From the moment they started doing interviews for their 19th album Rock Believer, the Scorpions made a point of mentioning records like Lovedrive and Blackout, and of saying that they wanted to return to just being a band in a room rocking out together. A good sign. Rudolph Schenker also gave new drummer Mikkey Dee a ton of credit for infusing the band with new energy. A second good sign. Then there’s the cover art, which is thankfully neither the Ed Hardy-ish style of Sting in the Tail nor something inexcusable and disgusting, but just a gal with a look of some sort of bliss on her face, a scorpion, and the classic logo. There’s an In Trance or Love at First Sting vibe to it, just with an updated (and very bold) color scheme. A third, if notably less musical good sign.
And rock they do. Rock Believer comes out almost exactly 50 years (!!!) since debut Lonesome Crow, and while it doesn’t feature any of their psychedelic roots, it does feel like a turning back of the clock to the type of albums they mentioned in those recent interviews. It’s free of experimentation, heady concepts, most outside songwriters, and fluff. It is refreshingly lacking in ambition, but rather just the core trio of Meine, Schenker, and Matthias Jabs along with the stout rhythm section of Mikkey and now long-time bassist Pawel Maciwoda sounding as naturally Scorpions as they have in many an age. The riffs see Schenker at his punchy and deceptively simple best, simultaneously banging heads while shaping the song narratives, and Meine’s golden pipes have not aged a single day in the half century since he started putting voice to tape; forever one of the greats.
That said, it does take a few tracks to really get going. “Gas in the Tank” is energetic and a clearly designed opener, but a tad overcooked and seemingly more designed for audience interaction than anything else, although admittedly no more overcooked or crowd-baiting than the song that gave this record its name, just a little poppier. The next couple tunes are similarly solid and lively but not quite amazing (although the solo in “Roots in My Boots” is white hot fire). It’s honestly a great sign for the whole of Rock Believer that even the “low” points top anything else the band has done in recent memory (and they do).
But the record really hits its stride with the title track, and then doesn’t look back. “Rock Believer” is incredibly earnest and nostalgic, almost saccharine in its love for rock and fandom and dreaming and growing up and everything else, and yet it works so well because it’s this band playing and singing it. The chorus has the kind of effortless but absolutely irresistible melody that Meine has been crafting his entire career, begging for you to sing along. Elsewhere, “Lay My Bones to Rest” has a bit of a raucous Chuck Berry sound and updated old rock feel; “Peacemaker” has a drive readymade for speeding down the highway, shows off Meine’s more aggressive vocal style, and features some great Schenker/Jabs harmonies; “Call of the Wild” successfully incorporates a touch of grunge in its main riffs while Meine wails over the laid back feel; and closing ballad “When You Know (Where You Come From)” does everything you’d expect of a Scorpions ballad (several melodies that will move into your mind as permanent residents, a softer vocal touch, and of course a moving solo) without sounding exactly like any of their many classic past ballads.
All of these tunes bring the goods, but Rock Believer’s peak is probably the mid-album twofer of “Shining of Your Soul” and “Seventh Son,” both of which are absolutely stellar. The former follows a really cool, almost alarm-sounding opening riff with ultra reggae-ish verses (where Maciwoda really gets to have some fun) and a crazy great chorus. The latter sees Scorpions in their rare but always awesome menacing mode (think “China White”)—monolithic and way heavy riffs, a slow, pounding, and deliberate tempo, and Meine taking full advantage of having a pretty open space in which to wail. These and other tunes aren’t just great later Scorpions songs, they’re great Scorpions songs, full stop.
More proof that the Rock Believer sessions were the Scorps’ most fruitful and spirited in ages: the deluxe edition includes an extra five tracks that are all also quite worthy. “Shoot for Your Heart” is a particularly kickass romp, and while we probably didn’t need an acoustic take on “When You Know (Where You Come From),” it sure is gorgeous. Even the tracks they cut from the main album would be highlights of solid recent outings like Unbreakable, to say nothing of how they make something like Eye II Eye look.
How exactly did this happen after all this time? Did Mikkey ‒ who is almost certainly the best drummer they’ve ever had ‒ really inject that much extra power into the sessions? Did Rudi and Klaus just decide to follow their instincts and get back to basics? Did the truth finally being out about “Wind of Change” lift a huge weight off their shoulders? (Kidding.) Who knows, but the results are shockingly good considering the long string of generally solid, forgettably decent, or pretty weak albums they’ve released in the many years since their last megahit.
Rock Believer is the best Scorpions record in at least 30 years. It isn’t perfect, nor is it likely to suddenly vault them back to superstardom in a very different rock and music business landscape, but considering how much of their later studio output just seemed like an excuse to get back on the road, it has to be considered at least a moderate triumph. If you’ve read this much of a Scorpions review in 2022, the sounds within are going to make you smile a big wide smile.