UFO
"The Chrysalis Years (1973-1979)"

(Chrysalis/EMI)

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RATING: 9/10

This isn't just a compilation of select UFO hits from the '70s; "The Chrysalis Years (1973-1979)" is a 5-disc set that contains five outstanding hard rock albums, as well as what is widely considered among the best live LPs ever recorded, plus tons of terrific extras and bonus material. The flaws are few and far between on "The Chrysalis Years (1973-1979)".

UFO made the leap to Chrysalis with 1974's "Phenomenon", the first of a series of six blockbuster hard rock albums in the finest British tradition that were released on Chrysalis Records through the remainder of the decade. Though it took a while for the U.S. to wake up to what Europe had long recognized, "Phenomenon", "Force It", "No Heavy Petting", "Lights Out", "Obsession", and the live "Strangers in the Night" are easily among the finest rock releases that the 1970s ever produced. You can argue about the odd song or point to the occasional misstep (a rare occurrence and probably too strong a term), but there is no denying that each of these albums is a classic in its own right, regardless of varying opinions pertaining to the one that should be crowned king. All still stand the test of time and have continued to garner recognition from new generations of fans. Anchored by a lineup that included vocalist Phil Mogg, guitarist Michael Schenker, bassist Pete Way, and drummer Andy Parker, UFO patented a unique sound from a range of familiar elements, including British-reinterpreted American blues; blistering hard rock that moved in and out of heavy metal territory; and an uncanny ability to write big hooks, whether part of gentle ballads or rip roaring rock 'n rollers. It should also be noted that keyboardist/guitarist Paul Raymond doesn't appear officially in the lineup until "Lights Out", but would ultimately become an integral part of the act and is also heard performing on "Strangers in the Night" and "Obsession" here. Keyboardist/vocalist Danny Peyronel appeared on "No Heavy Petting".

That all five of the CDs comprising "The Chrysalis Years" can be played in sequence with barely anything resembling a break in quality, consistency, or momentum speaks volumes about this legendary band's body of work. The one obvious exception on the momentum front was the label's decision to (presumably) save space by splitting up Sides A and B of "Force It" and "Lights Out" between Discs Two and Three and Discs Three and Four, respectively. MP3s and, to some extent, multi-disc players are your solutions to the annoyance.

Beginning with the proper albums, "Phenomenon" launches the group's career ascent with a combination of classic cuts and a more varied, only slightly uneven approach to songwriting that serves as the link between the early albums ("UFO 1" and "UFO 2: Flying") and the Chrysalis years. Immediately recognizable as UFO classics are "Doctor Doctor" and a song in "Rock Bottom" that was not only catchy, but features one of the hottest guitar jams on any album released since. More of a minor hit, "Oh My" is nonetheless a monster rock song, while the incredible blues sizzle of "Built for Comfort", the psychedelically-tinged "Space Child", and a pair of cuts in the very '70s (in terms of period sound) "Too Young to Know" and the infectious "Time on my Hands" are demonstrative of the cross cutting appeal of "Phenomenon".

The next two albums, 1975's "Force It" and 1976's "No Heavy Petting" are two stylistically defining albums, the former often considered quintessential, although to at least some of us the latter is just as praiseworthy. Whatever the case, both albums produced numerous songs that defined a signature style. "Let it Roll" and "Shoot Shoot" would open "Force It" and immediately give listeners an indication of a band hitting stride and well on its way to greatness. Though both offered plenty in the way of fiery hard rock, "Mother Mary" would get the nod as a classic in the making. On "No Heavy Petting" it would be the pure rock raucousness and definitive groove of "Natural Thing" that left any remaining naysayers dumbfounded. "Can You Roll Her" kept the place ablaze with a memorable keyboard part delivered with electrifying urgency. It was the fact most every song met and exceeded high expectations, not just the classics", that made "Force It" and "No Heavy Petting" stone cold killers. "Out in the Street" is as notable for its catchiness as its soulfulness, while another memorable keyboard performance defines the soul-infused "I'm a Loser". Add in the slow burn of "On with the Action", the jam-tastic "Reasons Love", and the little-bit-of-everything that closed "Force It" called "This Kid's"/"Between the Walls" and you get all the proof in all the pudding you'll ever need.

It was 1977's "Lights Out" with which UFO began turning the corner in the States and while it contained two hard rock and heavy metal classics in "Too Hot to Handle" and the title track, respectively, it also contained the band's most commercially polished material to date, owing in large part to a Ron Nevison production. The beauty of Paul Raymond's sparkling keyboards and a newfound smoothness in Phil Mogg's vocals, as defined by touching ballad "Try Me" and the absolutely glistening "Love to Love", raised UFO to heights previously unreached. Though songs like "Electric Phase" and "Gettin' Ready" may have lacked the firepower of material from the previous three albums, UFO made up for it in sound diversification and depth of composition.

Nevison produced "Obsession" as well, resulting in a new level of accessibility with songs like "Cherry" and grandiose ballad "Lookin' Out for No. 1". However, rock diamonds such as "Only You can Rock Me", the struttin' "Pack it Up (And Go)", and the riff dynamite of "Hot 'N Ready" brought back the hard 'n heavy swagger of albums like "Force It". In many respects, "Obsession" represents the best of both worlds; a rare combination of polish and power that works in surprisingly cohesive fashion. Interestingly enough, this would be the last studio album on which Michael Schenker would play until reuniting with the band on 1995's "Walk on Water", yet the 1978 release contains some of his fiercest guitar solos. Schenker swings his axe with a vengeance all over "Obsession", which is saying a lot considering the emotiveness and skill displayed by the mad German on previous LPs.

Then came 1979's "Strangers in the Night", the live album that would blow stateside doors wide open and establish UFO as an act with which to be reckoned on the stage and in the charts. The 13 tracks from the performance masterpiece, which are contained on Disc 5 of the compilation, introduced a whole new audience to UFO's hit-packed catalogue. Perhaps more importantly, it shined a bright light on the band's roster of ace players, the collective's roof-raising stage presence, and Schenker's ability to inject a new level of energy into the studio cuts.

The rest of "The Chrysalis Years" contains previously unreleased material and songs never before released on CD, all of which is included on the various discs according to the time period in which it was recorded. The "Give Her the Gun" A-side and "Sweet Little Thing" B-side that open Disc 1 offer even more of a glimpse in to UFO's bluesy, hot trottin' boogie and classic British rock beginnings than does the "Phenomenon" material. A series of single-edit versions of UFO's biggest hits are a nice addition too, but it is the live performances that add value here. A complete warts-and-all set from 1974 at Atlanta, Georgia's Electric Ballroom just plain smokes, the sweat-drenched blues of "Built for Comfort" and "Cold Turkey" marking the truly special moments of the gig. A three-song session with Bob Harris from 1974, a trio of John Peel Session cuts from 1977, and a couple of "Strangers in the Night" live single edits of "Doctor Doctor" and "On with the Action" round out the compilation.

The Q&A with Phil Mogg in the rather thin booklet is insightful, if not as comprehensive as could have been the case. Considering the era presented here, beefing up those liner notes with contributions from other members and adding commentary from someone like UFO expert Martin Popoff would have been the way to go.

Small blemishes aside, "The Chrysalis Years (1973-1979)" is definitive, essential, and historically important UFO. Anybody that has yet to discover the rock royalty that is UFO are strongly advised to purchase this collection. Under no circumstances can you go wrong; the music is so often stunning, brilliant, superior…take your pick. Watch out for the next UFO studio album too; yep, they're still making great music.

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