Review Summary: One of the best live albums ever released.
Nearing the end of the 70's UFO were at the top of their game. Their studio releases had demonstrated a steady progress in songwriting and musicianship throughout the decade and they had delivered their best work with the classic 'Lights Out' and 'Obsession' albums. They were at the peak of their popularity and close to breaking into the mainstream. Then, unfortunately, talismanic guitarist Michael Schenker decided to quit the band. They never fully recovered from this hammer blow but the double live set 'Strangers in the Night' is a worthy representation of how dynamic UFO had become as a live act by the late 70's with Schenker on board.
Recorded in 1978 at shows in Chicago, Illinois and Louisville this album is almost a 'Best of UFO' package and with a few exceptions serves as a near perfect summary of the band's output to that point. While many live albums of the time have been singled out as having been overdubbed Schenker has pointed out in Guitar Player magazine that 'it would not have been possible to overdub the guitars because they also came through the drum microphones'. So what you hear on this album is pretty much a warts an' all Schenker. It has, however,been well documented that 'Mother Mary' and 'This Kids' are actually live studio versions with crowd noise added. I know that sounds rather offputting but they sound so good and fit so well in the set that you can forgive them for such a blatant act.
Notwithstanding any concerns about overdubs and such like the band are totally electric on this album; tight, powerful, rousing and confident. Without hardly any exceptions the live versions on here are better than their studio incarnations and in some cases the improvement is so vast that the originals become almost unlistenable by comparison. 'Let It Roll' hits you with a force totally unlike the rather badly produced rendition on 'Force It'. 'Only You Can Rock Me' actually does rock you and the signature song 'Doctor Doctor' receives it's definitive performance. The version of the classic 'Rock Bottom' on here is also exceptional and features a new intro and an extended middle section which serves as a Schenker showpiece. Another highlight is the driving 'Lights Out' which hits you like a ton of bricks..'lights out, lights out in CHICAGO' screams Mogg to the cheers of the crowd. It might sound contrived but it captures the moment perfectly and just adds to the excitement while the song thunders along with Paul Raymond's distorted organ sounds vieing to compete with a frenzied Schenker on guitar.
There is more to this album than driving hard rock however. UFO were always famous for their ballads and 'Out in the Street' and 'I'm A Loser' benefit greatly from a slightly more robust approach than they were given in the studio. Another ballad 'Love to Love', probably the best song they ever wrote, is one of the real gems of this live set. In fact, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden is cited on wikipedia as claiming it as his favourite song and it is beautifully performed on here.
My only gripe with the album is the track order. The original LP felt perfect with 'Natural Thing' as the opener. The re-issue places 'Hot n Ready' and 'Cherry' at the start of the album and these are definitely the weakest songs of the lot. Also, 'Love to Love' is shifted to near the start of the set and seems out of place. Apparently this mirrors their live show at the time but the original track order was perfect. If it ain't broke don't fix it. However, that's just a very small fly in a vat of ointment as this is without a doubt one of the best live releases of all time.
If you only ever buy one UFO album, this is the one you want.