Wednesday, February 7, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1710: The Scorpions

I’m a bit tired and it’s a bit late, but sometimes on the CD Odyssey you have to row when there ain’t enough wind to sail. This is one of those times. I’ll put my back into it, and we’ll see what results.

Disc 1710 is…Taken By Force

Artist: Scorpions

Year of Release: 1977

What’s up with the Cover? Once again we get a sanitized Scorpions album cover, after their original design was censored for being too…something. In this case the something was too violent, with the original depicting two kids shooting each other in a mass cemetery. If you’d like to see that, the internet is replete with options.

My copy is this mostly black version, with the band members across the top. It’s not worthy of a clever comment, and I’m not in the mood to be serious about why we have this cover in the first place and so…on to the next category.

How I Came To Know It: At some point a number of years ago my friend Spence got me digging through early Scorpions albums. I don’t like everything they did in the early days, but I do like a lot of it including “Taken by Force”.

How It Stacks Up: The Scorpions have 19 studio albums, but at this point I only have six of them. I don’t have plans to get more, but never say never. I had originally saved slot #3 for “Taken by Force” but the truth is, it couldn’t beat out “Lovedrive” and so it lands at #4. Here’s the full (now amended – for those readers of the “Lovedrive” review) list:

  1. Blackout: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 290)
  2. Animal Magnetism: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1194)
  3. Lovedrive: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1527)
  4. Taken by Force: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
  5. Love at First Sting: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 309)
  6. Crazy World: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 702)

Rating: 3 stars

Early Scorpions can feel a bit weird to the uninitiated, and while “Taken By Force” isn’t the weirdest record, it does branch out into places musically that those who limit their knowledge to “Rock You Like a Hurricane” will feel surprising.

This record did not start auspiciously for me, with two of the first three tunes (“Steamrock Fever”, “I’ve Got To Be Free”) featuring a kind of garage rock vibe that I found a bit jarring. The Scorpions always have a metallic taste to their sound, but these tunes landed more on the tinny side of metal. The song wedged between, “We’ll Burn the Sky” was an improvement, mostly because of all the cowbell. Who doesn’t love cowbell?

I started thinking that I might have made a mistake, and hoping that this was the album with “The Sails of Charon” on it. Readers, my hopes were not in vain. More on that in a moment.

Track Four is “Riot of Your Time”, which gets the Scorpions going in the first of what would become a number of surprising directions. The tune is one third folk guitar strum jangle, one third driving metal riffs you know and love as the Scorpions, and one third Queen getting theatrical. In sum, it is a lot. It is overblown to the point of excess, but hard not to love, and better after repeat listens.

The song had me musing that maybe, on balance, I liked this record after all. And then “The Sails of Charon” kicked in. “Sails of Charon” is one of rock and roll’s great songs. Killer riffs, killer solos, killer riffs played at the same time as killer solos, and an irrepressible driving fury. A wave of guitar that invites you to ride across some sort of lyrically questionable storyline. Don’t worry what it is about – it is all window dressing for the power chord overkill and an anthemic what-the-hell quality that would make Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow salivate. At four and half minutes, the only beef I have with “Sails of Charon” is that it isn’t twice as long.

Remember, though, I promised many musical turns. After fully hooking me on a bit of traditional seventies rock/metal, the Scorpions hit you with “Your Light” a song that mixes their rock roots with a funky groove. Thin Lizzy meets Nile Rodgers. It is funky as hell but still tuff. ‘ere the end, there is a metal guitar solo somehow dumped on top of all that groove. A lot of sharp turns of style in this song, but every one works. This song is like a cabby that takes you down eight side streets during rush hour, avoids three stop lights and gets you home five minutes early.

A Scorpions album wouldn’t feel right without an overwrought ballad with an awkward title. On “Taken by Force” that song is “Born to Touch Your Feelings”. The first half is like a sixties folk tune, and the bridge is like a hard rock Oktoberfest. There’s some spoken word confessional stuff overlaid in the last third for good measure. I’m not sure it works as well as they think it does, but they go all in to sell it, and for a song like this, that’s enough.

Throughout it all, the musicianship of the Scorpions shines through. In fact, “Taken By Force” is their most technically interested record in my collection. The number of musical styles they incorporate is impressive, but more impressive is how they make them all work so well together, often within a single song. It takes great composition and even better playing to make that work, but they deliver time and again.

Best tracks: Riot of Your Time, The Sails of Charon, Your Light

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

The Sails of Charon is definitely the highlight of this album.

The first Scorpions CD I got was Savage Amusement. Probably still my favourite...