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Main Category: Art Rock
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Prog Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Uriah Heep fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Uriah Heep fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1970

A weak two star rating is an absolute maximum that this self-parodic pile of derivative garbage merits, believe me; if not for the fact that a small bunch of these songs are damn catchy, I would have gladly given it but one. Apparently, Uriah Heep wanted very much to be cool from the very beginning, and in desperate search of success they ripped off every popular style of 1970, including riff-heavy metal ('Gypsy'), Southern blues ('Lucy's Blues'), the most pathetic aspects of Bee Gees-style balladeering ('Come Away Melinda'), embryonic progressive rock ('Dreammare', 'Wake Up'), and retro boogie ('Real Turned On'). Amazingly, they blew it on all counts - I wasn't expecting all that much from their debut record, but I sure was expecting more than I got.

True, the band does know how to play their instruments, and organist Ken Hensley is a pretty nifty player; check out his playing on 'Lucy's Blues' and it will at least be obvious that he did practice these cute little rolls a lot. Likewise, guitarist Mick Box is quite speedy and dangerous-sounding in the good old early Seventies' vein. Plus, the band sure does throw in a catchy little riff now and then, like the famous five-chord mastodont on 'Gypsy'; at least it's not just power chords galore. And Dave Byron is not as obnoxious with his singing as he is on later records, not yet. Funny how metal/hard-rock singers always start out kinda shy and then tend to, ahem, 'pick up steam' later on. Remember Robbie Plant!

But anyway, all these things are just... just... huh. The lyrics blow big time - they could have been written by a three-year old, some of the worst offenders being 'Dreammare' (school-level mysticism with every possible cliche squeezed out - nowadays even computer programs can write better poetry), and, of course, 'Come Away Melinda', with its totally insincere anti-war pathos, overblown to a completely ridiculous state. The melodies are more trivial than on an average Chuck Berry record, but they certainly don't have even an ounce of old Berry's energy and vitality. Even the best thing about the album - the unabashed heaviness of 'Gypsy' - soon turns to obnoxious as the same leaden five-note riff keeps lumping you on the head again and again while Ken Hensley pulls off his best Jon Lord imitation, which is even then pretty second-hand. In other words, you start out liking the song and end up cursing it with every possible curse.

Likewise, 'Lucy's Blues', apart from the tolerable organ break, demonstrates that the band should stay away from hardcore blues - as far as possible, because they hardly understand what that genre is all about. Operatic singing a la Byron hardly connects with the blues. And, while the remaining few rockers ('Walking In Your Shadow', 'Real Turned On') are slightly better, there's still no reason to prefer them to those Deep Purple and Black Sabbath records that came out the same year. Just okayish hard rockers that are all pro forma. You could swear these guys just wanted to demonstrate enough gall in order to screw enough chicks - I don't really feel any true love for true music in any of these songs. Not to mention understanding: this is "glam-hard" of a very low intellectual and taste level, with the traditional "progressive rock lyrics" stylistics profanated, no doubt, in order for the common beer-drinkin' crowd to be able to identify itself with these guys rather than with "snubs" like Peter Gabriel. Sheez. 'Come Away Melinda', really; that song still makes me blush and wanna run to the bathroom and stay there... for long... for a long time.

True, with the release of this record Uriah Heep can safely proclaim themselves to be pioneers of the metal movement - along with the two above-mentioned bands. But this is not real metal, this is a lame parody - unfortunately, it spawned way too many imitators to be called an 'insignificant' album in rock history, because ninety percent of modern metal bands successfully follow the "profanation" pattern set about by these guys, denominating the real artistic value of music and sacrificing good taste in order to "reach" the "common man".



Year Of Release: 1971

A step forward, but not a major one. They just got a wee bit better in every respect: the melodies are a bit more complicated, the lyrics are a bit less stupid, and it's obvious they are trying to find a style at last, while on Very 'Eavy they were just busy trying to rip off everybody in the business. For instance, they almost dropped the lame rockabilly imitations and completely resigned from trying their hand at generic blues; instead, they're picking it up on the rock-classical synthesis and also heavily drawing on medieval influences. That doesn't mean that the band has lost its grittier edge: loud grumbling riffs abound, and they're usually somewhat more elaborate than the primitive pounding of 'Gypsy'.

In fact, I'm almost ashamed to admit that I like 'Bird Of Prey' that opens this record, even if it is the number on which the Rolling Stone Album Guide is mostly basing its Uriah Heep critique, in general quite a deserved one (it's not that often that I say the RSAG critiques someone deservedly, but this time I couldn't agree more with their general opinion of the band). The operatic 'ooh-aahs' in the intro sound so goofy it's almost fun, and all the time Byron croons out his primitive mystery lyrics I don't know if I should laugh or take him seriously. I make a compromise: I laugh when he sings, and I'm pretty serious when it comes to Box's blazing guitar work on this song. That way I'm happy. Likewise, 'Time To Love' is also a pretty good rocker, especially the wah-wah solos, because the two-note riff is even dumber than the five-note riff of 'Gypsy'. Surprisingly enough, it comes off pretty well, and more or less the same goes for the fast rocker 'High Priestess'. Still, 'Bird Of Prey' is the best one of the three because it's at least highly distinctive in its own way, whether you like it or not; the other two are pretty conventional hard-rock blunders, nice to listen to but nothing more than okayish - any other hard rock band at the time did that stuff in spades.

Much more important is the fact that the band manages to bring out a folksy medieval ballad that drags along for nearly five minutes and make it listenable ('Lady In Black'). It plods along rather monotonously, but in a catchy and upbeat way, and the vocal melody manages to be quite memorable, too. In fact, in the hands of somebody like Fairport Convention it might have been a great number - here, it's a little way too "artificially beautiful" so that they don't bother to diversify the melody throughout all of its five minutes, and the song suffers because of that. But suffer or not, it's a good one; however, nothing can save the atrocious 'The Park'. YUCK! It's basically 'Come Away Melinda' Part Two: more primitive, cliched anti-war pathos (the hero is contemplating the beauty of the park but feels sad because of memories of his brother who used to dream in that same location before his death in the war), and while the arrangement is a little bit more elaborate, with a nice harpsichord ringing along, Byron's falsetto is a complete disgrace. People don't sing about the war with such overblown intonations, unless they want to seem like cheap fucks, of course. Pardon my roughness, but let us name things with their right names.

