Friday, September 24, 2010

Michael Schenker Group II M.S.G.

Of the five absolutely essential Michael Schenker Group Releases (which include this one, the self-titled debut, Rock Will Never Die, One Night at Budokan, and Assault Attack), this one is right in the running with Assault Attack as the best thing Michael Schenker ever did. I give the edge to Assault Attack because of a) the overall more involved and intricate compositions, b) Martin Birch, and c) the superior vocal prowess of Mr. Graham Bonnet (I admit a bias for this last aspect). In terms of guitar playing and songwriting, this is Michael Schenker at an absolute peak, one that he remained on for several years to come.

However, that does NOT mean that this album is lesser from an overall perspective. In fact, M.S.G. is an album that is easier to play all the way through, as opposed to Assault Attack, which has bumpy spots. And, though Gary Barden can't be held up to greats like classic Ian Gillan, Ronnie James Dio, or the above mentioned Bonnet, he gives the vocal performance of a lifetime here. His well placed use of falsetto flashes back to the classic Deep Purple sound, and let's face it: for us Dino rockers that can be a very, VERY good thing.

This, the second Michael Schenker Group album, portrays a band that got over the unevenness of their debut and reached maturity together. The songs here are overall more aggressive, often bitter (see "I Want More", arguably the best song here). There is lighter fare here ("Are You Ready To Rock", "Looking For Love") as well as epic cuts (the pristine "On and On" and equally excellent "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie"). But the sense of melancholy and...well, resignation seems to pop up here more often than not. The album even closes on a pleading-though-resigned-to-a-"no" track, "Secondary Motion". One wonders whether the darker feel of this album could be at least partially attributed to the band's conflicts with producer Ron Nevison.

The listener gets more of a feel of a unique Michael Schenker Group personality here than on any of the other Schenker releases. The first Michael Schenker Group album wasn't terribly different from classic UFO (besides more of a classical music influence), and Assault Attack was obviously influenced by the '70's Rainbow material that Bonnet was a part of, as well as the Dio-era of Black Sabbath. It's also notable that the only MSG studio album that ex-Rainbow frontman Cozy Powell played on was the first one that really established and defined M.S.G. as an individual presence in Rock/Heavy Metal. That unique style carried onto the One Night in Budokan album, peaked with Rock Will Never Die, and pretty much disappeared until Barden's re-entry with In The Midst of Beauty...if it ever reappeared at all.

The guitar playing is as outstanding as one could expect, given Michael Schenker's reputation. The album's only possible weak link, the poppy, UFO quoting "Looking For Love," has a completely redeeming outro guitar solo, one that will most certainly have you reaching for your rewind button. The solos are often brilliantly melodic; in the whole of rock/heavy metal lead guitar there is rarely such impassioned, memorable phrasing as on here. The outros of Let Sleeping Dogs Lie and But I Want More are literally goosebump raising.

This is the album that I'd point to first for anyone looking to hear the distinctive M.S.G. sound. It is also one of those priceless albums where pretty much every song is outstanding, inspiring, and ROCKING.

More succinctly,this album is an education in the art of classic metal songwriting, as well as definitive lead guitar phrasing. If you love classic Deep Purple, Rainbow, Scorpions, and their ilk, then you need this.