I fancied a slice of ’77 rock this afternoon and so I grabbed an album that I like, but rarely seem to play, UFO Lights Out. Wow, this way better than I remembered it was, I love it when that happens because it so often doesn’t. Tell you what, this is precisely the type of album that not only defines but justifies the existence of (horrid term alert!) ‘classic rock’, God bless Pete Way’s striped spandex pants!
In fact it wasn’t until I was playing air guitar along with Michael Schenker towards the end of ‘Too Hot To Handle’ that I realised why I don’t get this one out more often, its the cover. I know, I know it’s by the revered Hipgnosis and whilst I’m as big a sucker for power stations as anyone, all those painted pipes, thrusting gauges and handles, it’s the, umm, human furniture that bothers me.
I’m really not sure why the cover wants to put you at crotch level with Phil Mogg in his handily opened overalls, but it does – Richard Manning even notes on his excellent website that he ‘was also asked to enhance the member of the Band member!’, although he coyly refrains from telling us whether he did extend the mini-Mogg at all. Personally, had I been UFO’s singer I’d have asked him to crop out my crab ladder. Added to that there is the somewhat androgynous young figure of Michael Schenker shrugging out of his own overalls in the background, combining the slight grace of a classical nude with the self-assurance of a figure by Manet, the light glistening off his shoulders, his mane of feathery hair falling across the sensitive nape of his neck … Arggh! Stop it! Stop it!
Okay so my own sexual confusion aside, my other petty gripe with the LP cover is the decision to print the words in red, making them almost impossible to read. THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF THE WRITTEN WORD!!!
There’s some music in here too, apparently. Some damn good, verging on brilliant, music. Everyone likes a bit of hard rockin’, hard drinkin’, hard screwin’ braggadocio and opener ‘Too Hot To Handle’ ladles it out by the gallon. What a great band UFO were at this point, with the exception of Schenker, none were virtuoso players but everything here is played bright, tight and right; the point being that UFO ended up being far more than the sum of their parts*, which to my mind is the whole point of a band – give me that over any supergroup, any day. I also love Mogg’s voice, it strikes just the right, manly notes – not too polished, not pretty. Mind you I find his lyrics on this one a bit of a mystery, what could he possibly mean?
Sha la la la, roll you over
Turn you around and do it again
Sha la la la, keep on coming
Do it once but never the same
If I have one slight musical gripe with Lights Out it is with Ron Nevison’s production, although it is clarity personified, it occasionally doesn’t hit as heavily as it could do. Take ‘Just Another Suicide’, which is my joint least favourite track, to my ears it has too big a flavouring of late period Who about it**, but even so the track doesn’t cut and resonate quite the way it should, although I never skip it because of the excellent Dave Gilmour-esque guitar solo that lights up the whole track. I really like the big ballad ‘Try Me’ it’s a lush, grandiose thing featuring a full string arrangement and some great playing by keyboard dude Paul Raymond and if the computer scientists who program Rod Stewart these days had any taste this is precisely the sort of thing he should be singing.
Your rock receptors would have to have atrophied and fallen off for you not to bob your head up and down to the thrust of ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Electric Phase’, what I particularly dig here is the fact that they’re not quite as straight ahead as they seem, the former is driven almost entirely by bass and keys at first and the latter by some arty guitar FX. These are proper foot-on-the-monitors tunes to give it absolutely loads to. But just when you’re thinking that Lights Out is a very good album, it goes and gets real classic on our collective asses.
Where to start with ‘Love To Love’? well not with the lyrics that’s for sure. If you read them out of their context there’s almost nothing there, but couple them with some awesomely emotive and thrusting playing then they suddenly make perfect sense. The string sections work within the song, emphasising certain passages but never overwhelming the song as a whole, or Mogg’s voice in particular and, yet again, the keyboards are excellent. There’s a real shot of Queen about this track and I don’t mean just in the opening gong either^, it’s in the sweep and drama of the piece as a whole, but Freddie and the boys never had the barroom edge that UFO could bring to the party, which properly envenoms the heavier passages here. I swear you can hear a disturbance in the air before the guitar solo kicks in, it is simply that massive; spiralling upwards and outwards he tears at the strings like a man fighting for his life, then wallop! 40 seconds later it’s done. Perfect.
Being an 80’s rocker I had always thought of Michael Schenker as a wildly gurning, widdly-widdly merchant and purveyor of the fairly obvious, Lights Out shows me he wasn’t always thus and I’ve had to re-evaluate. I was absolutely knocked out by the tone and delivery of his guitaring here and I am always impressed by any hotshot guitarist who doesn’t play too many notes, knowing how to leave some space in the songs.
So classic rock it is then, loud and clear. Lights Out is pretty much a perfectly judged amalgam of light and shade, rough and smooth with some added stripey spandex and a cover I find confusingly homoerotic^*. Super.
PS – I have completely ignored their cover of ‘Alone Again Or’, it’s not awful, or offensive, just totally pointless.
*reader can insert their own joke about the size of Phil Mogg’s part here.
**I don’t like them. Sorry, I know you probably do.
^which is a dead ringer for ‘Teo Torriatte’.
^*Look, it’s Monday night, this is no time to be challenging my core beliefs and sense of sexual self. That’s what I set Thursday nights aside for. True story.