Review Summary: Scorpions’s best 70’s album is a magical journey through grief and melancholia.
Addressing the fact that the German Rock legends will celebrate in three years time their 50th anniversary makes it both an incomprehensible and an admirable feat. The story of their long lived career is truly a unique one. A career surrounded by many line up changes, turbulent periods, controversial decisions and the great Rock ‘n’ Roll music they always managed to brought to us. Beginning in the mid 60’s, Scorpions were founded by Rudolf Schenker, after the later, who was deeply influenced by The beatles (and cited their influence as his biggest motivation), had a profound desire to form a band.
For the first five years, the band’s identity was hard to describe, as they drew influences from many musical genres and their main activity was covering many famous pop songs. It’s actually hard to believe that a Pop cover band would eventually unfold to become one of the biggest and most influential Rock acts. After many incarnations and line up changes Scorpions released their first album Lonesome Crow
in 1972. Their debut was inarguably very different in style compared to their latter AOR material. After the recordings Rudolf’s younger brother Michael left the band and went to join in a much more prominent and promising (at that time) outfit named UFO. This departurte proved to be a crucial one. Not only because Michael Schenker would eventually rise to fame with the English band and becoming simultaneously one of the greatest guitarists in his field, but also, because Scorpions would enter in their second studio incarnation with the best German guitarist of all time, Uli Jon Roth. Roth, who’s style was heavily influenced by Hendrix’s, brought with his playing, a progressive mystical aura to the band and together with Meine and Schenker, the trio became the driving force behind the band. This line up was steady enough as they wrote 4 studio albums and one live album before Roth’s departure. The first album of the new line up, titled Fly To The Rainbow
, was released in 1974. Roth’s contribution was minimized due to Michael’s collaboration with the band, as part of his deal with Scorpions for leaving them to join UFO. That album, while being great, showed a band in search for a musical direction. Ultimately, The long, progressive, atmospheric compositions would eventually disappear in their future efforts for the sake of more straight forward Rock.
Scorpions’s third studio album In Trance
was released in 1975 and rightfully it can be hailed as the first “true” Scorpions album. It is at this stage of their career, that the band finally begins to develop their characteristic metallic sound. Combining a dazzling guitar work by the guitar duo Roth-Schenker, with Meine’s energetic vocals, the band is using their energy and their inspiration to create a masterful work of sadness and sorrow. Without having Michael to handle and direct the songwriting, Roth’s contribution here is apparently bigger with six songs written or co written by him. As everyone knows he became quite known for his lead playing in future Scorpions’s songs such as: The Sails of Charon
, We’ll Burn The Sky
, Hell Cat
, Polar Knights
, Yellow Raven
and so on. All of these songs featured exotic guitar sounds, as Roth started to incorporate many different scales in his playing, with the most noticeable example being the Dominant Phrygian scale. During the recordings of Virgin Killier
and Taken By Force
, Roth studied furiously those scales in order for him to enrich his musical arsenal. His extensive practice resulted in the writing of some of the most beautiful pieces of music written in Rock history. But before that, his knowledge was limited to the Pentatonic and Minor scales. Of course, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t an accomplished guitar player already. He owned the six-string. Roth focused his leads and his ideas around those minor scales and the result was a pack of songs condemned to be remembered for ever. The band were obviously supporting him by writing simple material and letting him express his talents as much as possible with his perfect soloing. Each and every song features either an attack, or an aggressive solo, accompanied sometimes by an overall loudness that Roth always likes to create with his tremolo bar. Primal examples are the tracks: Dark Lady
and Robot Man
. Night Lights
is the only instrumental you’ll find in here and it has the name Uli Roth written all over it. One of the best melodic pieces the great guitarist has ever come up with. Rudolf Schenker is also an important team player. While he takes credit for writing the more straightforward and outspoken material, his cooperation with Roth gives the band a tight, marvelous rhythmic section strong enough to capture our attention and keep it all the way until the very last track of the album. Very interesting work. Tracks such as Top of The Bill
, Robot Man
, Dark Lady
and longing For Fire
are all powerful examples.
While the guitar work is excellent, the tone of this album is what captivated me from the very first listen. Due to the above-mentioned extensive use of the Minor scales, In Trance
is definitely the saddest, most melancholic album in Scorpions’s discography. It’s just feels great when exposing your senses to the dramatic, hypnotic effects that this little masterpiece creates. Lyrically, the effort put on this album is more sophisticated and tries to enhance the joyless atmosphere:
Nothing really looks pretty and I’ve been alone, I’ve been alone, I’ve been alone
And in my heart many wishes are crying, living and dying
As years are passing by silence becomes your friend, you see the world in a different way
Sitting alone in the doghouse, thinking of you all the time sighing, crying
I spend too many lines trying to explain how the music flows and I focused too much of my writing on the guitarists. That doesn’t mean that the other members do not deserve any credit. Klaus Meine’s voice sounds terrific and it blends well with the music. While Klaus hadn’t reached yet the astonishing performing levels of Blackout
or Love At First Sting
he already displayed his well known voice for the first time here on this album and his furious screams do more than enough to make the songs come to life. Meine’s vocals are a tremendously important asset to the band. All the great groups in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll managed to make a name for themselves not only because of the brilliance of their music, but also because they had a singer who married his distinguished vocals with this music, giving the band specific results. Scorpions owe much to Meine’s vocals. As far as the other members of the group, Francis Buchholz is making his second appearance as the band's bassist on this album and with the performance he gives, he shines less. However, his leading lines on the tracks “Evening Wind” and “Longing For Fire” are fantastic. Rudy Lenners provide the band with some good effective drumming, but my overall impression is that his work is inadequate.
Scorpions are very well known for the hits they wrote back in the 80’s. Evidently, there are plenty of people who are not familiar with their 70’s material, and that’s a damn shame. Their music of that era is truly memorable. Do yourself a favor and discover their musical treasure.
Top Of The Bill