Review Summary: Michael Schenker giving a great impression of his talent on this interesting album. Guitar aficionados can lick their fingers.
Back in 1981 hard rock and heavy metal were not yet autonomous distilled genres (are they now?), but interchangeable styles of strong, energetic rock music. Thus it could happen that a compilation album like 'Metal Mania' (EMI, 1980) presented the likes of Deep Purple, Sammy Hagar and Whitesnake alongside early heavy metal bands Iron Maiden and Riot. Definitions were diffuse, leading to entertaining mixtures and that really didn't matter. If you played on Ten, wore your hair long and wielded your extravagantly shaped electric guitar in front of a black wall of Marshalls, it was ok! It was in these days that The Michael Schenker Group rose to fame, on the edge of hard rock and early metal. The roots of guitar player and founder of MSG Michael Schenker are to be found in seventies hard rock. As a prodigy he played in Scorpions and later of course in the equally influential UFO, before he established his own band in 1979.
From the beginning he stuck to his own style of rock: melodic hard rock with tinges of prog rock and AOR, incorporating elements of similar bands like Deep Purple (keyboards), Rainbow and naturally Scorpions. The key aspect that set MSG apart is the sound and mastery of Michaels playing style. Already in 1981 he belonged to the most respected and talented players in hard rock. Not only his appearance was iconic (medium haircut, leather jacket and of course the legendary Flying V) but he is also still renowned for his 'tone': a characteristically balanced, spatially wahwah sound. What I particularly like about Schenker is his way of phrasing and sense of melody. More than an experimental, academic player he is a sophisticated, sensitive guitarist, but with a forceful drive. You'll find proof of his exciting solos strewn all over the place on Schenker's second album. MSG never kept their line up intact, but in 1981 it consisted of some great musicians:
Gary Barden - vocals
Michael Schenker - lead guitar
Paul Raymond - keyboards, rhythm guitar
Chris Glen - bass
Cozy Powell - drums
The album simply titled MSG, clad in a not especially appealing cover, is exemplary for their brand of rock music. There are straight, energetic rockers like Ready to Rock
or Looking for Love
, both fine songs with a commercial hint. Also you'll find more elaborate songs with variety in instruments and tempo, proving the capability of the band (i.e. Schenker and Barden) to write excellent, catchy songs like Attack of the Mad Axeman
or On and On
. This song is one of the better ones of the album, but also demonstrates one of the sporadic flaws. Although Barden is quite a good singer, in a way reminiscent of Ian Gillan from Deep Purple, his voice becomes thin and unsteady when reaching higher notes. Also his range is restricted. This becomes all the more evident live, just listen to One Night at Budoka
'. Finally there are classic songs showing power, sublime song writing and blistering solos like Let Sleeping Dogslie
and But I want More
. The former is a vigorous piece of hard rock with superb riffs and brilliant guitar. My personal favorite is the subtle power ballad Never Trust a Stranger
, remarkably written by keyboardist Paul Raymond. This Scorpions-like ballad has wonderful melody lines and very nice interplay between Barden and Schenker. The way he starts his short but brilliant solo, shattering the quiet keyboard melody, is one of the 'moments' on the album. So seemingly effortless but truly mind-blowing!
So, if you want to listen to one of the main influential hard rock bands of the early 80's and want to convince yourself of the greatness of Schenker, the man that inspired a multitude of contemporary metal musicians, do yourself a favor and dig this album. I think MSG is indispensable for everyone who likes metal today and want to consider it's roots and origins