The biggest snorefest, however, is Heep's first stab at an epic - the sixteen-minute long title track, elaborately arranged and accompanied by a 26-piece orchestra with strong emphasis on brass and woodwinds. Obviously, the band takes its inspiration from previous similar experiences, mainly from the Nice and Deep Purple, but they frankly don't achieve anything particularly impressive, because all the brass pomp sounds painfully generic. Sometimes I even feel like sitting in a circus instead of a concert lodge. The track has virtually no reason to exist, as it presents me with nothing that I didn't know already: the parts where the orchestra is subdued sound quite like the Nice, and when it's not, it sounds exactly like Deep Purple. No real emotional impulse, either - it just leaves me cold. Sure, Box and Hensley put in some cool solos, but whoever would want to listen to these instead of earlier, and better, analogs from Blackmore and Emerson? Nobody. So I just shrug my shoulders and give this two and a half stars - the only major embarrassment is 'The Park', so it's at least an improvement. But these guys sure had bad taste.



Year Of Release: 1971

The band at their absolute peak, no more and no less. At this point, Uriah Heep were in a transitional state - moving away from the derivative lumpy metal of the previous albums and getting closer and closer to their unabashed dungeons & dragons adventures. However, Look At Yourself captures them in a state when they were not yet too deep into the thematics; on the other hand, their melodies had already gotten rather complex, but not yet gone off the deep end. In other words, this is a rather well-balanced record, and there ain't even a single deeply offensive track on the whole of it. Okay, one - we'll get around to it eventually. Heck, not even a single pathetic anti-war ballad! Isn't that enough to start cheering? Even the album cover was gimmicky, but interesting, with a transparent mirror effect so that whoever bought it would proceed to do exactly what the title said. A far cry from the disgusting skull of Very 'Eavy.

The rockers are mostly decent: the title track bounces along with enough energy and competence, and Byron never once spoils it with any goofy operatic effects, like he did with 'Bird Of Prey', so it might even be taken seriously. 'I Wanna Be Free', however, is more of a simplistic folksey tune disguised as heavy metal... very poorly disguised, too, as it is based on the riff of 'Gypsy' (sic!). But it's fun. And 'Tears In My Eyes' has some excellent slide playing, 'nuff said.

However, this time around I'm mostly surprised at how good the two overlong epics are. Fortunately, the band had given up on "orchestrated masterpieces" like 'Salisbury' and went back to the tried and true; in doing so, they produced a minor Heep masterpiece in 'July Morning'. It's a multipart experience, going from a rocking intro to a soft/power ballad and then back to "rock". Everything's good: the main melody is attractive and even emotional in places, and the only thing that spoils it are Byron's corny 'La! LA! LAAAA!' screams after a particular chorus - they do suck, though, because they kinda bring me down to earth and remind me that these guys are still a joke when I've almost managed to get rid of the feeling. Fortunately, then the corniness goes away and we're left with a cool instrumental coda. The guys must have been listening a lot to Yes' 'Starship Trooper', because it builds on the same principle: a lengthy repetitive instrumental based around a guitar riff with a climactic build-up throughout. But the main star here is the keyboardist - Ken Hensley: arming himself with his battery of synths and organs, he manages to create a flashy, impressive sonic paysage never to be repeated again. So cool and atmospheric.

'Shadows Of Grief', the second 'epic' piece on here, certainly can't hope to overshadow 'July Morning', but it's still effective, mainly because of yet another awesome riff and a tremendous lot of unfaked energy in the breaks. Byron restricts himself to limited screaming, and the song's multipart nature accounts for it never becoming particularly boring.

With all these epics and all these suddenly successful rockers, it's no wonder the band only gets to recording one lone ballad for the record - 'What Should Be Done', which, not surprisingly, sounds not unlike Led Zeppelin's 'What Is And What Should Never Be', which means that it's actually a good song. Pretty and never grating, and the lyrics, well they're preachy, but it's no 'Come Away Melinda' for sure. Yyyyyyyuck...

Yuck indeed. Maybe I could have even gone ahead and given this four stars, but for some reason the gods of Olympus wouldn't want me do that, and so they sent Hypnos to substitute the guys' brains for sawdust at the very last minute and make them end the album with the stupid cock rock anthem 'Love Machine'. Blazing power chords, goatey vocals from Mr Byron, and little lyrical gems like 'You're a love machine/And I'm trying to be your gun' - what else is needed for a great cock rock masterpiece? Three and a half stars, sure as hell, and that's being generous. Anyway, if you want to try out something by Heep, Look At Yourself is your best bet - it only requires, say, a couple airbags, while any other record calls for at least a couple dozen.



Year Of Release: 1972

Back to square again. The title refers to the opening tracks off both sides ('The Wizard' and 'Rainbow Demon', respectively), but it could have been easily understood as a substitute for "Dungeons & Dragons" - this is where Uriah Heep plunge head forwards into the world of cheap pocketbook fantasy, piling one lyrical cliche onto another lyrical banality until I give the solemn oath to never consult a Uriah Heep song for lyrics under threat of self-blinding. Typical example: "I will cast the spell/ Be sure I'll cast it well/I will light a fire/Kindled with desire/I'll fill you with fear/So you know I'm here/And I won't be treated like a fool" ('The Spell'). It rarely gets any better, but it sure does get worse when they actually do begin singing about rainbow demons and closet wizards. Granted, they would cheese up their fantasy factory even harder on the next album, but so far, it's about as cheesy as it gets.

Anyway, Demons & Wizards, along with the next album (they're supposed to form a diptich or something), is usually regarded by fans as the band's best and defining moment. However, rating a record from a Uriah Heep fan position is one thing, and rating a Uriah Heep record from a rock music fan position is quite another. There is not a single musical advance since the last album (and there wouldn't be any more at all, so take your time, reader), and the musicianship and particularly melody-writing seem to have seriously regressed since the last album in favour of more pretention and, well, you know what. In fact, up till then Demons & Wizards seem to have been the band's most primitively sounding record: grand overblown chorals, highly distorted guitar and speed don't necessarily add up to some interesting music. At least on previous records the band was exploring, trying to find a style, etc.; here, they just dabble along, pretty sure that they have already found a formula and there's no need to step away from it. The problem is, that formula sucks.

'Easy Living' is probably the best thing on the album, a rather catchy rocker that manages to hide the abysmal poorness of its two-chord melody behind a fat organ tone, speed and pathetic vocals. In short, it is this album's 'Gypsy': dumb, superficial, but somewhat memorable and, on rare occasions, even impressive. But the other rockers don't even have these factors to speak up for them. How should I treat 'Poet's Justice', for instance, when the most distinctive thing about it is the twenty-second vocal harmonies intro, with the charming little 'ah' topping it all (and that 'ah' would still be mercilessly butchered by just about any critic alive). Or the stupid, pseudo-cock-rocking 'All My Life'. Or the lumpy, metallic punch of 'Circle Of Hands'. Blah. All of them can be somewhat catchy, but they're standard beyond hope. It all reaches a culmination on 'Rainbow Demon' (what a stupid title), where the usual primitive formula is further aggravated by pomp beyond hope and silly overblown schoolboy misticism.

