The release of a new recording by Michael Schenker is always a cause for celebration. Since the 1970s he has been part of the very fabric of rock music, his guitar playing featuring on some of rock’s finest anthems; he has been – ahem – instrumental in defining the genre. A quick rundown of the musicians he has performed with over the course of his career is an eye opener in itself: Graham Bonnet, Chris Glen, Don Airey, Neil Murrary, Doogie White and Ted McKenna to name just a few. And that’s before we even mention The Scorpions and UFO. His ubiquitous Flying V can be heard on ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Rock Bottom’: two of the finest moments in 1970s heavy rock.
After laying down some killer licks on albums like The Scorpions‘ “Lonesome Crow” and UFO‘s “Phenomenon” Schenker forged ahead with a solo career that has produced a canon of work decades in the making. He continues to perform live (this writer saw him with Temple Of Rock at 2011’s High Voltage Festival) and he shows no signs of slowing up or settling down.
Given all that has gone before, “Spirit On A Mission” was always likely to be a good album: the foundations are so strong, the talent so big, the musicians so experienced. It delivers on several counts: as a good old fashioned heavy rock album that’s strong on riffs, melodies and guitar playing. Schenker showcases what he does best while maintaining the position of band member. And while there’s a lot of guitar playing, it sits within a framework of songs that stand on their own terms. Admittedly some of the lyrics are a bit Rock 101 but in many ways that doesn’t matter, especially when the overall experience is as joyous as this. These songs would work in a club as well as they would in a stadium: sing along choruses like ‘Communion’ and ‘Good Times’ positively encourage a crowd reaction. It’s obvious from the recorded material just how well it would work live; and given the band’s pedigree it bodes very well indeed. In fact the current tour takes in Europe, USA and Japan: a continent-spanning endeavour at a time in Schenker’s life when lesser men would be hanging up their guitar and contemplating a quieter life.
“Spirit On A Mission” serves up good, solid hard rock like ‘Live and Let Live’ and ‘Communion’, the former the kind of blues based rock so many of us grew up listening to; the latter, a major key, feel good rock standard. Slower paced ‘Saviour Machine’ is built on a chugging riff and features a very well considered mid-section that delivers a real lighters (phones?) in the air moment.
The riff of “Something Of The Night” serves as a reminder – if such a reminder were needed – that this is the man who played on ‘Rock Bottom’.
Ultimately there are 12 hard rocking songs on this album that will put a smile on any rock fan’s face. This is heavy rock the way it used to be and all the better for it; it’s what made us all love it in the first place. Add to that the fact that it’s produced by some of the most influential people in the genre – and that includes one of its legendary guitar exponents – and you have an album we can all celebrate.