NWOBHM classics from Phenomenon, five of the nine head-banging tracks from Force It, two from No Heavy Petting, three from Lights Out, and one measly song from Obsession; three on the 1999 CD reissue. What excuse did they have for cutting those from the original? It could not have been for a lack of vinyl space… 

I’m glad that many people consider Strangers in the Night to be the greatest live album of all time, but that’s because they already had killer material to work with. And, of those people who made this claim, how many went out and bought the albums the originals came from?

No Place to Run (1980)

Well, Michael Schenker’s gone off to be a big fish in a small pond with the Michael Schenker Group, most of whose albums are just as consistently enjoyable as the best of UFO’s; in fact, the latest MSG release Immortal is quite good, and maybe I should review it, since it seems like people are paying next to no attention to it!

It turns out new lead guitarist Paul Chapman, not to be confused with rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond, had already been in UFO twice before; once in the interim between Phenomenon and Force It as a second guitarist, and again in 1977, taking Schenker’s place during one of the German guitarist’s erratic quitting spells. 

But, this time it’s the real deal. Schenker is gone, daddio! And there is that faction of UFO fans who basically thinks that Schenker is UFO and thus took all of the talent with him to the Michael Schenker Group. I’m not one of those at all. Like with Accept and U.D.O., I refuse to take sides. As far as I’m concerned, I win because I now get two great bands out of the deal. 

And, so, UFO begins anew with No Place to Run! First of all, what a great album cover! It’s just a moody, even punky, black and white photo of UFO hanging out at a gas station; just a group of musicians forever on tour, living out of a bus, not permanently settled down anywhere, still grinding it out waiting for the big break. In 1980, the same year AC/DC released the multi-gazillion selling Back in Black, UFO was still in the “It’s a Long Way to the Top” phase of their career. 

Because No Place to Run was released in1980, and the 80s were supposed to be all futuristic and digital or something, No Place to Run opens with, “Alpha Centauri”, arguably the most unusual piece UFO has done in their entire career. Initially I thought it was recorded on a Moog or synthesizer of some sort, but someone in the UFO Facebook group told me Paul Chapman did it entirely on guitar; if so, it sure sounds like one hella futuristic guitar! 

So, is this the start of a new, futuristic direction for UFO, where they play guitars that sound like synthesizers in an attempt to keep up with the times? No, of course not! After that, No Place to Run turns into a back to basics hard rock album that’s closer to Phenomenon, Force It, and No Heavy Petting than the more commercial, big production of Lights Out and Obsession. And I know that there’s this thing about how the album was produced by George Martin, who allegedly gave UFO a more commercial sound, but either that’s just propaganda, since it’s, ya know, George Martin, or my ears are retarded. After all, No Place to Run isn’t the album with the big, simplistic stadium rockers like “Too Hot to Handle” and “Hot ‘n’ Ready”, the piano ballad “Try Me”, or the pointless 1960s cover.

I mean, sure “This Fire Burns Tonight” appears to be their attempt at a radio-friendly pop-rock hit, but there is hardly any piano or acoustic guitar on No Place to Run. On top of that, Pete Way and Andy Parker are back to just thumping out 4/4 beats without any of those funky Zeppelin/Aerosmith influences we heard on Obsession

Probably the only really new influence fans might notice is some old-timey acoustic blues twanging on “Mystery Train”, but that one quickly turns into an upbeat head banging tune that straddles the proverbial hard rock/heavy metal fence. And, as any good UFO album should, you get a variety of moods and tones within their selected genre; angry, desperate, and pessimistic rockers like “Lettin’ Go”, “Money, Money”, and “Anyday”, the optimistic, uplifting “Youngblood”, the romantic “gettin’ in the mood with dim lighting and candles” song “Gone in the Night”, and even a ballad called “Take It or Leave It.”

But, without question, my favorite song on No Place to Run is the title track, a dark tale of a hoodlum who gets gunned down by persons who are not revealed in the song; because that’s just the way it goes in “jungle land”, which Phil Mogg sings over and over, conjuring up images out of some gritty, urban crime drama. I’m even willing to ignore that Bruce Springsteen has a song called “Jungleland” and pretend that that’s totally not where Phil Mogg copped the term, because he just sounds so cool saying it.

No Place to Run is a great album, every song a killer, superb, catchy, and emotionally resonant, and Paul Chapman plays really great melodic guitar. So, if you think UFO is synonymous with Michael Schenker, I think you’re synonymous with an asshole.

The Wild, the Willing, and the Innocent (1981)

But, apparently, Paul Raymond, not to be confused with Paul Chapman who joined the group on the previous album, didn’t feel that way, because he quit UFO to join the Michael Schenker Group. So, they replaced him with Neil Carter from Wild Horses; and, boy does he BLOW… SAXOPHONE THAT IS!!! That’s not a gay joke, by the way; I didn’t even know Carter was gay until I read the liner notes for the CD reissue for The Wild, the Willing, and the Innocent, where they felt it was important to mention this. But what they didn’t mention is if he ever hung out with Freddie Mercury or Rob Halford, which he probably did, because he’s gay. 

If I were to simply judge The Wild, the Willing, and the Innocent by its cover, I’d probably assume it’s a pretty stupid, nonsensical, and convoluted album. And it might be the reason why UFO never used a Hipgnosis design ever again. What am I even looking at? 

It looks like a person of ambiguous gender on a ladder being attacked from behind by another person holding a blowtorch, I guess? Did UFO have any say in what went onto their album covers? Did Chrysalis Records think this was the best way with which to represent UFO? Did someone in UFO see this image and think, “That’s brilliant, mates! Bollocks to that last album with the photo of us on the cover! This picture of a girl -- or hopefully a guy in Neil’s case -- on a ladder being attacked from behind by a guy with a blowtorch is the kind of imagery that really sells albums! If this doesn’t make us go platinum, then we just ain’t goin’ platinum!”? 

But how ironic is it that people cling so steadfastly to the Michael Schenker era when the title track to The Wild, the Willing, and the Innocent is a total re-write of “Hot ‘n’ Ready.” Well, no, the song starts with 38 seconds of strings and piano, but then it turns into a re-write of “Hot ‘n’ Ready”! Don’t believe me? Listen to the opening lead, the drum beat, and the main riff. If you don’t hear “Hot ‘n’ Ready” with different words, check your ears!

But, in spite of a stupid album cover and a title track that’s a re-write of an older song, The Wild, the Willing, and Innocent, is still pretty damn good and worth your listening time. It’s got seven other songs that are good to great, and even the “Hot ‘n’ Ready” re-write isn’t bad. It’s just that, ya know, it sounds so much like that other song, it’s impossible not to notice.

This time around you get a bit of everything UFO is known for, along with a couple of new things. For instance, the opening track “Chains Chains” has some bluesy bottleneck slides, and “Lonely Heart” has smooth ‘n’ sexy E Street Band style SAXOPHONE, that was played by their new gay member Neil Carter. Oh, and the pianos and strings are BACK with a vengeance; making their big, epic, climactic finale in the album closing “Profession of Violence”, a really great dark ballad about some gangsters or something.