The ballads are slightly better, although they're not any less primitive, just the same ordinary acoustic strumming. But at least they don't pretend to be more than they actually are, just pleasant folkish ditties - in fact, I'm ashamed to admit I'm rather fond of 'The Wizard' that opens the album. (Although the lyrics are stupid beyond measure: 'He told me tales/And he drank my wine/Me and my magic man/Kinda feeling fine'!!!!!!!!! Is this supposed to be a tale of homosexual relations?) And that 'Paradise' ditty that opens the final medley is groovy as well. But oh boy, does 'The Spell' suck. It is all a collections of big "Pretending To Be"s: they pretend to rock, then they pretend to do an emotional slower part, then they pretend to do a minimalistic 'guitar climax' (in the same style as Steve Hackett's solo on 'Firth Of Fifth', but with far fewer expertise and far more stupid effect), and then they pretend to rock again. Also, see the lyrical example above for some good clean fun.

Okay, enough making fun of the poor lads. No wonder they're so popular among that section of the working class that can't go any further than 'rainbow demon, pick up your heart and run'. At least I gotta handle it to Mr Byron: he is rather restrained on this album, only choosing to reproduce his ah-ah and oh-oh at selected times. And 'The Wizard', 'Easy Living' plus selected bits and pieces do barely earn this album its two stars.



Year Of Release: 1972

Amazingly, the first three quarters of this album aren't all that bad - just boring, as usual, with melodies that don't deviate much from the Heep formula but aren't always entirely pedestrian. A good example is 'Sunrise', the bombastic 'power ballad' that opens the album: it isn't exactly the best song ever written, but its harmonized chorus flows very well into the fat riff of the verses, and the main vocal hook (when Byron chants 'the sunri-i-i-se in you' after a short pause) is perfectly acceptable. Not to mention that such songs are able to find a perfect balance between their overblown operatic style and the usual pop harmony stuff: Byron doesn't sound obnoxious on that one at all.

From then on, it's just one ballad after another rocker, all moderately decent, but none particularly exciting - which is about as high as 'classic Heep' usually gets. Out of the rockers, 'Spider Woman' has a good, if generic, beat, and some nice slide guitar which Mick Box was particularly fond of at the time, and he was rather good at it, too. And 'Echoes In The Dark' has some interesting production and arrangement ideas about it; it actually reminds me of 'July Morning', where you could actually feel the cheese but couldn't get rid of the feeling that this stuff actually worked despite all the critique. Here, too, I can't help but dig the plaintive guitar intonations: yeah, I know it's just home-brewed cheap mysticism at the essence, but it's done relatively well, with enough inventiveness to guarantee a certain guilty listening pleasure. 'Blind Eye', with its trivial acoustic arrangement, never goes anywhere and is entirely forgettable, but it's redeemed by the catchy 'Sweet Lorraine': Heep were always at their best when they were ripping off upbeat folkish chants, not having to bother that much about an original melody. The groovy "synth whistles" and Box's wah-wah riffage are a nice touch as well.

The ballads, on the other hand, escape me completely. Apparently, by this time the band had already found and solidified its core audience, and the members thought they could do no wrong as long as they were setting a steady slow 4/4 beat, added high-pitched vocals and 'high-sounding' group harmonies and a touch of 'lyricism' ('Tales' - what a perfect illustration to the formula). The notion of "vocal hook", or at least "obligatory vocal hook", as some can still be found on occasion, had already disappeared from the band's vocabulary by the time. 'Rain' doesn't even have a beat - just some primitive keyboards and an "atmosphere" which they apparently thought was enough. Blah.

Still, both of these ballads are light years ahead the disgusting horror of the title track. 'The Magician's Birthday' is Heep's artistic nadir and should probably be studied in rock textbooks as the Ultimate example of "Progressive Rock As Misinterpreted By A Bunch Of Dumbheads". The musical, lyrical, and conceptual wretchedness of the song is truly unmatched - it really took a lot of gall to pen something like that. Mick Box's gruff riff that opens the song is the only half-bright moment here. After that we get carried through a picture of the band (or the lyrics' protagonists) going to a party to celebrate a magician's birthday (illustrated by dorky chantings of 'happy birthday to you' accompanied by a kazoo), then we get to know that something evil happened at the party after which Mick Box steps in with an unterminable heavy metal solo, prime dentist office trash at that. When you're already going to poop, the solo finally fades away and the band starts singing as if from the point of view of the evil spirit who had disturbed the party, threatening to beat the stuffing out of everybody, but all of a sudden the spirit goes away, defeated by love. Don't ask me what this all means - I suppose it means nothing more and nothing less than I have just described. Musically, this is about as inane as it gets: the solo is technically solid, but generic to the extreme, and the closing part of the suite has about one or two chords at max. I was completely shocked when I heard this. THIS is supposed to be Uriah Heep's 'masterpiece'? Give me 'Surfin' Safari' over this hogwash any time of day; the song was at least a wee bit more complex, not to mention catchier.

The problem is that the title track is usually included on all of Heep's compilations. So do me a favour and if you're actually going to burn money on these guys, find a compilation that doesn't include this misery.



Year Of Release: 1973

Hoi hoi hoi! We're live, and we ROCK!!!! Uh... could you repeat that one more time please?

This album blows, but it's not like you couldn't guess. See, let me explain. This was 1973, and prog and hard rock bands were releasing live albums to their left and to their right, so naturally, the Heepsters thought, hey, we're hardly worse than anybody else, and threw out this - naturally double - live LP to make the average rock lover shake in his steed and the average prog rocker shrink away in stupefaction. They really shouldn't have done that.

Now one important thing is, this isn't really a bad album. For one thing, the track listing, even with all the four sides, is pretty acceptable. As if they really wanted to please even their worst enemies, the Heepsters don't perform even a single of their worst, most atrociously cheesy songs on here - no 'Come Away Melinda' or 'The Park' or 'The Spell'. I cringed when I saw 'The Magician's Birthday' in the tracklist, but upon close inspection it turned out to be just a short snippet (not the best snippet, of course - it's that part when the band chants 'happy birthday, dear magician, happy birthday to you'), and didn't last long enough to earn the needed portion of disgust. On the positive side, there's 'Look At Yourself', 'Easy Living', 'Gypsy', 'July Morning', and a bunch of other, shorter, tunes, mostly rockers, that avoid the worst Heep cliches. Plus, they actually finish the album with an eight minute rock'n'roll medley of old classics, in an obvious attempt to show the public how much they care about the good old concept of rock'n'roll fun - how cooler does it get?

