When I was 12 years old in 1979, my Mother bought me a double live album that would ultimately change my musical world. It was UFO's AMAZING, Stranger's In The Night. I was going to see UFO & AC/DC in concert & had known a little of AC/DC, but nothing of UFO, so I wanted to hear something from them before I went to see the band and coincidentally they were touring for the Stranger's In The Night record. Michael Schenker was the guitar player for UFO back then and OH MY GOD, what that 12 year old kid got himself into!! Over the next, almost 30 years, Schenker would be held in a small elite group of Hard Rock/ Metal guitar gods that would have their own generation of devotees and clones. Edward Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Gary Moore and Michael Schenker are the gods in this school. These 4 guys have spawned so many great players, that when the discussion comes up of your favorite players, these guys are not even needed to be mentioned, it is a foregone conclusion.
Now, Michael Schenker is somewhat of an enigma. He would come in and out of UFO during the '70's. As a matter of fact, when that 12 year kid got to see UFO in 1979, Schenker had pulled his final exit from UFO and I never saw him. I saw the only "real" Schenker replacement in UFO, one Mr. Paul Chapman! But back to Schenker. Michael has had so many different line ups of MSG that I lost count in the '90's, but like most true MSG fans, I too had always hoped that he would take a few steps backwards and re-connect with original MSG vocalist, Gary Barden. And with the 2008 release of MSG-Schenker/Barden-In The Midst Of Beauty (Inakustik), that is exactly what we have gotten. And along for the walk down memory lane comes, keyboard legend, Don Airey (Ozzy, Deep Purple, etc.), drum god, Simon Phillips (Judas Priest, MSG, Toto, etc.) and bass legend Neil Murray (Whitesnake, etc.) to deliver a very anticipated CD. The question is can it live up to the hype?
In a quick nutshell, not really but…
As I have already alluded to, Michael Schenker is, in my opinion probably the most tasty, PURE lead guitarist in Hard Rock history. He is not as fast as Yngwie, but who needs to be? Yngwie can't phrase the way that Schenker can & has. But the thing is, Schenker has lost his songwriting ability over the years of his craziness and other problems, BUT he is still the man when it comes to leads.
In the past, MSG's songs were just simply awesome. Great hooks, fierce playing, just awe inspiring with hours of air guitar playing abound! But in 2008, being older and wiser, I suppose, there is something missing. I guess it's the fire. In The Midst Of Beauty features 12 tracks of which most of them are mid paced, lacking the spark that was once ever present. CD Opener, "City Lights" has a cool bounce to it & instantly remind me of the 2nd MSG record's, "Are You Ready To Rock". Gary Barden sounds good, but doesn't have that bite to his voice, but that comes with age & not every older singer has the pipes of Halford or Dio. Schenker is in superb form, just tearing it up all throughout the lead off track. Other highlights are "Wings Of Emotion" with it's plodding heavy groove, "I Want You" and the cool opening riff of "I Am The One", that finds Schenker at the top of his game.
What I'm getting at here is this; the vehicles (the songs) that are there to deliver the solos are just ok. Not bad, not great either. MSG has always been about the exceptional soloing of Schenker wrapped around the songs, but the songs were great. Schenker's soloing is as always, top notch. He is masterful with his flowing lead work and he has never lost ability for riffing, but the songwriting between Barden & Schenker is just not what it once was. It's almost too modern sounding, from a songwriting perspective. I wish it was a little more steeped in the old school MSG flavor. Maybe I'm still looking for 1981 (and I know that I am) or that maybe I was just expected more from this lineup, but I found a lot of the material on the boring side. I expected more stellar performances, although Schenker does bring HIS "A" game.
This is a Schenker release, first and foremost. His lead playing is smoking, as usual, it's just the time spent listening to the song until the solo is a bit bland, but once the solo gets here, it's well worth it. If you are a Schenker fan, pick this up. If you are an old school MSG fan, pick this up and give it a listen. It is not the first two MSG record's from 1980 & 1981, but what band is putting out anything like their classic days? Iron Maiden ain't. But to go back and hopefully catch a glimpse of those early days with those old members playing together again, it's worth taking that journey with them again, if only for one more time.
- City Lights
- I Want You
- End Of The Line
- A Night To Remember
- Wings Of Emotion
- Come Closer
- The Cross Of Crosses
- Na Na
- I Am The One
- Ride On My Way