Otherwise, the album ping-pongs between tougher hard rock/heavy metal songs like “Chains Chains”, “Long Gone”, and “Makin’ Moves”, that will make you play air guitar and say, “Yeah, hell yeah! This rocks!”, and these very obviously made for radio, adult-oriented, commercial pop-rock songs like “It’s Killing Me” and “Lonely Heart”, which has a chorus that goes, “la-la-la-la-la-la lonely heart.” As far as music made for lawyers and dentists goes, these latter two songs totally rock! I’m not being facetious either; it’s just that, it’s clear they aren’t being marketed to the kids who would show up early to catch UFO’s opening act, Iron Maiden. 

But, damn, “Couldn’t Get It Right” is one depressing ass song! Seriously! Not like slit your wrist goth depression; but like, a guy who could never get his life together and is now broke and living in the gutter. Like, wow; talk about bleak for an allegedly “stoopid” hard rock band known for their partying antics! This is like Bruce Springsteen down-and-out working man music, who I guess Phil Mogg was big into at the time. I mean the title of the album was totally not inspired by the Bruce Springsteen album The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle.

Oh, and the back of the album lists “Profession of Violence” as “Profession of”, because using the word “violence” is literal violence.

Mechanix (1982)

At this point, I think I’d be disappointed if I saw a UFO album cover and title that had anything whatsoever to do with the music. Unlike the Megadeth song “Mechanix”, which is about a mechanic heaving sex on the job, there is no song on the UFO album Mechanix called “Mechanix”, or even a song about mechanics; whether they be having sex on the job or otherwise. It’s just an arbitrary title slapped onto an arbitrarily chosen graphic of a gloved hand holding the neck of a guitar which has the head of a wrench on the end of it. Actually I read it’s supposed to look like something you’d see on a Soviet propaganda poster, because Communism is fun and kitschy and totally didn’t get hundreds of million people killed. 

Mechanix is UFO going METAL, sorta; it’s the classic UFO approach, but with the distortion turned up and more palm-muted, chugga-chugga riffs. Hell, even the made for radio bittersweet pop-rocker “Let It Rain” has some galloping, “jug-jigga-juh”, metallic riffing. And, though Mechanix includes the Stones-y soft-rocker “Back into My Life”, which would be a pretty good song in the style of “Ruby Tuesday” if it wasn’t ruined by the most annoying chorus I’ve ever heard – “won’t you pleeeeease put a little love back into my life” – that also makes Phil Mogg sound really desperate and pathetic, and the slightly less awful but still pretty whiny ballad “Terri”, the album thankfully has no strings or pianos. 

On the other hand, since it is 1982, synthesizers have made their way onto a UFO record, albeit not in an overpowering or intrusive way. In fact, I gotta give UFO some “thinking out of the box” credit for potentially sacrificing hard rock/heavy metal credibility by having so much whirring and buzzing synth and saxophone on the journalist-bashing opening track “The Writer.” There’s also some sax on the excellent cover of the Eddie Cochran classic “Something Else”, which is as far removed from their heavy acid rock cover of “C’mon Everybody” a dozen years earlier, as that one was from the 1958 original. Also the saxophone fits so well on these first two songs, that it’s somewhat disappointing you don’t hear it again on the album. 

As for the rest of Mechanix, it seems like playing Reading in 1980, having Priest and Maiden open for ‘em in 1980 and 1981, and being more or less accepted by the NWOBHM has rubbed off on UFO. Taking this Iron Maiden thing one teensy step further, and this is purely conjecture, it appears as though “We Belong to the Night” was inspired by the Maiden tune “Charlotte the Harlot”, since both songs are about some guy telling some girl to quit the whoring. Regardless of whether this is the case or not, the song still kills, and it does such a great job of painting the picture of a really seedy part of town with all the pickup bars and “where the gay boys come to meet”; probably where Neil Carter hangs out with Freddie Mercury and Rob Halford.

I also just realized that the song “You’ll Get Love” is about a peeping tom who jerks off to his slutty female neighbor in the apartment next door, and “Feel It” is also about some other slutty chick who has, ahem, “a love that makes you burn.” Hopefully he just means that in the proverbial sense.

Making Contact (1983)

Well, this one gets my vote for album cover of the year; a naked chick with a cute ass so frantically operating a telephone operator board, that it looks like she has six arms! I was once again going to say that the album title and cover have nothing to do with the music on the album, but then I’m like, these songs do have a certain running theme of humans trying to make contact with one another, and that does often leave people feeling naked and exposed. So, there you go; the album title does tie in with the music, and the cover is not just a “cheeky” (heh heh) way of garnering some cheap attention. 

Original bassist Pete Way left UFO after thirteen years to join former Motörhead guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke in Fastway, and later to start Waysted. But, rather than finding a new guy to play bass, Paul Chapman and Neil Carter handled all the bass parts themselves. 

As far as I’m concerned, Making Contact is still classic UFO; that is, riff-filled hard rock that borders on heavy metal, with the only caveats this time that there’s more of that reverbed 80s polish, along with a few more guitar riffs that most definitely enter into 80s chugga-chgga metal territory. There are also way more synthesizers and keyboards, some Seinfeld-style artificial sounding bass, a couple of corny Journey-style pop-rock tunes that sound like they’re written for middle aged women, and a sappy keyboard and synth ballad about a couple struggling to make ends meet. 

Thankfully, songs like “A Fool for Love” (not be confused for “A Fool in Love” from No Heavy Petting), “Call My Name”, and “You and Me” are only three of the ten songs. Also, thankfully, the last song, “Push, It’s Love”, uses the term “trouser snake.”

Okay, granted, the opening track “Blinded by a Lie” has a bit of that 80s AOR, pop-metal cheese too, but it’s such a great, energetic, and catchy song, that its faults (the cheesiness) soon become its strengths. And, as before, the rest are gritty, hard edged songs about the trials and travails of various working class peoples; such as “Diesel in the Dust” about a guy who ran his mouth and got shot in some town where “you don’t make a man mad”, “No Getaway”, a song about a stalker obsessed with a movie star, “When It’s Time to Rock”, a crazy, wild number about gang fights and stealing cars, and “All Over You”, a sordid little ditty about a guy who discovered a gal he’s into is now turning tricks. 

Oh God, I hope that when Phil Mogg says, “it’s all over you”, he’s just referring to the stigma of being a whore, and not, well, ya know…

Misdemeanor (1985)

After jamming with the Michael Schenker Group and Pete Way’s Waysted, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond is back! Sadly, everyone else is gone. Yeah, basically UFO broke up after the Making Contact tour, and Phil Mogg put together a new band with a guitarist named Tommy McClendon (who went by the silly nickname Atomik Tommy M) and a drummer named Jim Simpson from the British hard rock band Magnum. And, in keeping with the tradition of having two guys named Paul in UFO at any given time, he also recruited new bassist Paul Gray, who not only played on the Making Contact tour, but was in Eddie and the Hot Rods and the Damned! 