But eventually, it gets pretty cold. This is all positive news, but I got some negative points for you, too. See, a live album, even if it all consists of good material, has to satisfy at least a few additional criteria to justify its existence. For one thing, the songs have to be played well, with enough precision and energy. They should also probably be a bit different from the studio recordings, in an engaging and interesting way. And what do we have here? The band really slumps through its material as if each and every instrument were wrapped in thin silver foil underneath their fingers. Byron's vocals don't approach even the average level of perfection he had approached in the study - often shaking, quivering, unassured, just plain weak. You could argue it's actually a plus - the live performance doesn't let him collapse with all his operatic overblownness over the listener's sensitive soul. You could even be right. But NO amount of justification can save Ken Hensley or Mick Box. These dudes just plain suck. Ken's keyboard playing is so painfully obviously derivative of Jon Lord's on this album you'd swear he was a robot with a few brain cells from Jon implanted under the metallic skull. And as for Mr Box, for the most part he's simply busy getting a 'cool' fuzzy tone out of his talk-box, even if I do admit that he manages to hold up the main riff of 'July Morning' pretty well for all of its duration.

The rock'n'roll medley is a particular disgrace - eight minutes of stupid, tepid, I couldn't even call it 'academic' approach to basic teard-down-the-wall rock'n'roll, because these guys aren't even worthy of earning the 'academic' title. At least when ELO used to perform 'Roll Over Beethoven', it had some kind of novelty value what with all the strings and stuff, not to mention that Jeff Lynne really knows what it is to rock and can at least bring the necessary raunchiness in his vocals; this here version looks like the Taliban would have appreciated it. And when it just goes on and on with 'Blue Suede Shoes' and stuff thrown in for good measure, it just starts looking like a pallid and completely unfunny parody on Ten Years After' 'I'm Going Home'. Geez!

The already mentioned 'July Morning' is also a disappointment - the studio keyboard solo (apparently played by Manfred Mann, not Ken Hensley!) was at least ten times as inventive as these feeble Lord-parodies Ken squeezes out of his organ. But perhaps the worst blow is the unterminable, tedious, noodly fourteen-minute version of 'Gypsy', the only good thing about which seems to be Mick's guitar tone and style (apparently, playing that dumb riff without pausing between notes doesn't come across as total primitivism) - the actual solos are amateurish and absolutely devoid of imagination.

As for the other songs, well... they're all right. There's not a single track out of the shorter ones which adds anything to the studio originals, and just about in every single case, I'd definitely prefer the polished studio versions. And considering that the album goes on for way too long and thoroughly lets me down on every track that goes over six minutes, I dare suppose that even the current rating is pretty generous. So congratulations boys! Not only do you suck as a studio band, you have now fully convinced me that you suck in every respect. Oh, sorry, forgot to add... In My Humble Opinion.



Year Of Release: 1973

This album contains what I consider to be Heep's best ever opening moment of glory - 'Dreamer' is an excellent and highly unusual rocker, only marred in a couple spots by the usual Byron falsetto exclamations. But I love that simple, yet so enthralling guitar clash overdubbing in the opening and in the solo breaks, and the song's frantic pace, interesting vocal melody and catchy chorus all combine to make this a highlight not only for the album, but for the entire career of Heep. Here's a rocker on which the band obviously sound light-handed and never too strained; fast, short, and smooth, without any lyrical embarrassments either.

Amazingly, the album manages to keep a relatively subtle, low profile - it acts as one perfect antidote for the stale mysticism of the band's "classic dilogy", and is generally far easier to enjoy. No wonder that it also contains the band's only song that the Rolling Stone magazine finds acceptable: "Stealin'" is a good loungey stomper (see the Stones' 'Casino Boogie' for a similar approach) in which Byron impersonates a renegade that stole the virginity of a rancher's daughter when he should have, in fact, bought it. Does anybody else notice the ambiguity of the chorus? In any case, I don't quite see what makes this song special, what makes it better than any other good Heep song... 'Dreamer', for instance. But it's a good piece of boogie.

The rest of the album never quite lives up to the two openers, but at least it's somewhat consistent. Two ballads, two acceptable epics, and one more rocker, none of which makes me want to cringe (which is, of course, the main criterion to judge Heep upon). The ballads are weak, of course: 'One Day' is actually a power ballad, and a pretty standard one at that - the only thing that sticks out is the falsetto chorus chanting 'one day, one day', which is dumb. And 'Circus' is not at all memorable, but it sure is pretty: I, for one, don't have anything against Heep when they're doing their acoustic guitar schtick as long as it's not accompanied by too much overemotive vocalizing.

The epics are an acquired taste - but not among the tritest things the band has ever written. The title track tries to achieve a pompous, overblown effect without resorting to cheap gimmickry; just the usual fat organ background and some nice echoey guitars and dextrous bass passages in the chorus. Is it personal? It's essentially just a usual 'I'll set you free girl but if you want you can always come back' type of love song, neatly disguised as a progressive epic, but it's not bad at all. And 'If I Had The Time' might be taken as a lyrical followup - 'I'm happy here and here I'll stay'... even if my gal she don' love me no more. The synths are moody on that one. Almost sounds like Gabriel-less Genesis.

Also, is it just me or are they mocking themselves on 'Seven Stars'? It rocks along in a pedestrian way (like an intentional, yet inferior follow-up to 'Easy Living'), but the best moment is at the end when Byron suddenly changes the standard lyrics of the chorus to a declamation of the alphabet. This might be a curious, and very rare for Heep, case of self-deflating initiative. Unless, of course, you take the obnoxious chanting of 'happy birthday' in 'The Magician's Birthday' as self-deflating (but it sounded more like self-popping instead).

Of course, no Heep album passes along without its usual share of horrors - this time, it's the seven-minute long epic 'Pilgrim' that closes the album and epitomizes all of the band's worst sides. It's almost as if they squeezed out all the real dreck from the other songs and collected that residue together, moulding it into 'Pilgrim' and slapping it onto the end; the song sucks in its entirety, starting from the mock-classical intro and ending with the three-chord jam in the outro that recycles the eternal melody of 'Gypsy' once more. Along the way, you get more generic cock-metal solos from Mr Box and more goofy operatic falsetto vocals from Mr Byron. When he rips into 'LOVE OR WAR I COULD NOT CHOOSE', I usually ask everybody to leave the room. What a hideous, anti-musical ending to an album that still gotta rank among Heep's best: Look At Yourself was more consistent and contained more classics, but Sweet Freedom is more experienced and with a better sense of balance - until, of course, it gets to the final track.



Year Of Release: 1974

Disclaimer: this is going to be a particularly nasty review - if you think I've been mean before, brace yourself. I have to really preface this by saying I hold no grudge against Uriah Heep fans. Some Heep fans I know are nice guys and I'm glad to know that. Heck, I don't hold no grudge against Uriah Heep band members either, apart from writing the music that made me suffer so much. It's just that there's only so much a guy can take, and besides, this album really deserves a review. Oh no, it certainly deserves a review. Watch out now!

