Thursday, 26 March 2015

UFO's 'A Conspiracy of Stars' - Album Review

UFO are true rock legends. From their formation in 1969, the band have never stopped, and have legions of dedicated fans around the world. The band found greatest success between 1973 and 1978, when German guitarist Michael Schenker was a member, and during this time they were pretty much unstoppable. Although later versions of the band never managed to recapture the success of those early albums, the band have always been going strong. As a band who have had many line-up changes over the years, UFO have a rich and diverse back catalogue that is only helped by having many different people appear on it throughout their career. The band still have two original members though: frontman Phil Mogg (who is the only member of UFO to appear on all of their studio albums), and drummer Andy Parker. Other long-term members include lead guitarist Vinnie Moore, who has been in the band for over ten years now, and rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond, who himself featured on many of those classic early albums. A Conspiracy of Stars, the band's twenty first studio album, also features bassist Rob De Luca who has finally been made an original member of UFO after touring with the band for a few years. Their last couple of albums have featured session bassists, so it is great to see the band back up to full strength, and De Luca gets down to business right away by writing two songs for the album. Style wise, A Conspiracy of Stars is not a big departure from the band's recent work. There are similarities to both 2009's The Visitor and 2012's Seven Deadly, with the band focusing heavily on bluesy riffs and great solos from Moore. I do not find modern UFO to be as catchy as classic UFO, and this is probably because that Mogg's voice is not what it was. Despite this however, he continues to put in good performances on record and live, and sings in a register that suits his current voice and the bluesy newer material. I have to say that I think A Conspiracy of Stars is the best of the three post-Pete Way albums (the band's original bassist who has not appeared on an album since 2006's The Monkey Puzzle). I just find the songs here much more memorable, and Moore's guitar work throughout is excellent. Raymond shines here too, with plenty of lush keyboard arrangements that really make the songs sound bigger and more interesting.

The album starts with The Killing Kind which, although written by new boy De Luca, is very typical of the modern UFO sound. The song is built around a tough riff from Moore, which sits on top of some really tight rhythms. The verses are a little plodding, but the chorus is much more interesting with plenty of organ to back up Mogg's melodic vocal lines. It is a good introduction to the album, but it is on the next song Run Boy Run that things really start to get going. I really love Moore's riff here, despite the fact it is so simple. Lots of people say that Mogg sounds a bit like Bruce Springsteen vocally these days, and I have to say that I see what they mean. He does seem to channel his inner Boss these days, and this song is no different. The song moves along at a solid mid-pace, and Moore's extra guitar leads that sit just behind the vocals throughout make the song a very interesting listen with headphones. His solo in this song is excellent. He is a very fluid player, and in all honesty is probably the best guitarist the band have ever had. While he will never be as classic as Schenker, I think his technique and ability is superior. Ballad of the Left Hand Gun starts with some real bluesy guitar, but it is not long before the song becomes another mid-paced rocker. Again, there is nothing complicated about this song, but the riffs and beats are still very enjoyable. The song's chorus is again rather strong too, with lots of nice backing vocals to boost Mogg's strong lead vocal performance. Sugar Cane is a truly great song, and probably my favourite song on the album. From the outset, Raymond's keyboards are very prominent which gives the song a very retro 1970s feel. The classic keyboard sounds used on this album are excellent and, although never really getting a chance to properly shine, really help the overall sound of the album. UFO have always been a guitar band, with keyboards providing colour, but I do with that sometimes they let Raymond take the lead a little. That being said, Moore is still fantastic on this song, with some really excellent soloing at multiple points throughout. It is Mogg that steals the show here though, with some really heartfelt vocals and lyrics. Everyone is on top form here, and it shows. Devil's in the Detail is another mid-paced rock track. Again, Raymond's keyboard work is quite prominent, which really compliments Moore's organic guitar sound. The two musicians work well together, using very basic sounds that just sound great. The song's catchy chorus is likely to gain this song a few fans.

Precious Cargo is another excellent song, and another favourite of mine. After a rather quiet opening, the song actually becomes a rather upbeat number with a driving bass line and lots of excellent keyboard work. It also has what is probably the best chorus on the album which sees Mogg and Moore competing for the spotlight. I also think that this song showcases what Raymond brings to the band. I feel his contributions are very underrated, and without his all-encompassing keyboards, this song would not have the same impact that it does. The Real Deal, actually written by Raymond, is another good track. He plays rhythm guitar on this track too, and this gives a bit of extra crunch to the song as allows Moore to let rip while Raymond lays down an AC/DC-type riff underneath. There is lots of great bluesy guitar work in this song, and Mogg really pushes his voice to the max here, and demonstrates he still has a decent amount of range. One and Only recalls the boogie of the band's early days with piano that cuts through the mix occasionally and provides a foundation to the song along with De Luca's bass. Moore plays on top of their tight grooves and adds colour where appropriate, as the two of them have the main part of the song locked down. That being said, he still rips into a great solo about two thirds of the way through the showcases his real talent. He comes from the school of 1980s shredders as seen on his solo work prior to joining UFO, and he brings a little of that to this song. Messiah of Love opens with a great Led Zeppelin-esque riff, and these similarities continue throughout most of the song's guitar work. Mogg is no Robert Plant however, and lays down his trademark rough vocals with finesse. It is not one of my favourite songs on the album, but I really like Moore's playing throughout. Plus, the bass-led section towards the end is really interesting with some tight grooves from De Luca, allowing Moore to really experiment over the top. The final song here is Rollin' Rollin'. This is another good, rocking song that builds slowly after a rather explosive, hard-riffing opening. The verses gradually add layer upon layer until the song sounds huge. It is quite a slow-burning song, but it really rocks in the end and gives all members a band a chance to show off one final time. Overall, A Conspiracy of Stars is another really solid release from the veteran rockers. UFO have nothing left to prove, so it great that they still release new albums fairly regularly. This album is sure to please their fans, and anyone who likes good classic rock.

The album was released on 23rd February 2015 via Steamhammer/SPV GmbH. Below is the band's official teaser trailer released to promote the album, the music featured throughout is  the song The Killing Kind.

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