Thursday, March 12, 2015

Album Review: UFO - A Conspiracy Of Stars

Forty years into their career, UFO has hit a renaissance of popularity, mostly by virtue of being considered one of the most underrated bands in the history of rock. Yes, most of the attention they get these days has to do with the fact that they never got attention during their heyday, when Michael Schenker was redefining what lead guitar in a rock band was supposed to sound like. Of course, those records that get pointed to nowadays aren't really what they're claimed to be, but UFO was surely an underrated band at the time. The market has over-corrected, and now they are actually overrated, if that can be believed. Despite not making a classic record since Schenker's last cup of coffee with the band nearly twenty years ago, and despite those classics being good more than great, UFO continues to pound out records with regularity.

“A Conspiracy Of Stars” finds the band once again playing old-school bluesy hard rock, with Vinnie Moore doing a bang-up job of filling the guitar slot, and Phil Mogg is still Phil Mogg. UFO might be known more for Schenker than anything else, but it's Mogg's vocals that made the band special for those brief moments when they were firing on all cylinders. All these years later, even though his range has withered, Mogg's weathered vocals are unmistakeable, and damn near perfect. His voice is one of a kind, smooth and rough in all the right places, with all the attitude needed to sell his melodies.

How much you enjoy this album will come down to what variety of rock you enjoy. If your preference is for hard rock that is just a softer variety of metal, UFO isn't going to be your band. But if you prefer your guitar playing with a heavy dose of blues, they've got you covered. Vinnie Moore is not Michael Schenker, and for as long as he's been in the band they have done the smart thing in not trying to make him anything but who he is.

As they have spent more time together, the songwriting engine has been getting more comfortable, and that results in “A Conspiracy Of Stars” being the strongest album this incarnation of the band has put out. While the last couple of records have been good, they have felt like an awkward marriage that isn't quite on the level. There were always some great songs, but also some that were obviously shoehorned from different tastes. This time, however, the band's sound is more uniform, and that allows them to hammer home ten songs that plays to their strengths.

Moore is at his bluesy best on songs like the Western-tinged “Ballad Of The Left Hand Gun”, while Mogg is busy stamping “Sugar Cane” with some delightful melodies. When they meet each other halfway, like on the heavier than usual “Devils In The Detail”, it's a welcome reminder of UFO's best years. No, the band doesn't have the same burning fire as when they were young and hungry, but they have a sense of songcraft that was lacking from those old days. The performances are more polished than before, but the material is uniformly stronger, which is what I would expect from a veteran band.

A new UFO album is always welcome, if for nothing else than the opportunity to hear Phil Mogg's voice one more time, but “A Conspiracy Of Stars” is not one of those albums being turned out by old bands simply for the sake of keeping their name in the headlines. It may not go down as one of UFO's classics, but “A Conspiracy Of Stars” is the best UFO album since “Walk On Water”, which is saying something, since I think that's the best album they ever made.

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