This here’s Uriah Heep’s 25th studio album. Compilations no doubt exceed that, and live albums might well be into double figures too. That’s, practically, a studio album every other year of their career, save they’re from that era that you used to knock out two or three a year. Fallow periods would follow, but recent years have seen a marked resurgence of interest in the band, with younger fans prominent beside faithful old soaks at their live shows, the adrenalin rush found on their more recent albums no doubt the reason.
By 2023 it’s possible we’ll not be referencing Covid, Brexit, or Ukraine’s invasion in song, film, or to a lesser degree novels, quite as much as we do currently. However, for now, their cumulative effects have stilted not only business practices but how creative types put their particular stamp on their feelings about such subject matters.
“The album title reflects that we were in chaotic times with being locked down, tours being cancelled, businesses folding, and all the chaos that was thrown into the world,” said band leader and guitarist Mick Box, “and as far as I could see it, the only colour people had was through music. It helped so many people get through those difficult years, using that strength and power which music has, to make those bad times not quite so bad.”
Such considerations may not be so immediately apparent on opening track and new single ‘Save Me Tonight’. Colliding power chords lead into the kind of schooled run Heep have been banging out since their Look At Yourself album; there’s both familiarity and a little something new. The inference in the lyric is of someone not feeling on top form, the reason most likely being the loss of a romantic partner, and that very vagueness is what will help ensure the song’s shelf life. But, as the press release for the album points out, it’s actually about our current societal considerations.
“‘Save Me Tonight’ comes from a place of frustration and helplessness,” added co-writer and bass player Dave Rimmer. “Living through these unprecedented past couple of years but hanging on to this raging hope that we would all meet again!” Watching the single’s video it’s all the more apparent, though I have to say the simplified animated style doesn’t impress me that much.
Box further commented: “It is made for rock radio and will surely be included on our new set list in 2023.” When you listen to the obvious enthusiasm inherent in the solos for this desire is obvious, first we get Phil Lanzon dancing exuberantly up and down the length of his organ, then Box leaps in and joins the fray, and they’re like kids in a sweetshop. Somewhat AOR at its core, there’s compelling attack and parry riffage all culminating towards a progressive rock conclusion.
‘Silver Sunlight’ follows and features more blues-based licks than Box has utilised since their …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble debut. It spins out with drama, a little pomp and unusual circumstance that echoes their ’70s demons and warring magicians’ heyday, Box laying down a wah-wah blues solo therein. What it’s actually about, I’m none too sure: Life’s journey, freedom, drugs, hope, most likely the latter. Certainly, there’s a sense of empowerment to the melody.
Bludgeoning down classic Heep style, with great washes of organ, Bernie Shaw’s effects-treated vocals relate a peace and love tale and gathering round sacred stone circles to praise the gods’ work. This is ‘Hail The Sunrise’, and a bit like putting your hand too near the candle for a band lumped in as one of the influences for the rock spoof This is Spinal Tap. But that aside, the rhythm section thwacks away nicely, most particularly during the guitar solo, and there are sections reminiscent of the band’s earlier classic ‘Sunrise’.
The key to this album’s raison d’etre is ‘Age Of Changes’. From churchly organ to some absolutely glorious vocal harmonies (challenging my theory Sweet currently has the best ones in rock). With key changes, tumbling melodies, and more of those vocal embellishments, this number again reflects the wider implications of Covid and the loss of love ones from it, our mental well being and such like, but more so than ‘Save Me Tonight’ it need not be so polarised by one time or place. Again, the interchanges between solos prove interesting: Box gets angry and noisy, Lanzon follows with wizened counselling, they duet in debate, then Box takes the musical conversation to its limits, wherein Shaw’s vocals return in timely fashion. Longer solos will then flow over various themes, before the sound from your speakers fades with an exhausted and deservedly weary sounding organ.
It would appear in formulating this album, whether intended from the get-go or more a symptom of the time, while there were certainly dark and sad themes Uriah Heep wanted to impart and express in the words sung, they perhaps felt that touching base with musical elements from their past might also add a warmth and a redemptive sense of hope. Perhaps, in this way, there are certain similarities to their Sea Of Light album where they celebrated both their past and present at that juncture and seemingly do so here again in the latest stage of their career.
Building up on organ, the thrust of bass, then a determined chug and once more some wild riffage is ‘Hurricane’, and this is more in keeping with the band’s sound in recent years. Shaw’s vocals on the middle eight draw you in, as suspense rides ever harder. Oh, this is a live one to get them going, me thinks, with Lanzon’s soling going from classical motifs to more frenzied keyboard extravaganzas.
Come piano ballad ‘One Nation, One Sun’ we’re half an album in and I’ve only just realised Shaw’s voice is deeper toned these days. It suits this song well, being tempered and more introspective, more heartfelt than tonally expressive. The earnest lyrics may come across a little too twee, but as instrumentation slowly builds alongside harmonies it chimes with progressions similar to an anthemic Yes in their vintage. Then, ‘Golden Light’ follows like the opening theme for some classic MGM movie before becoming a Magician’s Birthday style bopper.
A great splurge of menacing guitar has ‘You’ll Never Be Alone’ coming on like a serious threat only to give way to a lovely piano piece. However, while Shaw sings sweetly the story unfolding is a dark one, at its simplest we can view it as the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, with added Heep fantasy tropes, but also possibly allegories for intentions far worse. However, if we pursue the themes of better days ahead being espoused on this album, it could possibly be compared to the age-old myth of a love goddess entering the underworld, only for the world to suffer hardships until her return in Spring. At least that’s what I’m hoping. Musically it’s a delight, and Box’s manic throat-strangling guitar solo comes out of nowhere refusing to let go.
Like ‘Hurricane’ beforehand, ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ attacks savagely, and I could have done with a little more of the synthesiser touches. Apparently, a song to the take “listener on a journey of meditation”. I just took it as a rocker. Strident, mid-paced, a little bluesy, driven through chord changes is ‘Freedom To Be Free’ – It speeds up for another dragon-slaying solo from Box, only for Rimmer’s bass to answer back impressively as they battle it out. Five minutes in, and we get classical piano over orchestrated keyboards before another merry chase and attack of pomp-tastic prog led by some biting guitar work then back into the main song, before ending with heavily pious sounds, as if to say to put an end to it all. Though, that’s not the case and we see things out with another old school rock n roller in ‘Closer To Your Dreams’.
While a little too earnest for me lyrically in places, the overall intent on Chaos & Colour is one of positivity. Both vocally and musically there’s much to enjoy here, with changes in tempo that power though on rockers, traverse the joyful meadowlands of prog, and briefly find time to pause and reflect in balladry, with numbers like ‘Age Of Changes’ and ‘You’ll Never Be Alone’ being masterful performances by all.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
- Chaos & Colour is released via Silver Lining Music available now.
- Official Website
- Save Me Tonight
- Silver Sunlight
- Hail The Sunrise
- Age Of Changes*
- One Nation, One Sun
- Golden Light
- You’ll Never Be Alone
- Fly Like An Eagle
- Freedom To Be Free
- Closer To Your Dreams*
- Save Me Tonight (Demo)**
*CD and Digital only
**Deluxe CD only
Cool Review !
Check out my Uriah Heep infleunced new album:
“Very Heepy Very Purple XIV”
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