So, does the addition of Paul Gray, former bassist for two punk rock bands – okay, Eddie and the Hot Rods are PUB rock, a very short-lived precursor to British punk; shoot me! – turn UFO into a raw, fast, and aggressive punk metal crossover act like Tank or Warfare? 

If only life were that sweet. Hell, the bass is barely even audible, as is the way on these 80s pop records; and sir, whether you want to admit it or not, Misdemeanor is an 80s pop record! The wonder of Misdemeanor is that it sounds like an 80s nostalgia record made today, almost as if Mogg and crew knew way back in 1985 how to make the perfect novelty 80s record that incorporates literally everything stereotypical and cliché about what people think of when they think of the 80s! I halfway expect Paul Raymond to play the keytar live.

It’s like, ya know how on Mechanix and Making Contact, synthesizers were just used to add coloring around the riffs, but these were otherwise straight-forward hard rock/heavy metal albums? Now the synthesizer is front and center with the guitars, and the drums have that artificial sounding drum-pad gated “doof” sound; all while Phil Mogg passionately sings such brilliant turns of phrase as, “In the name of love, is there someone left for me/in the name of love, set this heart free.” In other words, Misdemeanor sounds kinda like a “Angel of the City” from the 1986 movie Cobra with Sylvester Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen, but heavier.

So, just to be clear, this is not UFO doing the Def Leppard thing like Saxon did on their 1985 LP Innocence Is No Excuse. Nor is Misdemeanor the UFO equivalent of the pop-metal of Constrictor by Alice Cooper or Turbo by Judas Priest. It’s an adult contemporary pop-rock album with metal guitar.  

With that said, do I like it? First of all, “Night Run” should have been a HUGE hit. It’s so damn catchy. Actually, the ballad “Dream the Dream” is the kind of overdone Reagan-era anthem that sounds like it belongs in a Rocky movie; it even has the line “to live and love again/oh, my America.” And the closest songs to the classic UFO sound are “Meanstreets” and “Wreckless” (yes, that’s how they spelled it); but even those have hilariously poppy synthesizers to go with the heavier riffs. And, songs like “Name of Love” and “Heaven’s Gate” totally rock, if you consider Kenny Loggins to be the epitome of balls out heavy metal. 

So, yeah, I like it.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ EP (1988)

Paul Raymond is gone again, and UFO has decided to go mostly without the keyboards; they use them occasionally, but it’s just to add a bit of texture here and there. In fact Ain’t Misbehavin’ has less keyboards and synths than Mechanix and Making Contact. Otherwise, the lineup still has Phil Mogg being joined by Atomik Tommy M on guitar, Paul Gray on bass, and Jim Simpson on drums. 

One look at the cover of Ain’t Misbehavin’, with its naked chick with perky nipples and a gun in her hand, and the average consumer might think this seven track mini-LP is just a typical late-80s sleazy pop-metal album. But, as Jean-Luc Godard said, all you need to make a good movie is a girl and a gun, and I think it’s obvious that UFO actually consists of sophisticated European art-film enthusiasts paying homage to the French new wave.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ is UFO’s token entry into pop/hair/glam metal. All I can say is, holy crap, am I glad that Phil Mogg doesn’t do high-pitched falsetto vocals, because that would make the chorus to “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” really annoying. This sounds like 80s Kiss, Bon Jovi, or Trash-era Alice Cooper, and the mix is trebly as all hell, with the bass sounding all artificial like the bass in the Seinfeld theme, but the songs are GOOD! They’re catchy, and Atomik Tommy M shreds. In fact, the hardest song on the album, “Rock Boyz, Rock” is more like W.A.S.P. than the other aforementioned bands.

But, one new element that Ain’t Misbehavin’ has on a few of tracks is female backup vocals! Typically, I think female backup vocals on rock and metal records sound cheesy and lame, but they really work on the sleazy strip club groove of “At War with the World”, the hilariously melodramatic “Hunger in the Night”, and the good-time glam-metal cock rock “Easy Money.”

Even the ballad “Another Saturday Night” is pretty good!

Only the last track enters the realm of, I like this but only for its novelty value; that’s “Lonely Cities (of the Heart)”; it has the guitars turned down lower than on the rest of the songs, allowing that artificial slap-bass sound to really come at ya, and well, it’s called “Lonely Cities (of the Heart).” That’s pretty much all you need to know about that one.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ is over way too quickly, which is a shame, because it’s an enjoyable little album. Incidentally, it would lead to nowhere, and before too long, this version of the UFO band would be history.

High Stakes & Dangerous Men (1992)

Phil Mogg’s last band split. But, don’t worry; he assembled a new band which consists of one member from his old band! That’s right; original bassist Pete Way is back in UFO after nearly a decade, and they’ve recruited new members, guitarist Laurence Archer and drummer Clive Edwards, both of whom were in a bunch of other bands you can read about on Wiki. 

High Stakes & Dangerous Men is a good, albeit basic, simple, and bluesy hard rock album, full of melodic, catchy, and memorable songs. And, although the production is pristine and polished, it sounds far more organic than the ultra-slick 80s pop-metal and 80s pop-rock that UFO, or rather, Phil Mogg and his previous band, were doing on their previous two albums. Though, UFO has recycled one element from the prior UFO release; soulful and sassy female backup vocals, which are used on three of the twelve tracks! In fact, the backup vocals on “Burnin’ Fire” and “Revolution” make these otherwise fairly standard blues rock numbers way catchier than they have any right to be!

And, lest it be known that, unequivocally High Stakes & Dangerous Men is thus far the bluesiest release in the UFO discography (only topped fourteen years later by The Monkey Puzzle), since Laurence Archer dips far more into the well of bluesy bottleneck slides and the bluesy guitar licks than pretty much any prior UFO guitarist. But, ya know what’s really strange? One running theme for these UFO reviews is how UFO has released album after album where the title, not to mention the often ridiculous cover art, has virtually nothing to do with the songs. But, in this case, I thought, okay, the album High Stakes & Dangerous Men is going to have songs about dangerous men in high stakes situations.

Nope. Perhaps the opening track “Borderline”, with its booze smuggling antihero, could be about a dangerous man in a high stakes situation; but the song makes him seem like just a typical blue collar schlub committing a crime to make ends meet. And, maybe the master seducer in “Back Door Man” (not the Doors song) is a dangerous man in several high stakes situations, but it’s more in the proverbial way. And the sixteen-year-old gun-packing gang-banger in “Primed for Time”, who claims that “Clint and Schwarzenegger taught me all I know”, is a dangerous boy in high stakes situations. And, the depressed, alcoholic loser in “Ain’t Life Sweet”, where the title is ironic, because everything is going wrong for him, isn’t about a dangerous man, but a sad and unlucky one!

