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Uriah Heep: 50 Years In Rock (23CD/1vinyl)

Although they are still best known for their early, genre shaping sound, for my money Uriah Heep may well be the most consistent Classic Rock act of them all. That in itself goes a long way to explaining how they’ve not just survived for 50 years but also, especially in recent times again, positively thrived. That said, there have been many ups and an equal amount of downs across the years and none more so than the fallen members of the band who aren’t with us to see this milestone reached - David Byron, Gary Thain, John Wetton, Trevor Bolder and, in the weeks leading up to this celebratory box-set release, quite tragically, drummer Lee Kerslake. The latter of those fallen five did, thankfully, still manage to make a key contribution to 50 Years In Rock, being one of four key Heepsters to add liner notes to the LP sized booklet and compile their very own Uriah Heep ‘best of’ CD. Alongside the drummer, the other three Heep men choosing their favourite tracks are bassist for the first three albums, Paul Newton, original keyboard player and, at the time, chief songwriter Ken Hensley, while the final compilation comes, fittingly, from the one and only ever present in Uriah Heep history, guitarist Mick Box.

Those four discs are merely the icing on a comprehensive Uriah Heep cake which finds a twenty-three CD, one vinyl set incorporate every single studio album the band have released alongside the seminal 1973 album, Uriah Heep Live. The one vinyl inclusion comes in the shape of a newly remastered version of the legendary The Magician’s Birthday (’72), which arrives in a sumptuous gatefold sleeve with alternate artwork. However, while the box has undoubtedly been put together with real affection for the band, a few annoying corners have been cut along the way. Pairing up shorter albums on one disc, as happens with ten of the albums included undoubtedly disappoints. Whereas the occasional typo/type-setting mistake that’s slipped through the cracks really should have been avoided given that the only text in the booklet is that which comes from the four band members as they give their thoughts about what Uriah Heep means to them. Add in that the CDs in my box don’t want to stay in the card inserts made for them when the set is stored upright (as its meant to be) and there really are a few issues here that should have been avoided.

Thankfully those really are the only complaints in a celebratory release that contains twenty-four studio albums in mini-LP sleeves (the 2in1 sets have both sets of artwork overlaid on one another and look really naff…) that present a quite remarkable catalogue in a way that’s never sounded better. From the early Classic Rock with Progressive leanings of Look At Yourself (’71), Demons And Wizards (’72) or Sweet Freedom (’73) that hit home through Hensley’s wide ranging song writing, singer David Byron’s forceful, fragile and simply fantastic voice and Mick Box’s trademark wah-wah work, it was clear that we were dealing with true innovators capable of delivering massively memorable cuts and sprawling epics. After Byron departed, Lucifer’s Friend frontman John Lawton took on the mantle of the mic and for me his three albums with the band - Firefly (‘77), Innocent Victim (also ‘77) and Fallen Angel (‘78) - don’t quite get the credit they deserve. The latter especially is a stunning example of keyboard led Hard Rock as the band added an edge that dropped the more Progressive aspects of their early years.

Both Lawton and Kerslake departed the band not long after (the latter teaming up with Ozzy for his first two seminal solo albums), with Lone Star singer John Sloman and future AC/DC drummer Chris Slade appearing on 1980’s Conquest. Most observers agree that it is, by some distance, the weakest of the band’s entire catalogue, with the previously excellent Sloman handed an uninspired set of songs that simply lack for direction. Hence it was no surprise that it really was all change for Abominog in 1982, Mick Box joined by singer Pete Goalby, keyboard man John Sinclair and returning drummer Lee Kerslake, who brought bassist Bob Daisley with him from Ozzy’s band. The resultant album was a huge return to form, a commercially tinged Hard Rock explosion giving way to an almost AOR like approach for the Head First follow up the next year.

