If you’ve been ardently reading everything I’ve written over the past however many years – and let’s be honest, of course you have – you’re already aware that I’m a pretty big fan of these long-tenured hard rockers. They’ll likely forever live in the shadow of the Schenker days, when they released a string of records that rival anyone else’s output from the golden age of hard rock, and they endured a rough period in the 80s, as did many others. But that was then, and UFO is still going strong now, in the fifth decade of their career. With Vinnie Moore ably filling the spot Schenker vacated (again) a decade or so back, and now with rock-star bassist Pete Way officially replaced by Rob DeLuca (formerly of Sebastian Bach’s band), UFO is as good as they’ve been since their heyday over thirty years ago.
Coming off the strength of 2012’s Seven Deadly, A Conspiracy Of Stars operates on much the same blueprint – UFO circa 2015 isn’t re-inventing themselves or anything else. They just came here to rock, and they do that quite well, thankyouverymuch. It’s business as usual, stylistically, but it’s delivered with such style and grace that it’s not formulaic so much as just confident.
Opening track “The Killing Kind” is a straightforward UFO rocker, guitar-driven and solid, but it pales in comparison to its follow-up, “Run Boy Run,” which is one of the best songs the Vinnie Moore line-up has brought thusfar. That first tune is fun enough, if a bit by the numbers, sure. But then the second rocks a mean riff and some of Phil Mogg’s best vocals of late, and the album lifts off from there. The raucous riff of “Run Boy” is the closest the band comes to metal these days, the proto-metal gallop of “Lights Out” and “Doctor Doctor” long past, but still, it’s certainly heavy enough, and it fits snugly against the bluesy swagger of “Ballad Of The Left Hand Gun.”
Speaking of Mogg, he’s been the band’s only consistent member, their erstwhile leader and one of the most underrated singers in the history of hard rock. His voice has aged a bit, but perfectly – he’s always been about grit and guts, never about operatics or technique, the streetwise rogue instead of the soaring pretty boy. His performance here is as good as any he’s given since the golden years, and of course, it helps greatly that he has a batch of great tunes to back him up. The likes of “Run Boy Run,” “King Of The Hill,” and “Devils In The Detail” are just killer hard rock tunes, filled with cocksure swagger, and thus the perfect basis for Mogg’s cooler-than-thou soulful croon. (Although hearing him slyly intone “Come here, my skanky toady / let me whisper in your ear” in “Devil” may haunt my nightmares for awhile.)
A Conspiracy Of Stars does drift off a bit in the middle, I must admit – the somewhat-shuffling “Precious Cargo” isn’t bad, but fails to ignite the same spark as what comes before. It’s one of the few places where Moore’s shredding feels like overplaying, mostly because the song is one of the album’s weakest, alongside the AOR-ish “One And Only.” Still, those few stumbles are redeemed by a closing trio as great as the opening one: “Messiah Of Love” has another of Moore’s best riffs and some more blustery soul from Mogg, while “Rolling Rolling” does just that, a solid midtempo rocker that admittedly gets support from its two greater bookends. Final track “King Of The Hill” is the perfect wrap-up, another great bluesy rock riff from Moore, another great cocky performance from Mogg.
Maybe it’s the presence of Rob DeLuca in the studio – he’s played live with the band since 2008, but he helped with songwriting here for the first time – or maybe it’s just because the time was right, but this newest UFO is a band flying high again. A Conspiracy Of Stars is the best album they’ve released in many a moon, since the Paul Chapman days, and hell, maybe even since Obsession. (To clarify, it still falls short of the classic run from Phenomenon through Obsession – it’s just the closest they’ve come in a long time.)
If you’ve stuck with them this long, you should already be excited about A Conspiracy Of Stars, and you’ve got good reason to be: This is why you’ve been coming back all these years. Because this is great hard rock. Because this is UFO.