This is inarguably the absolutely worst live album I've heard so far. It's so laughably, so unbelievably lame that all the mishaps of Who's Last or the Pink Floyd live albums seem like a little misprint in a ten meter-long sentence by comparison. It's just that there are mediocre live albums, and bad live albums (like the double Live album), and then there are atrocities, but I doubt anything can be dumber than this. Some live albums suffer from poor sound. Some suffer from poor track selection. Some suffer from weak vocals, some from weak instrumentation, some from the band not 'gelling together' or not 'getting it on'. Live At Shepperton '74 suffers from all of these problems, and more.

It's a relatively new archive release, but I can only imagine such an idea in the head of the most violently-minded Heep enemy that ever existed. I mean, heck, even I do not believe this record captures Heep on a typically average night of theirs... if it did, no way these guys could have procured themselves even a minor cult audience. No, it's just that some jerk had to go ahead and release THIS particular show, maybe to get into the Guinness book for "most unlistenable live album on the entire planet". Wowie. This was recorded somewhere in between sessions for Sweet Freedom and Wonderworld, at Shepperton Studios where the band had gathered a bunch of fans to record a show that would be later transmitted on American television - and so, in a rather nervous voice, Byron announces their plans that they are going to record these songs over and over again if they fail to do it on the first try (goes to show about their confidence).

So far so good, but when the band starts to play... MAN. First of all, the only decent songs they do are 'Easy Livin', 'Sweet Freedom', and 'Stealin'. Most of the rest are taken from Wonderworld, at the time the band's new upcoming album; yet they don't do neither 'Suicidal Man' nor 'Dreams', the two best songs from the album. Instead, most of the performance is dedicated to Heep's faceless, deadly dull, monotonous 'Easy Livin' clones like 'Something Or Nothing' and stuff. I know I already said it, but I'll just keep saying it again and again: WHY, oh WHY does every third Heep song have to have a 'dum-badum-badum-badum-badum' bass line? Isn't it kinda laughable for the band fans to boast about them having bass genius Gary Thaine in their midst when on most of the songs he just has to go 'badum badum badum badum'? Hell, even KISS of all bands didn't sink that low.

Sound quality is pretty shitty as well - on particularly guitar-dependent songs like 'I Won't Mind', where both Hensley and Box are playing the six-string, you get the feeling that while the rhythm section is sitting on Byron's shoulders, one of the guitarists is sitting in another room and the other one is just catching the train some five hundred miles away. And the sole 'soft' number on here, the piano-based 'Easy Road', will have you tearing the knobs out of your stereo in order to find that piano. I know it's there, but it's more in the Phil Spector "some instruments are to be felt and not heard" vein of things, except that Phil Spector wasn't inventive enough to make his "felt-only" instruments actually not be overshadowed by a million others so as not to be heard. Clever!

At least 'Sweet Freedom' and 'Stealin' go off in a more or less decent version - there's little of the unnatural Byron vocal charm that was felt on the studio record, but it's not like they really butcher the songs or anything. But then (after a weird fade-out - was a part of the show TOO rough even for the editor's tastes???) they run through a supersloppy version of 'Love Machine' (more badum-badum-badum for your pleasure), with the drummer getting off the rhythm every second tact and the guitar almost unheard, and the 'Rock'n'Roll Medley' is even worse this time, with Byron forgetting the lyrics to 'Mean Woman Blues' and further evil things I'm too scared to mention. Okay, I mean, I'll say one thing which I forgot to say in the Live review. There is NO further proof needed to select Uriah Heep as The Great Cornball Band of the century than this: only Uriah Heep would ever have the guts to call something 'rock'n'roll medley' and have 'Let's Go To The Hop' included in it next to 'Roll Over Beethoven' and 'Blue Suede Shoes'. I rest my case.

But no, I don't! The final blow comes in the 'outtakes' section - where the unnamed violently anti-Heep editor throws on a different take of 'Easy Livin' from the same session, or, rather, an attempt at several takes at the song, because after two or three minutes of painful organ tuning and 'this is for our American friends!' announces, the band finally plods into the badum-badum-badum-badum and... loses it after just a few tacts. 'THIS IS A THING I'VE NEVER KNOWN BEFORE uh, I think we blew that one', Byron honestly admits. How it was possible to blow THAT one still remains a mystery for me. Maybe the guys should have cut down on alcohol. Spare me from any conclusions or resumes, I'm at the end of my rope already. But please, please, go buy this album and tell me you've had worse live experiences. Don't let me blow my cool in this cruel way.



Year Of Release: 1974

Ehh... Stagnation sets in. Bad or good, Uriah Heep's first six albums still had something to say, almost each of them. Just look back - their sound went through a metallic phase, an overorchestrated phase, a basic-rock phase, a dungeons & dragons phase, and finally stabilised itself on Sweet Freedom. As Heep's first decently structured and moderately unambitious album, it was good; I really enjoyed it (apart from the retro suckfest of 'Pilgrim' - retro in that it hearkened back to the D&D days). But how good it is second time around?

Not too good. Wonderworld is one of those miriads of records that are good to live through once and then after a year to live through for the second time just in order to find out that it wasn't really worth living through for the first one. As you understand, I don't count the ultra-subjective factor here: if the combination of Hensley's sci-fi organs, Box's metallic guitar and Byron's operatic vocals speaks to your heart, Wonderworld will be just fine. But objectively, it just doesn't go anywhere, and if it does, it's more like a two-miles walk than a Marathonean contest.

The good news is that there's absolutely nothing offensive on here. Byron's vocals are very moderate; he mostly restrains from those unbearably pretentious high notes, sticking to his usual tone. The songs are relatively short, never exceeding six minutes in length, and the lyrics, while never particularly impressive, still manage to stray away from the band's worst cliches. Perhaps the worst moment is on 'I Won't Mind', with Box throwing in yet another of those "look at me, I can rock the house down with a supah-dupah metal solo!" idiotic wankfests, like the one on 'Magician's Birthday'. But even so, it fits the song better: on 'Magician's Birthday', the solo seemed to come out of nowhere and never fit in with the rest of the song, while here it's just a natural part of a heavy rocker. That doesn't make it less generic or more subtle, of course, but it's still an excuse.

The bad news, then, is that there ain't a single memorable melody on the album - even at their worst, Uriah Heep always managed to get at least a couple impressive hooks in their songs. Here, they just don't do it. The tunes are smooth and atmospheric, but nothing ever sticks out; even after three or four listens, I still stare at the track list like an idiot, trying to determine 'hey, what was that song like again?..' Wanna rap? The title track is a sci-fi paradise of nothing, just an overblown piano and synth ballad, you know, quite in the vein of Billy Joel. The exact same vibe is later reprised a couple of times at least, as in 'The Shadows And The Wind' and 'The Easy Road', with the latter a little bit mellower, but just as inessential as the rest.

