URIAH HEEP Into The Wild Frontiers (2011)
Just three years after Uriah Heep's first new album in a decade, they have followed 2008's 'Wake the Sleeper' with a relatively quick follow-up to capitalise on renewed interest in the band. There has also been a change of record label to Frontiers, and I wondered whether it was more than coincidence that this is accompanied by a more straight ahead, melodic direction that hints in places at some of their 1980's output such as 'Equator' and 'Raging Silence'.
Indeed opener 'Nail On the Head' has a surprisingly rhythmic groove, with the chorus bearing an unfortunate resemblance to disco anthem Oops Upside Your Head (or as hooligans used to sing on football terraces at the time, Get a Boot Wrapped Round Your Head). Later in the album, 'T-Bird Angel' is the most overtly catchy commercial rocker they have released since 'Blood Red Roses'.
Fortunately for more traditional Heep fans most of the album is more typical fare, with the rapid fire 'I Can See You' perhaps the stand out track on the album and Southern Star continuing the nautical theme set on Wake the Sleeper's 'Ghost of the Ocean'.
The new album 'Into The Wind' focuses on the band's strengths
of a big organ led sound, strong harmony vocals and big
melodies, was there a conscious attempt to write that way?
We've never strayed too far from what we've done in the past.
The title track for example, came from our keyboard player Phil
Lanzon having read the book and seen the film of 'Into The
Wild', and that gave us a starting point.
Pretty soon however, we had a good hook and lyrics to match and
then it became something radically different and we added our
own story line.
Then there was the title itself which worked well for us. It was
something of a double edged sword as you start with the book and
film, work on the song and eventually record all the rest of the
tracks and complete the album. And by the time you have finished
the whole thing, it's only you, the engineer and the record
company that has heard it. So effectively you are releasing it
'Into The Wild'!
We had a good melody and we had the lyrics for the title track
and then we tried to put the song together. Some of the song was
already written before it turned out to be very different from
what we originally had in mind.
Once again it was the people from the Frontiers record company
who wanted a rock album. We originally envisioned it as
having much more medium tempo stuff.
Bernie Shaw, who I initially felt was the weakest of Heep's many singers, has matured with each album to sound like a natural fit, while many of the Heep trademarks are there - the multiple vocal harmonies and Phil Lanzon's Hammond organ, which dominates the album as at times you can imagine him having a ball letting rip with some over the top flourishes. Check out his solo in 'Kiss of Freedom' which closes out the album for proof.
However Mick Box's guitar disappointingly seems to be restricted to a low key role and there also appears to be less of Trevor Bolder's often adventurous bass work. In general the progressive glories and grandiose musical and lyrical content that for me made Wake the Sleeper such an unexpected treat have been reined in, in favour of a more mainstream sound. This would normally find favour with me, but for a band with Heep's history, it feels a missed opportunity.
Other than Trail of Diamonds, which builds from quiet beginnings, and 'Money Talk' with a noticeably harsher vocal delivery from Bernie, as well as a staccato riff reminiscent of Thin Lizzy's 'It's Only Money', the album can also have done with a bit more variation in pace.
A solid release from this wonderful institution, but for my money a bit of step back from Wake the Sleeper and a slight disappointment.
Review by Andy Nathan
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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty
damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly
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