Album of the Week 50-2012: Scorpions – Blackout

Even bands that have a string of classic releases tied to their names have these albums where everything just seems exactly the way it should be. ‘Blackout’ may very well be that moment for the Scorpions. The German Hard Rock machine had been churning out a number of fantastic albums – my favorites being ‘Virgin Killer’, ‘Taken By Force’ and ‘Lovedrive’ – for about a decade prior to ‘Blackout’, but this is the moment when all the stars aligned for the Scorpions. It’s a collection of brilliantly written Heavy Metal tracks, the punchy production is among the best of the era and Klaus Meine’s vocals are at their absolute high here.

Despite the presence of excellent songs on former albums, there were always one or two filler tracks included. On ‘Blackout’, every song strikes gold. Also, there’s obviously a lot of thought that went into the song order; there’s anever a dull moment here and the band doesn’t waste all its energy on the first few songs, a mistake often heard on Rock records. The band plays at a 110 percent energy level on the Heavy Metal outbursts that open both sides of the record (‘Dynamite’ and the headbang-or-die title track that opens the album) and the more subdued stuff, like the semi-ballad ‘No One Like You’ and the crushing midempo stomper ‘China White’ are kept for the middle. Also, the ballads that are here, are among the most dynamic of the post-Uli Jon Roth era, with patterns much less predictable than the songs they’d become much more popular with not long after the release of this album.

However, no matter how awesome the raging Heavy Metal of ‘Now!’ and ‘Blackout’ are, the album’s highlight is closing track ‘When The Smoke Is Going Down’, easily the best ballad the Germans have ever written. It’s hard to describe why that is, but it has to do with the goosebumps inducing atmosphere, look no further than Matthias Jabs’ subdued, but incredible guitar solo for an example. And I’d have to admit: I’m a sucker for these “musician after the music is over” stories. Klaus Meine definitely delivers with both his lyrics and delivery here.

Speaking of Meine, it’s impossible to discuss this album without going through his miraculous vocal recovery. Meine famously had lost his voice during writing sessions for this album and underwent surgery on his vocal cords, only to return with a wider range and greater power than ever. David Coverdale had a similar revelation with Whitesnake’s ‘1987’ album, but what Meine does here is unbelievable. He is wild all throughout the album and is spot-on within any part of his register.

As for the rest of the band; Rudolf Schenker has always been the riff master in the more accessible segment of the genre and although Matthias Jabs doesn’t possess the same supernatural qualities of his predecessors Uli Jon Roth and Michael Schenker, he is absolutely on fire here. His guitar solos are blazing with conviction and he is the perfect guitarist for this incarnation of the Scorpions, which – if you wish – needs flamboyance rather than flashiness. And of course, this type of music doesn’t succeed without a powerful rhythm section. ‘Blackout’ features an especially excellent Herman Rarebell on drums.

Quickly after the release of ‘Blackout’, commercial successes and frequent artistic failures haunted the Scorpions. And although there have been some strong records after – ‘Unbreakable’ springs to mind immediately, but the recent ‘Sting In The Tail’ and breakthrough album ‘Love At First Sting’ both feature stellar songwriting and the usual amazing musicianship – the band has never quite reached the heights of ‘Blackout’ again. However, that doesn’t degrade the band in any way, it’s just a testament to the lasting power of the brilliant record that is ‘Blackout’.

Recommended tracks: ‘When The Smoke Is Going Down’, ‘Blackout’, ‘Now!’, ‘China White’

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