Phenomenon/Force It

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UFO didn't really take off until the band's mid-1973 replacement of guitarist Mick Bolton with German teen prodigy Michael Schenker, who'd already made his mark with support band the Scorpions. The gamble proved decisive in shedding the formless psychedelic jamming that had characterized the band's first three London albums (including the imaginatively titled UFO 1 and UFO II: Flying). Schenker duly debuted on Phenomenon (1974), which marked a new label, Chrysalis Records. The album is a transitional affair, with space allotted to shimmering acoustic pop ("Time on My Hands," "Space Child"), an instrumental showcase ("Lipstick Traces"), and an unlikely blues remake ("Built for Comfort"). Yet Schenker is already flexing his neo-classical muscles on punchy rockers like "Oh My," "Doctor Doctor," and "Rock Bottom," which set new benchmarks for the band, and heavy rock, too. Force It (1975) showcased a more fluid, cohesive unit, which had improved immeasurably, particularly the Way-Parker rhythm axis -- now among heavy rock's sturdiest backbones -- and Mogg's emotive, R&B-tinged vocals. Yet the album really belongs to Schenker's thrill-a-minute guitar, which fuels the unapologetic crunch of "Let It Roll," "Shoot Shoot," "Dance Your Life Away," and the inevitable groupie putdown, "Love Lost Love." (Not surprisingly, all this riffery gives guest keyboardist Chick Churchill little to do (the same situation that plagued him in his own band, Ten Years After.) Not even Schenker's inevitable 1978 departure for a solo career could mask his primary contribution: getting his peers to play the muscular, no-frills rock & roll that the fans had always demanded. This single-disc reissue, then, is an essential snapshot of that transition.

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