Saturday, 21 March 2015

Scorpions' 'Return to Forever' - Album Review

The Scorpions are celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year! That is right, the band were formed in 1965, and since then have become one of the premier heavy metal bands in the world, and helped to shine a light on music that was not from either the United Kingdom or the United States of America - which paved the way for the 'German Invasion', which saw bands like Accept and Warlock find success. The Scorpions have always been a bit of an enigma however. Their first album, Lonesome Crow, was not released until 1972; and the band did not find huge success until their sixth album, 1979's Lovedrive. It was on this album that the classic Scorpions sound and line-up that we know and love was fully realised. The band had found moderate success before this, helped by guitarist Uli Jon Roth, but it was not until Matthias Jabs joined in 1978 that the real success came. The band, now consisting of the ever-present duo frontman Klaus Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker, plus bassist Francis Buchholz, drummer Herman Rarebell, and Jabs, took the metal world by storm and had a run of successful albums, singles and world tours. The band have never really slowed down and, despite some line-up changes, continue to record great metal albums in their own style. The band's current line-up has been around for over ten years now, as Polish bassist Paweł Mąciwoda joined the band in 2004. Rounding out the current line-up is American drummer James Kottak (back after his 'incident' last year..) who has been in the band for nearly twenty years! Fast forward to February 2015 and we are all listening to Return to Forever, the band's eighteenth studio album. Five years ago, the band released Sting in the Tail, which was hinted to be their last album and the band embarked on a huge tour that was muted as their farewell tour. Obviously the band has had a change of hear, hence the release of Return to Forever and the announcement of more shows. I for one am glad of this, as Return to Forever is another excellent addition to the band's catalogue, and is as good as the albums from their classic heyday. If Sting in the Tail and Return to Forever turn out to be the band's last albums, then they will really be going out with a bang. While some of their late 1990s/early 2000s releases lacked a certain spark to make them modern classics, these two albums have that spark in spades. This albums shows that traditional German heavy metal is alive and well, which is how it should be!

After a bluesy guitar intro, Going Out with a Bang gets the album going in true Scorpions fashion. They have never been the heaviest band, but their songs always have a great rock groove soaring melodies, and all those things are prevalent here.  Jabs and Schenker are still a formidable guitar duo, mixing crunching riffs and fluid leads well, and Meine can still write an infectious chorus, and this song's is simple but effective, which pits his voice against a wall of big power chords. We Built this House is the album's lead single, and it is one of the most immediately melodic songs on the album. The anthemic intro has some excellent trademark Jabs guitar leads, before things are taken down a touch for a gentle verse, with plenty of melody. The chorus picks things up again, with a slightly heavier section, before the big intro riff returns for one of the most epic moments on the album. This is the sort of song the band have been writing for years, and the trademark hooks are there for all to see. Rock my Car is a real stadium piece. Despite some rather awful lyrics (The Scorpions have always had a knack for dodgy lyrics..), the song really rocks and cranks things up into another gear. The chorus is sure to get the blood pumping, and is complete with a riff that is the sort Schenker has been churning out for years. It is a short song, but it rocks hard and encapsulates all that the band are about. House of Cards is the album's first ballad. The Scorpions have always written excellent ballads, and this is another to add to the list. Meine's voice is perfectly suited to singing them, and his German accent really aids their sound I think. It is a very gentle song, built around some basic clean guitar patterns, and Meine's vocal melody. I really like the way that lead guitar lines are used throughout the chorus to bulk up the sound. They are quite buried in the mix, but their presence is felt, and they really help the overall effect of the chorus. All for One sees the return of the rock, and it is a rather AC/DC-like rocker with a chunky riff, and a gang-vocal led chorus. It is a short song, but it helps to get the energy back after the ballad. There is a really nice bluesy solo in this song too. Rock 'n' Roll Band is another fast rocker like Rock my Car. Meine leads this song with some powerful vocal melodies, but the riffing throughout is also excellent. The Scorpions have never been about complicated songwriting, or progressive riffing - their songs are all simple and let the energy do the talking. This is a fine example of this style, and it works well.

Catch Your Luck and Play has one of the album's best chorus. The opening riff is also really nice, which sees a tight lead mixing well with a wall of power chords to great effect. The verses in between are rather unremarkable though, which makes this an odd song. I really like the chorus though, and Meine's vocal melodies are really infectious. Rollin' Home is another slower song that is packed full of excellent melodies. I would not call the song a ballad, but it is definitely gentler than your average Scorpions rocker. The big vocals in the chorus has a great feel to it, and the bluesy guitar patterns are nice. I really like the part towards the end where it explodes into a duel guitar solo before a final go around of the chorus, with plenty of catchy vocal moments. Hard Rockin' the Place is a rather generic rock song, but it is still enjoyable. The verses have a great groove with some prominent bass lines, and the chorus is powerful, despite the fact it seems to take an age to get to it. It has one of the better solos on the album too, that sees plenty of speedy licks being used. Eye of the Storm is another ballad, and it is a great one. It is acoustic-led, and makes use of subtle keyboards to create a great atmosphere. The chorus is a true lighters-in-the-air moment, as it has a natural swing and some lovely vocals from Meine. As I said earlier, the band have always written excellent ballads, and this is right up there with some of their best ever. I would be very surprised if this song was not played by the band on their upcoming tour, as it is too good not to hear live. The Scratch is another rocker, but it seems to wash over me without really leaving much of an impact. It is strange, because the song's chorus should probably be more memorable than it is, but for whatever reason it just does not seem to stick in my head. It is not a bad song by any means, it is just less memorable and interesting than others here. Gypsy Life is the album's last song and it is one of the album's best songs. It is another ballad, but it really hits all the spots melodically and emotionally. The short breaks of lead guitar help to enhance the mood, and Meine's vocals are perfect for the song. I really love the song's acoustic guitar solo too, and the moment that it morphs into an electric guitar is perfect. This song ensures that the album ends on a high, and that chorus will be swimming around your head for ages after it finishes. Overall, Return to Forever is a great album. I am not sure that it betters 2010's excellent Sting in the Tail, but it is still a worthy entry into their discography. Not bad for a band that are 50 years old!

The album was released on 23rd February 2015 via Sony Music. Below is the band's promotional video for We Built this House.

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