The rockers are rather formulaic, too, but Heep's better stuff was always rocking, so I kinda try to look up to them with hope. And, well, 'Suicidal Man' is an excellent song, with a fine bunch of throbbing riffs (I particularly love the stuff Mick Box is throwing out in a couple cases, the ones that almost sound like Metallica) and a great 'fluctuating' bassline that's one of Gary Thaine's best claims to fame. I mean, the band was often acclaimed for its super-skilled run of bassists, but I never really noticed that until now. Kudos to Mick and Gary for that one. However, 'Something Or Nothing' is yet another 'Easy Living' clone, and 'We Got We' is pretty pedestrian even by the band's standards.

The two centerpieces are placed on the second side: I've already mentioned 'I Won't Mind', which is an excellent rocker apart from Mick's overdoing it in the solo section, and the mystic-epic 'Dreams', even if it's six minutes long, too, somehow doesn't make me puke at all. Heck, it's almost better than 'July Morning'. Is that a "musical saw" they're twisting in the introduction? Sounds cool. Please mind that however good these two songs are, they still aren't memorable, because they got some atmosphere and some nice instrumental ideas, but they sure haven't got nice hook-filled melodies. The usual problem with Heep: even when they acquire a solid idea, they ruin everything by making the actual musical idea based on the basic plodding two chords, i. e. the '"Gypsy" syndrome'. That said, I really don't mind these two songs at all, and the album receives three stars. How does it read? "Enjoyable, But Eminently Forgettable". Okay, Heep fans, don't worry that much. The same can be said about Life in general, now can't it?



Year Of Release: 1975

Well, this is definitely a record that's not worth living through even once (and take pity on poor me - I actually sat through it four times, as if I had nothing better to do in this wonderful world). Critics sneered and are still sneering at the title of the album, which is indeed ironic considering that Uriah Heep never actually left fantasy, but that's not the main point; actually, I don't have any particular problems with the 'fantasy' aspect of this record, because they're kinda limited. It lacks the nauseating pocketbook fantasy doodles of Demons & Wizards, and apart from the title track, the lyrics mostly deal with personal and romantic problems, all smacked in the band's usual cliched metaphors and marinated banalities, but ultimately tolerable. So the title is actually deceiving.

What does worry me, though, is that not a single tune on here - not a single one, and I do mean that - is memorable in any way. Before this album, the band at least used to base some of their songs on cool guitar riffs, and if there wasn't enough genuine energy to fuel up a certain performance, they would at least simulate it and end up convincing me several times. Here, I don't remember even a single interesting riff, and energy is at zero level no matter what they try. But do they actually try? Hardly. Lots of mid-tempo and even 'fast' rockers on here, some folkish shuffles, some jazzy ballads (the band draws on a brass section a couple of times), some synth-dominated crap. What pictures does that paint in my mind? Pictures of a bunch of talentless, tired dudes crawling around the studio and trying to squeeze some product out of their trippy minds. What places does it take me? I'll tell you that as soon as I wake up... zzzzzz...

Oh. Good morning. What was that again? Return To Fantasy? Okay. The title track re-writes the melody of 'Easy Livin', but it's so pathetically overproduced and so depressingly derivative (plus, the anger has been taken right out of that song, which makes it completely lethargic) that it's one of the poorest re-writes these guys ever had, and believe me, they had a lot. This sounds like it's been taken out of the soundtrack to some low-budget kid movie on medieval thematics, you know, one of these so-called 'inspiring anthemic' compositions, yeah.

The rest of the 'rockers' sound like they come out of the bowels of a deeply disturbed pub-rock band: 'Shady Lady', 'Devil's Daughter' and 'Show Down' are so dang primitive that 'Gypsy' seems like Thick As A Brick by their side. It almost seems like they don't realize themselves where they want to head more - into the 'hard' or into the 'art' camp, but don't want to make an acceptable 'mix' of these two genres either. So all these pub-rockers just drag on and then they get interrupted by some ear-destructive synth solos, or an out-of-place operatic scream, or something like that. Pathetic. In desperation, the band falls back on their demons-and-wizards formula on one more number, the ridiculously aggressive 'Beautiful Morning', whose Utopian lyrics are at odd contrast with the thunderstorm of the arrangement. Needless to say, the song has even less of a melody than its predecessors, and unless you're gonna be bowled over by Ken Hensley's piggy pig pig synth tones or Byron's trademark screaming, you'll scream for mercy yourself. In less than two minutes.

Some face is saved on the second side, where you could really mistake Uriah Heep for the Grateful Dead on the soothing, slightly tasteful shuffle of 'Your Turn To Remember' or for Wizzard on the jazzed-up, revved-up 'Prima Donna', or for The Band on the ballad 'Why Did You Go'. [Please note that all these references are strictly tongue-in-cheek. I do not wish to offend any fan of either of these three bands]. These imitations are at least partially successful, and since they're mostly deprived of ugly synth grunts and only occasionally feature Mr Byron jumping out of his britches to get to these high notes, I welcome them as the most active and efficient rating-increasing factors on the record. This rating sure needed some pumping up.

In all, you may kill me and wipe my name out of your memory, but even so I still wouldn't recommend this stuff even for the Uriah Heep diehard (as if the Uriah Heep diehard ever needed my advice, yeah right). This is one of those records where I can easily say: 'I can write a collection of songs not any worse than that', because none of these numbers affect me in any way, and I sure can write a lot of songs that wouldn't affect other people.



Year Of Release: 1976

Ooooh boy. Sometimes I just wonder (pointlessly) - what the hell makes people go and put out these records that say absolutely nothing? Not just nothing new - nothing at all. See, I can't even say that I hate High And Mighty; there's not a single track on here that makes me vomit, gargle and rinse. It's surprisingly unpretentious for Heep, actually: next to no fantasy thematics, no overblown goofy opera sendouts, no crowd-pleasing, self-indulgent metallic solos, nothing, in brief, that would usually have in the past served as a nice pretext for dispatching the cavalry. But it stinks all the same.

It stinks, because any halfway decent band in 1976 could pull a record like that out of their sleeve in a matter of hours. Generic power ballads, equally generic two chord rockers, generic acoustic folkish ditties... this piece of chewing gum had already been chewn over by a million people, so why pick it off the dirty floor and start munching on it again? At least Return To Fantasy showed a wee bit of Uriah Heep's idiosyncrasy, and the title track, wretched as it was, at least made me feel honestly sorry about the guys. High And Mighty doesn't provide me with any emotional load whatsoever; the album's centerpiece is the solemn pseudo-epic 'Weep In Silence', a poor man's 'Little Wing' which is further proved by the fact that Mick Box manages to (more or less successfully) lift off both Hendrix's and Clapton's solo for the song. Just goes to show...