Furthermore, there are three love songs on High Stakes & Dangerous Men, and I suppose love and relationships can be high stakes situations involving dangerous men, but nothing in these songs gives any indication that this is the case. 

Hey, you know what else I also noticed about this UFO album? For the first time going back all the way to Phenomenon, it has absolutely ZERO ballads! Even the love songs, which start off pretty and soft, turn into rockers, albeit happy, sentimental ones, but the point remains. 

Oh, here we go! The song “Love Deadly Love” appears to fit the theme of the album title! It’s about a dude doing time for shooting the guy his gal was cheatin’ with! And, I suppose the chick just giving out her number in the personals in “Let the Good Times Roll” (not the Cars song) is potentially getting involved in high stakes situations with dangerous men!

All right, I’m done.

Walk on Water (1995)

Reunion album! And, holy crap; is it good! In fact, it’s so good and has none of the stigma associated with reunion albums (cough, Generation Swine, cough, Psycho Circus, cough, The Weirdness, cough, 13), that I’m going to call it a RAINO; reunion album in name only.

The Lights Out/Obsession/Strangers in the Night lineup is BACK. And, while it’s neat as all heck that Phil Mogg and Pete Way have been reunited with original drummer Andy Parker and rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond, obviously the big kicker in all of this is the return of MICHAEL SCHENKER, who hadn’t played on a UFO album for seventeen years, during which, of course, he built up his own dedicated cult following with various iterations of the Michael Schenker Group.

Also, for what it’s worth, Ron Nevison is the producer again. But, don’t worry; UFO’s mid-90s time-stamp isn’t all full of strings, ballads, and attempts at big ‘n’ basic arena rock; though “Dreaming of Summer” seems directly inspired by “Love to Love”, and Paul Raymond plays a little piano on the album. But most of Walk on Water is actually just this really great heavy rock album that manages to absorb something a little new while having those unmistakable elements that define the best of classic UFO. 

So, what’s this “new” influence you ask? Specifically I’m talking about a surprisingly heavy guitar crunch and angrier sounding riffs, closer to grunge or 90s metal, than perhaps a lot of UFO fans might be used to. Yet, because Michael Schenker plays gorgeous leads and melodies throughout the album, these new 90s influences are seamlessly absorbed into the group’s sound; as opposed to, say, Mötley Crüe or Kiss, who just made clumsy and obvious grunge cash-ins. 

It’s most apparent on the opening cut “A Self Made Man”, which is arguably UFO’s heaviest song, even using those 90s “pig squeal” SQUEEEE sounds that Dimebag Darrell from Pantera and Tommy Victor from Prong used a lot. And, man, Phil Mogg sounds pretty damn angry in this song. Of course, this is Phil Mogg and not Phil Anselmo, so “angry” in UFO parlance means quaint lyrics such as, “I’ll take great pride and pleasure in your misery/and delight in your living hell/there’s no known act of human kindness left/my very mother I would sell.” Brutal! Watch the mosh pits light up to that one! 

On a brief side note, I do find the culture clash between the boomer generation of rockers and the X’ers pretty damn amusing; whether it’s hearing old bands from the 70s and 80s attempt to sing more topical or political lyrics; or hearing newer bands use cuss-words and modern 90s “street” lingo on old-fashioned hard rock and heavy metal forms. Probably the most hilarious example would be Biohazard adding their “yo-yo-mothafucka” nonsense to their cover of the Black Sabbath classic “After Forever.”

Anyway, Walk on Water has ten songs, the last two of which are new recordings of “Doctor, Doctor” and “Lights Out”, which could just as easily be mistaken for the originals by neophytes, if only because the production on Walk on Water is back to the natural sounding 70s style rather than the really polished 80s production they even had on their previous album; the snare has a nice “thap” sound, as opposed to the 80s gated “duff.”

And, musically, it seems like there are essentially two types of songs on Walk on Water; heavy but melodic guitar crushers like the aforementioned opening track, “Pushed to the Limit”, “Darker Days”,  and “Knock, Knock”, and acoustic/electric rockers like “Venus”, “Stopped by a Bullet (of Love)”, “Running on Empty”, and “Dreaming of Summer”, which are still pretty heavy, but with one guitarist, presumably Schenker, playing a pretty melody on acoustic guitar, while Paul Raymond either plays the rhythm guitar or some keyboard fills. 

And, of course, you wouldn’t have a UFO album without Phil Mogg’s very non-90s philosophies on life permeating throughout his lyrics. He might not be Phil Anselmo, but you don’t need cuss-words, tattoos, a pissed off persona, or modern “street” lingo when saying it how it is:

Two clean shirts, I'm puffing on an old cigar
I still love women, sex and fancy cars
What you don't conceive is just what I believe
My doctor says it ain't right
For a man my age to fight
He don't get it
He ain't in it
I'm pushed to the limit

Covenant (2000)

In the five years between Walk on Water and Covenant, UFO lost rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond again (Don’t worry, he’d be back!) and replaced drummer Andy Parker with Aynsley Dunbar, who has a whole list of awesome band credits you can look up; I find most intriguing that his early band, the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, recorded the original version of “The Warning”, which Sabbath covered on their first album.

Also, UFO ain’t AC/DC. They didn’t just sit around doing nothing in these five years and then bang out a studio album in a couple of months. They actually kept busy; Phil Mogg and Pete Way released a couple albums as the confusingly named Mogg/Way, and the Michael Schenker Group released a couple as well. I was actually thinking of reviewing the two Mogg/Way albums, since some might consider that just UFO without Michael Schenker, but then I decided, eh, best to just stick to the official UFO discography. 

Another first for UFO; Covenant is the first time ever UFO has put out a nearly pure, almost unadulterated, straight-ahead, “full-on” hard rock/heavy metal album with only one “rogue” track among eleven. That would be the lovely late-night romantic bass groovin’ flamenco guitar serenade “Serenade”, which is the musical equivalent of a really lovely girl who makes you think beyond just your prurient carnal desires, ya dirty pervert! And, even that one gets heavy for a few seconds. 

Otherwise, I don’t know why it took UFO so long to do this with Michael Schenker; that is, to just make an all rock/no schlock album with none of the strings, pianos, or ballads, and I suppose very limited use of acoustic guitar. But let’s compare Covenant with the far more popular Obsession from twenty-two years earlier. Obsession also has eleven tracks, but as you’ve already read, it’s got a ballad and a brief novelty song with Michael Schenker playing a recorder and kinda ballad with piano and a reprise of the kinda ballad and only really seven heavy rock songs. The ratio of hard rock and heavy metal to other shit on earlier UFO albums bodes even worse; I’m looking at you Lights Out!

But, here we are in the year 2000 with an album called Covenant, which is heavy and rockin’ from its opening cut, “Love Is Forever”, to the epic, riff-filled metal finale “The World and His Dog”, which might take the place of “A Self Made Man” as the heaviest song in the UFO discography. Hell, I even thought I was mistaken in my assessment when I heard the opening to “Fool’s Gold”, which spends its first 90 seconds as a ballad, but then it turns into a middle-upper tempo, Judas Priest-ish chugga-chugga metal song! 

