Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Unbreakable - Scorpions

Provenance: I've had the singular pleasure of being rocked like a hurricane on numerous occasions. Numerous occasions.

Review: It must have been a strange moment to have been a Scorpion in 2004. Twenty years earlier you were rocking the world like a hurricane. A mere fifteen years ago you singlehandedly brought down the Berlin Wall with the whistled intro to 'Wind of Change'. Just over a decade ago you still manage a US top thirty album with the awful Face the Heat. What next? Create some of the worst album art in rock history? But you've already done that. Metal bands now wear tracksuits and feature DJs and something called a 'Fred Durst'. So what do you do?

Well, if you're the Scorpions, you sort-of join the nu-metal crowd for about half a song. Then you go back to being the Scorpions.

So we start proceedings with a faintly embarrassing song called 'New Generation', which has an introduction that sounds like it was devised by someone who has never actually listened to nu-metal but is going to have a go anyway. There's a bit of static, and some disjointed vocals echo about the place before a big, crunching, down-tuned riff bursts through. However, unlike Alice Cooper's Brutal Planet the commitment to trying to keep up with the backward-cap brigade begins and ends here. The rest of the song unfurls to reveal itself as a mid-placed plodder with a children's chorus singing the outro. Ho hum.

And that's it. Because next track, 'Love 'Em Or Leave 'Em' (a sentiment born of the finest of sensibilities) could've come straight from Breakout. Thusly the tone is set for the rest of the disc, whose tracks all sound like the Scorpions between Lovedrive and the moment they put paid to Communism in Eastern Europe. The only discernible difference between Unbreakable and the Scorps' eighties output is the punchy digital production, a sound that I tend to dislike.

However, in this instance it sounds perfectly good. Partly, I think, because the Scorpions never had a really 'organic' feel to much of their material anyway. So if you don't really trade off on 'feel' or the ability to swing a beat in the first place, one can almost see the precision engineering of a Pro Tools production as a virtue, or at least a cleaving of style and medium. There has always been something slightly cold and mechanistic in the Scorpions' most successful stadium rock offerings, and foregrounding this aspect does the music no harm. The freeze-dried slabs of guitar that dominate Unbreakable are impressively tough, standing out in bold contrast to the muddy and ill-defined sound that seemed to prevail at the time.

But is it any good? Well, if you like the Scorpions there's no reason dislike this offering. Having tinkered with the formula on the preceding two or three albums, this one sounds reassuringly old school, 'New Generation' excepted. Common to many albums produced at the turn of the 21st century it's too long (the imperative to fill every minute of a CD seemed endemic at the time) and inevitably some filler creeps in.

That said, Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker are reliably good at writing fist-pumping rawk choruses, ably demonstrated on 'Blood Too Hot', 'Can You Feel It' and 'Someday Is Now', even if the latter features an annoyingly trebly guitar pattern in the verse. Another bonus is that, at this stage, the years of hollering 'better get out of their weeeeee' had done nothing to lessen the power or presence of Klaus Meine's idiosyncratic vocals. He never sounds anything less than committed to the song, no matter how empty-headed or throwaway it may be. Even so, nothing can salvage the turd that is 'She Said', not even a 'don't walk aweeee'.

Amusingly, my version of the CD contained some kind of 'anti-piracy' technology that made it hard to copy to a computer at the time. A relic of the Napster age, one imagines, though a rather quaint attempt to command the waves in retrospect. The sleeve is also shiny, like a rare Panini sticker, and the centrefold photo depicts the band in a variety of leatherwear. Top entertainment all round, then.

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