UFO – The Monkey Puzzle Review

Can I take you back again? Fucking yes I can. Stop reading if you don’t want to come with me. I was a hero air guitarist. I got it listening to The Who and Beatles, and I refined it on Aerosmith and Kiss. But I really found my style of not actually playing the guitar with a couple of classic numbers from equally classic recordings. “Diamonds and Rust” and “Too Hot to Handle” were those two recordings. We all know about Judas Priest, but UFO simply never took off in my country. Maybe because they were not as obviously metal as Priest, or maybe just because that’s how shit goes down. UFO had some VIOLENTLY crushing riffs pre 1980, and their foray into the NWBHM territory was impressive in many ways, but just never had the same oomph overall as the Maidens, Saxons and Motorheads. I am not in the mood to dissect this, I just know UFO was a band the TRUE hardrock/metalheads listened to in 1980, but that somehow missed the boat in my neck of the woods as far as commercial success went. Along with Riot, Pat Travers and several others, they made a mark on Metal, but never seemed to get the gravy, at least in the USA.

This band has been there from damn near the beginning. You HAVE to respect that. But you don’t have to buy their records. I don’t give a shit how old you are, you still have to sell me the music. So do they? Well, I gave a glowing review to a Tommy Bolin record earlier this year, because I have a place in my heart for the hard rock, and when a band gets it right hard Rock can be every bit as compelling as Metal. UFO is still the same band that walked the line between Rock and Metal back in ’80. And they still bring the crush sometimes. But they also bring the blue. This music has next to nothing in common with what Metal IS. It’s slow, smoky and anachronistic. And like all those old heroes, it’s a hit or miss affair. If you didn’t know these guys were part of the original style you could easily dismiss some of these songs as hackery on the level of post Slide It In Whitesnake. But the fact is Whitesnake was hacking THESE motherfuckers.

So what do they bring to the table? Singer – and I mean SINGER – Phill Mogg can make a straight man’s vagina ooze. His voice was always the embodiment of late night sets at little pubs in the hinterlands, thick with smoke and stale whiskey odors, where the die hards were barely standing and the ladies were practically in a post orgasmic stupor. Moog is the prototypical mid ranged rock singer. His voice still carries the songs, good or bad, to wherever they are going. He was never a screamer, never a drawn out whiner. He was curt and to the point and he still is. Think a deeper register Paul Rogers. You either get it or not. Guitarist Vinnie Moore has all the virtuosity the hero worshippers expect. Apart from these two standouts you get a band that knows itself and knows how to gel.

To be honest, though I really, really miss the flat rocking sledge hammer of “Chains Chains” style pummel. This modern version is, for all its charisma and know-how, just too tame on the whole. The edges are shaved and the mix is too clean and headlocked for the band that sounded barely controllable on the classic live version of “Too Hot to Handle”. Where is that free fall interplay I grew up with between the guitars? Where is Pete Way’s lead bass sneaking around in the background? Where is the sweat and the fury? There are far too many power ballads and not nearly enough ripping bashers. This is all too often make-out music for a 1984 teenaged geek like I was. As much as I long to give this a serious nod, I am stuck feeling underwhelmed.

The bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with this record a wayback machine wouldn’t fix. But you don’t have one, and neither do I. This is 2006 and this music just doesn’t have any relevance for the average metal head. There is a lot to admire, a lot to appreciate and a lot of stories I would love to hear these motherfuckers tell, but you are a consumer and this is a product and I can’t recommend this to you. But, if you made it all the way to the end of this, I CAN recommend you find a copy of Strangers In the Night, The Wild, The Willing and the Innocent, Lights Out or any of the other albums from their golden heyday and pay whatever you need to for them.

Posted by Chris Sessions

I write for Last Rites, but in my mind it is spelled Lassed Writes because I am a dreamer.

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