Saturday, January 17, 2015

Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock - Spirit On A Mission - Schenker Is Primed For A Return To The Top

Michael Schenker is playing as well as ever - his re-emergence is still heading up that hill, and every indication is that he's ready for another run at the upper bracket. Spirit On A Mission is the latest chapter of his return to rock 'n' roll grace, and the man is truly inspiring. In a world that's way too short of current guitar heroes, Michael and George Lynch seem to be the current kings of 'can do no wrong'.

Spirit On A Mission is an album ripe with juicy, new guitar riffs - I often say that the hardest job in rock is reinventing the wheel called the riff, and Michael is still finding new ways to revivify the form. It's shame that this is not one of the better examples I have heard of an album capturing his signature guitar tones. Great writing, great playing, and great performances abound, but disappointing production haunts this album. Perhaps having your entire of arsenal of guitars and a half finished album stolen was just too much to overcome, but there is a bunch of fantastic playing that I am hearing on this album that sounds like it's been covered with a wet blanket. It's time to up the ante and get a better support team in - the music deserves better than it's been getting.

Schenker's writing is especially melodic, and on point. His soloing is as sharp and taut as it's been in ages, but the time has arrived for the man to be surrounded by talents as large as his own - he's earned it. You see, I can't pull punches on this because to do so would be doing a disservice to the music, and that's not something I can abide. There's so much great playing here that it's silly, but I'm not pleased with having to imagine what I would really like to be hearing - the problem is certainly not in the top notch performances, it's in the production, mixing, and mastering. This album will suffice for the faithful, but it shall claim no new fans, and that's too bad, but it's also just part of the process that is unfolding.

'All Our Yesterdays' is a great example - great riff, stunning interplay between Schenker and drummer Herman Rarebell, cool keyboards that ache to be higher up in the mix, and a lead guitar tone which is there, but not captured in all its intended glory. This song should have me jumping up and down, but it's mostly making me want to hear it done right.

Schenker was right in wanting to involve the seven string of Wayne Findlay more on this outing, and 'Let The Devil Scream' is an excellent example of what he was imagining as his leads stand out well when laying atop a thick foundation of low end action. His solo on this cut is classic Metal Mikey, and when the end of the parade comes, I can completely see where he was hoping this was heading. This won't be the album that cracks the skies for the German maestro, but it is an absolute indication that he is poised to perhaps even surpass his glorious past - the man is on fire.

It's really tough to be so hard on an album that contains some of the best material that's come from my favorite guitarist in ages, but it's my obligation to be as honest as I can about these things. Schenker's playing on 'Good Times' is the best I've heard him fire off for some time, and all I can say is that I can't wait to hear what comes next. His career has been upwardly arcing for some time, and I think we're only one step away from a full return to the days when UFO and MSG headlined festivals and halls. This current iteration has run its course, it has served him well, but it's time to up the ante.

Don't get me wrong, I think you should buy this album, and support it completely - you've gotta realize that while this is great material that I may not like in sheerly aesthetic terms, but I'm a harsh critic. If you're going to compete with the kids on a track like 'Wicked', you had better come armed for a fight - this is a better album than the band's last, but it doesn't always sound like it. Schenker's riffing on this number is dare I say very Zeppelin-esque, but with none of the audio attractiveness of a Page production - I can hear what it is supposed to sound like, but that's not what is on the disc. Dismal production of a potentially great tune. The important thing is that Michael Schenker is still on course, he's just wrapped in paper unbefitting the gift.

This album for me is all about Michael Schenker and his career trajectory - the man has returned like a heavyweight out to win his third crown, and while I'm disappointed by the production of this album, I also commend Michael on the fantastic work he is doing. After a few few albums that have seen the legendary guitarist regaining traction at a pretty astounding pace, it is now time to suit up and make a go for the bigs - you deserve it, Mr. Schenker.

I commend this effort, but things must now get ratcheted up a notch. It's too damned close to greatness to let it falter.

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