In commercial terms lean times were ahead and by the time current singer and ex-Grand Prix/Praying Mantis/Stratus vocalist Bernie Shaw took full ownership of the frontman’s role for Raging Silence in 1989 - as with most 70s acts during this era - they were viewed as something of a dinosaur. The albums would tell you different though, with 1995’s Sea Of Light an especially strong release in a harder hitting Hard Rock situation that set the coarse for their current sound. However, after Sonic Origami (’98) Uriah Heep became pretty much a touring only entity for the next full decade and it wasn’t until 2008 that they returned with the utterly jaw dropping Wake The Sleeper. It was my own personal ‘album of the year’ and I stand by that assessment a further twelve years down the line. And credit to Box, Shaw, Phil Lanzon (keys), Trevor Bolder (bass), Davey Rimmer (bass) and Russell Gilbrook (drums) because what has followed has been a remarkable set of albums that have maintained a ridiculously high standard, with the most recent, 2018’s Living The Dream, the sound of a band clearly still loving what they’re doing.

It’s a remarkable canon of work and one that stands on its own merits. However, for those already in full possession of the Heep journey there are no hidden extras here and in fact, the bonus cuts and versions that previous reissues of this catalogue have contained are omitted this time round. Instead there are the four member curated CDs alongside the aforementioned book, which houses old concert programmes, rare images and magazine adverts, as well as two exclusive LP cover art prints. The 78 page book is a great trip down memory lane, although some accompanying text would have been most welcome, while the prints are cool, if that’s your thing. Thankfully there isn’t much repetition across the four ‘best of’ discs, Newton focusing mainly on his three albums with the band while adding a few new-era cuts that he feels recapture that early ethos to a tee. Hensley and Kerslake on the other hand turn exclusively to their personal times with the band, with the former’s therefore covering the classic eras (everything from the debut to Fallen Angel) in some style but without purely going for the obvious choices. Kerslake adds a little breadth to the scope but it’s Box’s selection that, rather obviously, does the best job of encapsulating his band’s journey as it takes in the early years, the Hard Rock evolution, brief dalliance with AOR and the full force revival that remains ongoing but thankfully all four discs prove hugely rewarding in different ways.

I can’t lie, there are little issues with this well intentioned box that I personally would have changed - the two on one discs being particularly annoying. However, the music itself is quite incredible. Are the four compilations enough to entice long serving fans onboard? I’m not sure to be honest, but there’s no denying that the music of Uriah Heep remains ‘eavy and ‘umble as it invites you to go on living the dream.

At the risk of repeating myself, if you can point me in the direction of a band who can better this fifty years worth of work, especially when you consider that it very nearly includes the equivalent of an album every two years, I’ll be hugely surprised - and that really is the biggest compliment you can pay any band.

Track Listing
CD1. ...Very 'Eavy ...Very 'Umble / Salisbury
CD2. Look At Yourself
CD3. Demons and Wizards / The Magician's Birthday
CD4. Sweet Freedom / Wonderworld
CD5. Return To Fantasy
CD6. High and Mighty / Firefly
CD7. Innocent Victim / Fallen Angel
CD8. Conquest
CD9. Abominog / Head First
CD10. Equator
CD11. Raging Silence
CD12. Different World
CD13. Sea Of Light
CD14. Sonic Origami
CD15. Wake The Sleeper
CD16. Into The Wild
CD17. Outsider
CD18. Living The Dream
CD19. Uriah Heep Live
CD20. Uriah Heep 50 Years In Rock - Mick Box
CD21. Uriah Heep 50 Years In Rock - Ken Hensley
CD22. Uriah Heep 50 Years In Rock - Lee Kerslake
CD23. Uriah Heep 50 Years In Rock - Paul Newton
Vinyl. The Magician’s Birthday
Softback book of tour programmes and memorabilia
New notes written by founding and original members
2 x art cards - celebrated original cover artwork by Roger Dean plus his re-imagined Demons And Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday artwork

Added: October 25th 2020
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Uriah Heep online
Hits: 485
Language: english

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» Reader Comments:

Uriah Heep: 50 Years In Rock (23CD/1vinyl)
Posted by vince ostrowski on 2020-11-02 22:33:13
My Score:

great review, only quibble on my part is lack of rarities and b sides. i do have this on order, and hope Pete will do an unboxing and review on his you tube channel.

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