...and it's the most memorable moment on the album anyway. Elsewhere, you get stuff like 'Can't Keep A Good Band Down' and mediocre dreck like 'Make A Little Love', songs that are supposed to prove the 'rock power' of Uriah Heep. ROCK POWER? Are you jokin'? For Chrissake, this was 1976, and with all their arsenal of organ/guitar interplay, professional vocalization, and 'intelligent' lyrical writing (intelligent, my ass), all of the rockers on this record aren't worth one selected rocker on the Ramones' debut. Plus a couple more 'Easy Living' clones on here, some diluted with saloon piano ('Woman Of The World') which doesn't help anyway. In desperation, they try just once to hit upon a different formula - 'Can't Stop Singing' features a slightly more complex time signature and verges on slow disco, and it does have a slightly, eh, 'sticky' refrain that might occasionally work. But do we really need it?

The ballads aren't worth mentioning, either. Trust me, in terms of creativity this was an absolute dead end for the band. Not that Uriah Heep's creativity was always a good thing, mind you. Never at all. However, at their best these guys did create an accessible, easy-coming, easy-going, and pretty energetic style of 'serious rocker' for those people who were too dim-witted or slow on the move to enjoy the more complex and more refined average Yes rocker. And however horribly inadequate their operatic, fantasy-ball sendups might have been, at least they were unique (as in a 'unique way of defecating'), which guaranteed the band a justified existence on the planet. (Hell, if a band like Kiss was allowed to exist, what can be said about these guys who could at least play their instruments?). But when the uniqueness and freshness is gone, all we are left with is a washed-up, pathetic old band of geezers who are so poor on ideas that all they can do is recycle past glories and travel on complete cruise control.

I can't blame David Byron for quitting the band, then, which he did soon after the album's release. If I had a band and we'd happen to release a record like this, I would probably just commit suicide the day it hit the stores. The funny thing is, Hensley and Box never actually realized the record's hideousness, and carried on anyway, replacing Byron with John Lawton... for yet another half-decade of pointless existence.



Year Of Release: 1977

Finally, Byron is over and out, the poor alcohol-struggling wreck that he was said to be at the time, and John Lawton is in. Not that anybody actually noticed - at least, on record Lawton behaves absolutely in the same way as Byron used to behave. Sure, he doesn't overabuse his over-operatic possibilities (though he surely has got 'em), but then again, Byron rarely went overboard on the last three albums either, so you couldn't really notice the difference.

And the music? Is this the same old bull from the boys? Well, of course it is, but the addition of a new member actually invigorated the band for at least something vaguely more interesting than last time around. Although, to be frank, the best thing about this album is still the spooky synth pattern that opens 'The Hanging Tree', particularly because it's been recently ripped off for one of the better themes in Gabriel Knight III. Which - might I just digress for a minute - is the last ever masterpiece produced by what used to be the 'great' Sierra On-Line, so buy it if you have the cash!

Apart from that, they mostly go for that tired R'n'B sound that filled their last records, which isn't offensive per se, but is deadly boring and tiresome anyway. What really bugs me so much is that the rhythms on this album just plain suck. If you're making an R'n'B record, you might as well base different songs on different tempos and different chord sequences, while here it's all just standard 1-2-3-4 beats. They are delivered with a certain punch, I'll give 'em that, but who needs a punch if there's nothing to base the punch on? So even potentially good songs like 'Been Away Too Long', where the band seems to really gel and the players seem to be all doing their job (wonderful fills from Lee Kerslake, excellent, if a bit generic, solo from Box), don't stand up to repeated listenings - 'Been Away Too Long' never even lives up to its own moody intro that has a beautiful guitar/synth interplay thing the likes of which you can encounter, for instance, in Pink Floyd's 'Empty Spaces'. But then it goes away, and the excitement goes away as well.

Stuff like 'Sympathy' milks the 'Easy Living' vibe again (in a minor key), and so does stuff like 'Who Needs Me' (in a major key). It is easy to see, of course, why Firefly is often considered to be the brightest spot in Uriah Heep's post-Byron reputation: the band members are working their asses off to prove they still got it, and Lawton vocalizes very well on most of the tracks to prove that he's really earned his place in Uriah Heep. But the songs themselves add nothing to the Heep legacy - although, of course, neither did the previous three (or six?) albums.

So let's see what we can salvage. Like I said, 'The Hanging Tree' and 'Been Away Too Long' both have their moments which shouldn't be overlooked as long as objectivity is concerned. If it's catchiness we're discussing, then I'd have to mention 'Do You Know', a cheerful pop-rocker whose melody is at least vaguely hummable. Plus, there's the title track, which is one of those latter-days Heep epics that are somehow palatable; nobody goes overboard, the six-minute running time is more or less justified by the song's complex structure, and the starry-eyed romanticism of the composition isn't at least marred by the usual pocketbook fantasy. Rather it just resembles some cute nursery rhyme, which is all right by me. Anyway, if you're a Styx fan, you'll sure love the song - if five years ago it was Styx who were copying Uriah Heep, now it's the opposite.

But even these relatively minor successes get overturned when you have to deal with tired, cliched, formulaic R'n'B workouts like the droning 'Rollin' On'. What's that kind of drivel doing here? Leave that stuff to Rod Stewart, gentlemen! Rod will handle your R'n'B better. Sheez, I'm tired, so I'll just say that repeated listenings might bring out something else of interest in this album, but repeated listenings to Uriah Heep are bad for my nerve system. I mean, I can almost hear the mould growing on my nerve cells when I do that!



Year Of Release: 1977

More mould on my nerve cells... sheez, these guys are frustrating. I mean, couldn't they at least go disco or something? Or try some punk? It's the very end of 1977, and they are still recycling the same formula they fell upon in 1971 with Look At Yourself when it's actually been depleted since 1973 at least. Were they that afraid to lose their hardcore audience or what? I mean, heck, even Kiss experimented with their sound from time to time; why couldn't we expect at least a wee bit of diversity from a band as supposedly 'talented' as Uriah Heep? The next time I hear that stupid pounding 4/4 beat and yet another re-write of 'Easy Living' I'll certainly have to kill somebody.

In fact, sometimes I just think that Uriah Heep might have recorded a good half or two thirds of their songs from just one long jam session that they conducted sometime around 1971 - just cutting out various bits and dressing them up in slightly different ways. Gosh, is it really that hard to write something interesting? For instance, they could take the ultra-boring 'hard' R'n'B number 'Roller' and the equally boring 'soft' ballad 'Illusion' and splice them together, seeing as they come at the same tempo and everything. Imagine that! A call-and-answer session between a soft and a hard part! How invigorating! Of course, now that we have our little digital devices and our little audio workshops, we can easily do that splicing by ourselves... but isn't that what we're supposed to pay money for - somebody else does the work for us and we enjoy the results? (Of course, I can't really complain, seeing as Innocent Victim cost me approximately 16 US cents in total and all, but actually, I still have a serious naggin' feeling that I overpaid.)