The question an album like Covenant then raises is, are you actually a UFO fan or a Michael Schenker fan? Because, obviously, Covenant is basically the Michael Schenker show-off show, just filled with crunchy ass riffs and killer solos until the end of time; “Miss the Lights”, which is about some old actress missing the lights, even has just about the catchiest guitar melody every conceived in spite of its ridiculous simplicity. 

Incidentally, Phil Mogg’s low, bluesy, tough, yet soothing voice, in addition to the soul/gospel group back-up vocals on songs like “Unraveled” and “Rise Again”, keep UFO in that grey area between classic hard rock and, well, heavy metal; a musical concoction which has often been called their “official” and “signature” style. Hell, “Cowboy Joe” literally splits these elements, with heavy crushing metal riffing on the front end and good ol’ fashioned melodic hard rock on the back.

So, basically, Covenant is the heavy guitar album; the one where, if you haven’t already familiarized yourself with the musical genius of Michael Schenker and his masterful, unique, not quite shred, proto-Eddie Van Halen/Randy Rhoads European style of guitar playing, which has garnered him a hardcore cult following, then Covenant is really just as good a place to start as any. I mean, I gotta be honest; I’ve said lots and lots of positive of things about UFO albums without Michael Schenker, particularly the stretch from No Place to Run to Making Contact; but if I had to choose UFO without Schenker or with, my choice would be pretty obvious.

Also, today is Halloween, and Phil Mogg sings the line, “She’ll suck out your brain.” I know it’s a metaphor, but for today, let’s pretend he’s singing about some mutant alien broad who sucks out dudes’ brains, perhaps Princess Kajuku. 

Sharks (2002)

Man, what a silly album title and cover! First of all, Riot already had a shark on the cover of their Nightbreaker album. And secondly, why Sharks? Is it a tribute to the fictional Shark Sandwich album by Spinal Tap? Is it a veiled attack on record execs or lawyers? Were the members of UFO watching those straight-to-video Shark Attack movies that came out in the late 90s and early 00s? And, I just can’t get over how ugly the cover looks. I mean, if you call your album Sharks, I suppose it only makes to have a picture of a shark on the cover, but why does it look like someone scribbled all over it with a blue crayon? 

Musically, Sharks is similar to Covenant in that it’s just a loud guitar rock album, albeit with some keyboards and backup vocals here and there. It also features the same Mogg/Schenker/Way/Dunbar lineup that played on Covenant. There are, however, a few key differences between Sharks and its predecessor. The most obvious and noticeable one is that Sharks isn’t quite as heavy; it still rocks plenty hard, save for the brief hula instrumental appropriately titled “Hawaii” at the end of the album. But, only one song, “Perfect View”, comes within a hair of the chugging metal riffs that were on Covenant, and only barely. 

Also Schenker’s playing is a bit more, how do I put it, subdued and less flashy. I read a review saying that he sounds a bit lazy or sloppy on Sharks. I don’t know about that. These are some great hard rock songs; they’re just not full of guitar solos, and they focus more on riffs and melodies, as good hard rock songs should. Schenker also does a bit of the blues thing this time around, even using some bottleneck slides on opening cut “Outlaw Man.” Not as much as, say, Laurence Archer did on High Stakes & Dangerous Men, but more than he’s done on any UFO album, which is never. And drummer Aynsley Dunbar does a pretty neat, atypical drum pattern on the honky-tonk cowboy rocker “Quicksilver Rider.”

But some of these songs, like “Serenity” and “Deadman Walking”, are pretty dark. While, holy crap, the song “Sea of Faith” is probably the grimmest, most apocalyptic song UFO has ever recorded! It’s basically the musical equivalent of a man on the edge of a cliff. I have no idea what this song is even about, since it’s all sung in metaphors. It could just be about a bad relationship; or it could be an expression of fear and paranoia in the post-9/11 world; or a treatise on the crumbling music industry; or a Spenglerian reflection of the end of Western civilization! So many possibilities!

Of course, the dark and depressing songs are offset by fun ‘n’ macho, straight-ahead rockers like “Outlaw Man” and “Fighting Man”, in which Phil Mogg twice reiterates that he’s an ol’ fashioned man who likes motorcycles and chicks and liquor, and prefers the company of James Dean, Steve McQueen, and Elvis to your drugged out, degenerate hippie ass; that’s 50s Elvis, before the amphetamines, dummy! 

Speaking of hippie-bashing, another surprising track, both musically and lyrically is “Someone’s Gonna Have to Pay.” First of all, this type of George Thorogood/Stevie Ray Vaughan style blues boogie with lotsa of wah-wah soloing is just not at all something I’d expect from UFO, with Michael Schenker or otherwise, and overall, it’s not really all that compelling… until I heard the lyrics. The song has echoes of themes from “One More for the Rodeo”, and this isn’t the first time Phil Mogg has reflected on all the utopian hopes and promises of the 60s that were tossed into history’s dustbin. 

But he also seems to be implying that there was some sort of conspiracy behind it all; I dunno, maybe I’m reading too much into this, but what do power boat glides, jet skis, taxis, limos, Mensa, moonshot, and rockets have to do with “all of the misfits/all of the scars/all of life’s promises/bottled in jars”?

One thing is for sure, though. 

You know the revolutions gone now
There's no revolution song
Somewhere down the line
You know, on one of God’s good days
Can you hear me
Someone’s gonna have to pay

You Are Here (2004)

If “here” implies “in UFO, alongside original singer and bassist Phil Mogg and Pete Way”, then obviously, two members are no longer “here”! A decade after rejoining the group back in 1993, Michael Schenker has once again left UFO and continues to make albums with the Michael Schenker Group and otherwise; and, after a slightly shorter period of time, Aynsley Dunbar has also left to further continue his reputation as the friendly Ginger Baker. 

On the other hand, you know who is “here”? PAUL RAYMOND!!! You thought he was going to be gone forever? You missed UFO having an official fifth guy plunking away on keys or strumming chords behind guitar solos? Well, guess what; he would be “here” right up until his death in April of 2019. Though, curiously, You Are Here doesn’t really have keyboards, so I guess this time Paul Raymond is just the rhythm guitarist. 

You know who else is “here”? Jason Bonham, whose father’s former band is now considered a legend, while 3.5 decades into their career, UFO are about where Zeppelin was in 1968. And prolific instrumental lead guitarist Vinnie Moore is “here” as well; to this day actually! It’s interesting hearing a guitarist whose body of work consists mostly of instrumental pieces trying to fit his style into structured rock songs. But, hey, for the most part, it works! 

