It's hard to get riled up one way or another about a new UFO record, but it's almost impossible to rip on the band, either. For one thing, they're responsible for some of the most enduring hard rock anthems of the '70s — "Doctor Doctor" and "Rock Bottom" alone should secure their spot in history. For another, they've always come across as a likable, workingman's kind of group — nothing flashy, save for the departed Michael Schenker and his solos, just meat-and-potatoes rock and roll, from perhaps the ultimate pub-band-gone-big. A little too bland for their own good sometimes? Yeah, an honest appraisal of some of those classic albums will reveal a lot of filler. But they're not the sort of band anyone flat-out hates, either.
Rejuvenated with the addition of the relatively-spry Vinnie Moore on guitar, in a lesser-scale parallel to DEEP PURPLE's soldiering on with Steve Morse, UFO turns in a respectable, genteel performance on "The Monkey Puzzle". Phil Mogg is in fine voice, though he seems locked into this mumbly, bluesy, one-note mode. Moore keeps things going with some amiable, ear-friendly soloing and pleasant enough riffs. The closest the band really comes to "rocking out" is "Rolling Man", which wouldn't raise eyebrows on the dance floor of a cruise ship, but there is some tasty guitarwork and sly, sardonic vocal action on songs like "Black and Blue" and "Heavenly Body".
"Drink Too Much" and "Good Bye You" are perhaps the low points of the record, both slow and lightweight to the point where they sound like classic '70s AM pop. But really, all of "The Monkey Puzzle" kind of operates at the same low hum — Mogg stays in one voice, returning drummer Andy Parker is restrained to the point of narcolepsy, and only the occasional flourish from Moore livens things up a bit.
But, like I said, who can rip on UFO without feeling like a total asshole? The record is likable enough, and it's not bad at all – it's just hard to imagine ever listening to it again, really. It's a decent enough slice of laid-back, gray-haired blues rock, uninspired and mild, but enjoyable and decent enough in spots to acquit itself well. I'll probably regret that 7 rating later, but I just can't make myself lower it.