I see that so far I haven't even actually, like you know, started reviewing the album. As you might guess, that's because I don't have anything to say about it that hasn't been said in any of the four or five previous reviews. So why don't we just drop this Uriah Heep shit and talk about something else instead. For instance, do you know how many progressive or pseudo-progressive rock bands are there in rock music, counting the 'dead and gone' as well as 'currently active'? Man! I browsed through a bunch of prog review sites and my mind nearly escaped me. What are all these guys doing in progressive rock anyway? Don't they know that all the good progressive rock has already been written? Or are they just trying to 'keep the spark alive'? Even so, who the heck needs these hundreds of progressive acts if it takes you your entire life to just memorize a small part of all that music? I mean, sure, it relates to any kind of music, of course, but since we're supposedly reviewing a 'progressive rock' band (although, to be fair, 'mock-progressive' would be a better term), I'm stickin' to prog. Even huge acts like Kansas and Styx and Marillion were merely recycling the past successes of their betters; what can be said about lesser bands? And what the heck do you need all these huge prog rock collections for anyway if most of this music will fade away without a trace just a couple of years after it's been written because this particular 'minor band' will be replaced by a dozen other 'minor bands', not any better or any worse? That's what bugs me. Art is becoming TOO mass-heavy. Soon there'll be more artists around than listeners, if it isn't that way already. And think of all the waste... waste of energy, talent, money, vinyl, tape, plastic and everything. Instead of playing at local discotheques to amuse the public, some pompous guy takes himself too seriously and writes 'art'. Sheez. This 'art' will be forgotten tomorrow, but for him it's still 'art', when it's in fact simply a rehashing of what's been done before in a better and more inspired way. I mean, if I woke up one morning as leader of a prog rock band, the best thing I could do would be to master all these old classics by Genesis or ELP or King Crimson and perform them live before audiences, seeing as ELP and Genesis aren't there any more to perform this stuff themselves and King Crimson aren't doing the old classics any more as well. This would at least be a more honest and useful occupation...

And Innocent Victim? It stinks. Not a single song that's able to attract my attention anyway. They did it all before and did it better. I won't even name the song titles because it's useless. I quit.



Year Of Release: 1978

Am I a critic? Here's ample proof that I'm no serious critic - every critic alive whom I've seen mentioned in the same sentence as Fallen Angel gave it one star at max. And why is that? Because (a) they didn't give the record a proper listen, (b) they wouldn't want to believe that in 1978 Uriah Heep could have made a record anywhere above 'wildly horrible', and (c) they're all snub-nosed, pretentious jerks bribed by Rolling Stone and Mr Jann Wenner in person. Hey, Mr Wenner! Why don't you bribe me? I sure could use a bit of cash!

Okay, I wouldn't exactly bet my head over that last statement, because, frankly speaking, there are too many critics in this world for Mr Wenner to bribe every single one of them. But as far as the first two statements are concerned, they are the ultimate, ultimate truth. Granted, Fallen Angel is not at all a classic, and to tell you the truth, it isn't even a really good record, and it also sports the filthiest album cover so far (considering that most of Uriah Heep's album covers suck, this is a truly hard blow). But after the bland, monotonous, hookless horror of Innocent Victim (which I just had to relisten to again because on the next day after the required three listens I woke up realizing that I didn't remember even a single note of what I'd heard), it's such a tremendous improvement upon the formula that I simply can't understand how on Earth can anybody lump it together in the same worthless pile with its predecessor.

First and foremost: THERE ISN'T A SINGLE "EASY LIVIN'" CLONE ON THIS ALBUM. NOT A SINGLE ONE. For the first time since... well, for the first time since the record with 'Easy Livin' on it actually came out. This alone grants the album an extra half-star. Second, remember what I said about the Heepsters needing to expand their formula? They do! They have lots of disco stuff on here! And you know it's a rare case when I welcome a disco number, but better a disco number than the same tired beat over and over again. 'Wad' Ya Say' is disco, generic disco, worse than the Bee Gees, but here, it sounds refreshing, and Lawton turns out to be a good disco singer, not even needing any kind of falsetto.

Elsewhere, the Heepsters soften their sound - but in the process of softening it, they also take care to cook up some decent riffs and some cool vocal hooks. For instance, 'Woman Of The Night' is the best album opener to a Heep album in years. Nice boogie tempo, catchy vocal melody, good, inobtrusive guitar, nothing offensive or disgusting. And it's immediately followed by 'Falling In Love', which is also a boogie, but it's different - faster and more aggressive, with professionally arranged vocal harmonies and stuff. Almost sounds like one of those overdriven Elton John rockers like 'Saturday Night'. Not a bad comparison, eh?

I'm also partial to 'Love Or Nothing'. Oh, by the way, all of the songs on here are about romance - not only are there no fantasy dreams, there ain't even any traces of cheap philosophizing. Old-time fans will cringe at the perspective, of course, but I'm as happy as a young innocent lovebird: on Fallen Angel, Uriah Heep are adequate, again, for the first time since at least Sweet Freedom. Speaking about 'Love Or Nothing', it's not anything special in terms of melody, but the chorus, 'it's gotta be love or nothing at all', is pretty memorable, and the accompanying 'la-la-las' are really gracing.

Even the title track, the sole moment of pretention, is not shabbily written and manages to create some real atmospherics. Basically, I nearly forgot to mention that the boys really made sure to embetter their harmonizing style, and they nearly succeed - the harmonies are uniformly finely constructed and make the record seem far less boring. No, no, it's no great shakes, and there's plenty of filler, including several pompous, overdrawn love ballads tucked into the middle and a couple 'ecstatic' rockers that aren't particularly interesting, but still, like I said, listening to this stuff right after Innocent Victim was like... well, like drinking a glass of cool water after scorching your throat with an extra dose of Mexican sauce.

Well, actually, after meditating on the subject just a little more, maybe I was a bit too hot on general musical criticism. See, as far as style goes, apart from the disco excourses, this album isn't really that different. It's just that I feel far more care inserted here - care to make an original riff, care to improve the harmonies, care to make the vocal melody somewhat less generic and somewhat more intriguing. If you see that, you'll agree with me, but if you just complain about the overall style, you'll feel no difference either. You'll have to listen carefully, I suppose. More carefully than the sick fucks who gave this album one star!

Wait a minute. What was that I said? Oh, I know. I'm just in a battle mood today because I just got an idiotic flame for my Pink Floyd page. To think it arrived on the same day that I'd wanted to review an underrated Uriah Heep album! Talk about weird coincidences!


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