I’m not saying that You Are Here is by any stretch the most original or brilliant thing in the UFO discography. In fact it loses points on account of the songs “Slipping Away” and “Baby Blue”, two overly sentimental songs about chicks, which try a little too hard to make you feel something when you actually feel nothing. I especially hate the part in “Baby Blue” where Phil Mogg sings “Hey, baby blue, I still remember you, still remember you in my life/hey, baby blue, where you running now, where you running now in your own life.” Yes, you read that correctly; he rhymes “life” with “life.” Yechh!

But, otherwise, You Are Here is just good ol’ fashioned 70s hard rock, closer in style to past songs like “Getting’ Ready” and “A Fool in Love” than proto-NWOBHM tunes like “Let It Roll” and “Lights Out.” And Vinnie More really is a terrific guitarist, playing lovely leads, along with some softer, ethereal parts, and even some flamenco guitar, throughout the album. That the riffs themselves are a little generic isn’t too much of a problem, since they’re saved by both the lead guitar and, of course, Phil Mogg’s great and powerful voice. 

Specifically you’ve got the big and happy major chord tunes like “When Daylight Goes to Town” and “Give It Up”, Aerosmith funky hard rock of “Black Cold Coffee” and “Jello Man”, Guess Who sounding “The Wild One”, Zeppelin/Montrose heavy slow groove of “Call Me”, “The Spark That Is Us”, “Mr. Freeze”, and “Swallow”, and the aforementioned sappy kinda ballads that I’m not too fond of. So, even if the songs, or specifically, the riffs, seem a little ordinary and cliché, they’re complemented by just some amazing guitar playing. 

And, of course, you’ve got Phil Mogg as optimistic as ever:

Stop the revolution
There's nothing left to fight
Will the last man standing
Turn out the light

Showtime (2005)

I wouldn’t even be talking about Showtime, a double live CD recorded by the Phil Mogg/Pete Way/Paul Raymond/Vinnie Moore/Jason Bonham lineup on May 13th, 2005 in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, if I hadn’t found the thing for $6 at Dearborn Music. But, as a semi-completist – meaning, I get all of a band’s studio albums and pick up anything else if the price is right, since more is better than less – I saw this and thought, eh, what the heck; it’s worth a few spins before taking up five millimeters of shelf space. 

So, according to the lazily and poorly written liner notes in the insert, the Showtime double CD is actually just the audio for UFO’s first official live DVD, which I’m not at all enough of a completist to buy off amazon for $87!!! Yeah, that’s probably not how much it originally retailed for, but in this modern age of Youtube, I’m expecting a free DVD to just come with a CD, like how Accept included an entire live concert as a bonus DVD with Blind Rage, or how Alice Cooper did the same for his latest album, Detroit Stories.

So, two things are immediately apparent about Showtime. The first is that, of the sixteen songs, eleven of them were also on Strangers in the Night. In fact, the only songs from Strangers in the Night that aren’t also on Showtime are “Natural Thing” and “Out in the Streets.” They also play four from You Are Here and one from Sharks. In the much better written liner notes for the Mechanix CD reissue, Eddie Trunk actually complained to UFO that they don’t play any Paul Chapman material, to which UFO responded that they didn’t think fans even cared about that stuff anymore! I guess the squeaky wheel gets the grease, because when I saw ‘em, they sure as hell played “We Belong to the Night”!

The other thing longtime fans will notice, but probably the casual consumer who picks up Showtime on a whim, might not is that Vinnie Moore inserts his own guitar solos into the old songs. He’ll play a few notes of the original Michael Schenker solo and then go off on into his own improvised solos. I’m totally fine with letting the new guy shine rather than relegating him to note perfect copies of his predecessor’s guitar licks; especially since his new solos are good, and they certainly don’t ruin Schenker-era classics like “Mother Mary”, “Love to Love”, “Too Hot to Handle”, “Lights Out”, and the extended jam-out version of “Rock Bottom”, or the more recent 2nd Schenker-era not quite yet a classic “Fighting Man.”

Showtime is otherwise a very solid and fun live double CD that I don’t have any buyer’s remorse for purchasing. My only gripe is that, of the four songs they played from You Are Here, one of those is “Baby Blue”; which means that, in that eternal struggle every legacy band has over how much new material to play along with the classics that the majority of the crowd came to hear, UFO chose to play a song which has the lines “Hey, baby blue, I still remember you, still remember you in my life/hey, baby blue, where you running now, where you running now in your own life.”

And like a bunch lemmings, the crowd went wild.

The Monkey Puzzle (2006)

The Australian punk band the Saints actually named their album The Monkey Puzzle way back in 1981, which kinda sucks, because I prefer when bands don’t use names for songs or albums that were already used by other bands. Incidentally, the term is also the name of an acapella group from the 90s, a children’s book from 2000, and an Australian film from 2008. Also both a species of tree called Araucaria araucana and a species of butterfly called Rathinda amor are referred to as a “monkey puzzle.”

What this has to do with the UFO album called The Monkey Puzzle I have no idea. But that’s kinda what you get with UFO; album titles that typically have nothing to do with any of the songs on the album. At least not in any way that’s immediately apparent to the listener. 

And, what do you know; John Bonham’s son is gone, and Andy Parker is back in UFO, recreating 4/5 of the Lights Out/Obsession/Strangers in the Night/Walk on Water lineup, with, of course, Vinnie Moore in place of Michael Schenker. 

The most obvious difference between The Monkey Puzzle and its predecessor is that Paul Raymond is playing a lot more keyboards and piano this time around, where there didn’t seem to be any keyboards or pianos on You Are Here. And it looks as though UFO done really caught a case of the blues this time, especially on the down ‘n’ dirty blues rock of “World Cruise” and the piano and harmonica filled honky-tonk boogie of “Some Other Guy.” Actually, to be honest, it looks as though Vinnie Moore is altogether playing much more bluesy solos than the pretty neoclassical and jazzy kind of solos he was doing on the previous album.

Otherwise, there ain’t too much new to expect on The Monkey Puzzle that you hadn’t already heard on You Are Here. In fact, it’s got the same exact issues as the previous UFO album; specifically corny and overly sentimental love songs like “Drink too Much”, which, from the title, sounds like it would be a good time song about drinking too much, but instead uses the completely annoying, dumb, and repetitive “did I (fill in the blank) too much” lyrical motif. Seriously! Here’s the chorus!

Did I drink too much
Did we laugh too much
Did I make you cry
Does it hurt too much
Did we hold too much
I'm gonna love you till the day I die

That sucks! If you like that, you’re stupid! Ugh, and the song “Good Bye You” has the insipid chorus “goodbye you/goodbye me/goodbye you/goodbye me/goodbye you/goodbye me/goodbye you/goodbye me.” And I staunchly defend about 90% of Phil Mogg’s lyrics, because I think he’s written some interesting songs over the many years and many albums. But his love songs are awful! Thankfully, the amount of those is a fraction of UFO material.

Otherwise The Monkey Puzzle is 70s rock galore! If you heard the last album and thought it just sounds like 70s hard rock but with better, modern day production, well you pretty much get the same thing again! Hell, the main riff in “Rolling Man” is “Slow Ride” by Foghat! The fact that it’s a decent song and has the lines “I got a chevron vision in my head/Every copy of the living dead/I wear my necktie like a noose/I'm a walking junkyard full of juice” still doesn’t excuse Vinnie Moore for not coming up with a more original riff.

Also the sassy, soulful female backup vocals have made their grand return on “Down by the River”, because apparently UFO can’t make two consecutive albums in a row without sassy, soulful female backup vocals. And, I guess it’s worth mentioning that “Heavenly Body” is actually pretty damn heavy, sounding closer to 90s grunge than the 70s rock which influenced 90s grunge. 

So, there you go; like, You Are Here, The Monkey Puzzle is an okay album that has some fairly conventional guitar riffs but is saved by some excellent guitar-work and enthusiastic vocals. 

Though, I don’t appreciate Phil Mogg calling me “boy” or telling me to “juice off.” That’s just rude. 

The Visitor (2009)

You know who didn’t visit the studio during the making of The Visitor? Pete Way! Seventeen years after returning to the band, he’s gone again, which means the once dangerous UFO are back to being safe and acceptable to your old, square parents. Think I’m kidding? He wrote an autobiography called A Fast Ride Out of Here: Confessions of Rock’s Most Dangerous Man and has said that he, and he alone, gave UFO an element of danger that would otherwise be lacking without him. 

That’s right; not Iggy Pop, not Johnny Rotten, not even GG Allin are as dangerous as PETE WAY, bassist extraordinaire of UFO, Fastway, Waysted, Mogg/Way, Pete Way, the Plot, the Michael Schenker Group, and Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock!

Pete Way

So, when you’re cranking up The Visitor, Seven Deadly, A Conspiracy of Stars, and The Salentino Cuts, and you’re getting ready to tell mom and dad, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old!”, don’t be disappointed if neither of them gets up from the easy chair to shout at you; because, now that Pete Way is no longer in UFO, they won’t have any reason to.  

But, onto more important matters; did Vinnie Moore say he’d only join UFO if they allowed him to turn UFO into a blues band?  It was hinted at a little on You Are Here, which had the 70s Aerosmith/Zeppelin/Monstrose hard rock influences, expanded on The Monkey Puzzle with some honky-tonk blues boogie, and now has nearly arrived at its logical conclusion with The Visitor, more than half of which is a blues rock album;  you get acoustic Robert Johnson guitar on opening cut “Saving Me”, Humble Pie slow electric blues with keyboards on “On the Waterfront”, the bluesy bottle neck slide Rolling Stones influenced “Rock Steady”, and the sexxxy funky ZZ Top Texass blues groove of “Living Proof”, where Phil Mogg even sounds like he’s trying to sing like Billy Gibbons!

Hell, the album’s obligatory sappy love song “Forsaken” has twangy pedal-steel guitar! That’s country! UFO made a country song! And it’s not very good! And, what’s with Phil Mogg’s new found obsession with Texas? Has he been watching too many Chuck Norris movies? Did he start dating some cowgirl with big ol’ titties? 

I dunno, but thankfully there are still tunes that sound like classic UFO; hard rock with a driving 4/4 beat and lyrics about everyday people doing everyday things; crossing the Mexican border for some good times in “Hell Driver”, committing armed robbery in “Villains & Thieves”, pining after Lisa in “Stop Breaking Down”, being a total outcast in “Stranger in Town”, or the obligatory depressing song about someone’s life going to shit in “Can’t Buy a Thrill.”

As for the blues stuff, it’s okay. Vinnie Moore is good at blues licks, and Paul Raymond plays the keyboards to the slow parts just fine. But imagine if Motörhead made every track on Inferno sound like “Whorehouse Blues.” That would be pretty damn absurd, wouldn’t it? And while UFO sound a little more natural playing this type of material, I already have the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Humble Pie, and ZZ Top. I WANT UFO!!!

See what happens when rock’s most dangerous man leaves your band?

Seven Deadly (2012)

If I were to judge an album just by its cover, then Seven Deadly should be UFO’s best album. I don’t know why I love this image and its reverse so much, but unlike a lot of the images on the front of UFO album covers, which just seem like they were arbitrarily slapped onto the front of the album to catch attention, there’s more to consider with this one. If you don’t have it in front of you, it’s a bright and colorful picture of a skeleton dressed like a cowboy holding flowers entering an old, rusty gate with the UFO logo on it. And the reverse image shows the skeleton from behind, and that beyond the gate lays a barren wasteland. I don’t know exactly what it means, but there’s definitely something poetic about it. 

Sadly, it does not reflect the music. Also, this presents an interesting opportunity to contrast my opinion with that of another Riff Raff writer. Christopher Franklin writes of Seven Deadly:

"UFO's 21st studio album Seven Deadly represents a return to the classy hard rock sound upon which their reputation was originally founded." 

I’m guessing what he means by “classy” is that Seven Deadly is as boring as a classroom. He goes on:

"Line-up stability has paid dividends with a solid release that is full of top tunes that stay in your head right from first play, foot-stomping opener “Fight Night” being a prime example."

I’m not sure what “stability” he speaks of, since UFO have had a different lineup on every album since Sharks; starting with the departure of Michael Schenker and Aynsley Dunbar and the joining of Vinnie Moore and Jason Bonham and rejoining of Paul Raymond for You Are Here; Bonham’s leaving to be replaced by original drummer Andy Parker on The Monkey Puzzle; and then original bassist Pete “most dangerous man in rock ‘n’ roll” Way leaving a second time before The Visitor. Technically Seven Deadly features the same lineup as The Visitor, but that’s only because they didn’t have an official bass player on those two albums. 

So, if Peter Pichl and Lars Lehmann happen to read this, good job, guys; even though you caught UFO during the less than stellar era of their career.

Christopher Franklin is right about opening track “Fight Night”, though. It is a quite good and a promising opener; it’s a classic UFO song with a great, albeit basic riff, and Phil Mogg doing his macho, manly, I like old timey stuff thing. Sadly, it’s one of two “top tunes that stay in your head right from first play.” In fact, most of the album is pretty darn forgettable. 

"The rocking “Wonderland” showcases Phil Mogg's voice, as distinctive as ever,…"

Yep, “Wonderland” is the other track I speak of; it’s a chugging metal tune that totally rips and has Phil Mogg singing about his “monkey.” But then it’s all downhill from there. 

"…whilst the blues-tinged “The Last Stone Rider” features another classic guitar riff and a great chorus, underpinned by Paul Raymond's classic hard rock keyboard textures."

If by “classic”, you mean it, along with “Steal Yourself”, sound like lousy Free or Bad Company outtakes, then I agree. Thankfully, it’s only blues-tinged, since most of the blues from the last album is gone; with the exception of the bluesy snoozer “The Fear”, which not only has a harmonica but Phil Mogg singing in a lower register, attempting to sound like an old blues guy. 

"Guitarist Vinnie Moore is prominent throughout, his playing both melodic and bluesy."

No kidding? The lead guitarist of a hard rock band is prominent throughout? Who would have thought of such a crazy idea! But, again, as “bluesy” as his playing is, Seven Deadly is not nearly as bluesy as The Visitor, which doesn’t really matter, since the songs aren’t very good.

"On “Burn Your House Down” he lays down some breathtaking lead breaks reminiscent of his early virtuoso period."

Eh, he might, but it’s sort of ruined by the fact that these “breathtaking leads” are part of such a breathgiving song. Sad too, because “Burn Your House Down” and “Year of the Gun” are great song titles! Maybe one day, another band will put them to better use. 

"UFO are back on true form with an album that is essential listening!"

No, they’re not, and it’s not. And, I actually bought the CD! They sound like they’re making a contractual obligation before hitting up a tour, where they’ll at most play two songs from the new album live. Other than the first two songs, a few pretty guitar solos, and the surprising use of “chugga-chugga” distortion for a few seconds on the otherwise standard and mediocre blues metal “Mojo Town”, there’s nothing compelling about Seven Deadly. I guess “Angel Station” is okay if you’re into that misty-eyed, old-photograph, nostalgia crap.

The album cover makes so much sense now! It shows a skeleton, which is a symbol of death, dressed like a cowboy, a symbol of something that’s been long dead, entering a barren wasteland, another symbol of death, and the final song on the album is called “Waving Goodbye.” 

Oh, wait, scratch that; the skeleton is holding flowers. 

A Conspiracy of Stars (2015)

UFO isn’t down for the count quite yet! In fact, after having session bassists on both The Visitor and Seven Deadly, they decided to recruit Pete Way lookalike Rob De Luca, who played in a band called, ahem, Spread Eagle. Also, as a metal fan, I was excited to see that A Conspiracy of Stars was produced by the legendary Chris Tsangarides, who also produced the Judas Priest album Painkiller, among many others. 

So, do Rob De Luca and Chris Tsangarides inject new life into UFO, making A Conspiracy of Stars a long anticipated comeback and late period masterpiece? Nah. But it’s certainly better than both albums that came before it; and, like every Vinnie Moore-era UFO album, there are a handful of really standout songs, some generic 70s hard rock filler, and lotsa pretty guitar solos. 

And, I’m serious when I say that songs like “Sugar Cane” and “Messiah of Love” are only saved by the guitar solos. It also doesn’t help the song “Rollin’ Rollin’” that Limp Bizkit already have a song called “Rollin’”, where Fred Durst repeats the word “rollin’” over and over again with the about the same cadence that Phil Mogg uses on the UFO song. Even if UFO had never heard the Limp Bizkit song, it’s been ruined.

But why dwell on the negative? Like almost every UFO album, A Conspiracy of Stars leads off with its strongest cut, making a less involved listener, such as Christopher Franklin in his review of Seven Deadly, believe the album is far better than it actually is. That first song this time is “The Killing Kind”, and hooee, is it good! 

It’s everything you want out of a UFO song; the catchy riff, the driving 4/4 beat, a strong vocal melody, a beautiful guitar solo, and, in this case, bittersweet yet hopeful lyrics. What’s even crazier is that it was written by Rob De Luca and Phil Mogg. So in a way, De Luca DID inject new life into UFO. His other writing contribution “Only and Only” is also one of the better songs on the album. Maybe they should have just let De Luca write the whole thing. 

There are some other bright spots, such as the crushing second track, “Run Boy Run”, which sounds like a slower Motörhead song, and the darkly romantic rocker “The Real Deal.” Hell, “Ballad of the Left Hand Gun” isn’t bad, and that’s saying something, since I don’t think UFO are very good at blues rock. And, to top it all off, there are absolutely no ballads or “one that got away” type songs on the album! That’s right, unlike You Are Here, The Monkey Puzzle, The Visitor, and Seven Deadly, not a single song on A Conspiracy of Stars attempts to pull at your heart strings or make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. And, while there’s nothing exceptional about the song “Devil’s in the Details”, it does have the line, “come here my skanky toady”, so there’s that. 

As it were, there’s no conspiracy, and there are no stars. UFO wrote and recorded albums until they just didn’t, and that was it. And there’s only so much enjoyment a band can get from playing clubs year after year and decade after decade to a handful of hardcore fans and a bunch of old people who remember them as the “Too Hot to Handle” band. 

The Salentino Cuts (2017)

More than anything else, I was worried that The Salentino Cuts and Big Rocks by Krokus were the start of a trend, where, if a band releases a covers album, it’s a sign that they’ll soon announce their farewell tour. But Saxon, who recently released a covers album called Inspirations, is coming out with a new album early next year, and Yngwie Malmsteen, who recently released his covers album Blue Lightning already has a new studio album out and is coming to town next month. So the whole UFO and Krokus releasing covers albums and then going on farewell tours thing was just a coincidence.

With that said, UFO covers a bunch of way overplayed songs that you’ve heard a million times, along with a few more surprising choices. But do you REALLY need to hear new faithful versions of “Heartful of Soul”, “Break on Through (to the Other Side)”, “Rock Candy”, and “Mississippi Queen”? I love the Yardbirds, the Doors, Montrose, and Mountain as much as the next guy, but surely they have more songs than the ones that the radio plays every five minutes! In fact, I heard “Rock Candy” earlier today at the bar! And, while “The Pusher”, “Just Got Paid” and “It’s My Life” may not be the most popular songs by Steppenwolf, ZZ Top, and the Animals, they’re not total deep cuts either. 

On the other hand, it was quite surprising hearing UFO covering “River of Deceit” by Mad Season, “Paper in Fire” by John Mellencamp, “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, “Too Rolling Stoned” by Robin Trower, and “Honey-Bee” by Tom Petty. None of these songs are obscure by any means, but these artists were never part of my listening lexicon. So, if nothing else, like a lot of covers albums, a band I really love introduced me to music I never really knew about or had much interest in but now feel slightly more compelled to check out. That’s right, hombre; thanks to UFO, I’m gonna start listening to John Mellencamp and Tom Petty. How do you feel about that?

And UFO do a perfectly fine and professional version of a 90s soft rock song by a grunge supergroup, an 80s honky-tonk “heartland rock” (I hate that term) song, a 70s folk-soul number, a 70s funky blues rock jam, and a 90s “heartland rock” tune. But ultimately these covers have little personality outside of Phil Mogg’s deep, bluesy vocals. And that kinda sucks, since it means that UFO, the legendary band credited by numerous noteworthy musicians and hardcore fans for basically inventing 80s metal in the middle of the 70s, ended their lengthy career with a non-representative covers album that any ol’ bar band could make; not to mention releasing the damn thing on the cheapskate Cleopatra label, for whom the word “cuts” is more than appropriate. But it does leave me with one question:

Why didn’t they do another Eddie Cochran song?

Edwin Oslan
Revenge of Riff Raff
15th Novemeber, 2021

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