In retrospect, Uriah Heep’s seventh studio album Wonderworld can be viewed as a transitional album (an evolution that began with 1973’s Sweet Freedom) that found them moving away from their conceptual rock roots, towards a more mainstream sound. However, they didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water and the band recorded an album that sits happily between prog rock and AOR, and in doing so they produced the most straight forward rock album of their career (thus far).
Opening to a swirling maelstrom of futuristic keyboards, it was immediately obvious that the Heep weren’t going to rest on past glories and the title track gets right down to business with David Byron’s unmistakeable operatic vocals leading the charge. Thanks to Ken Hensley’s keys, Wonderworld has a distinct sound that recalls the edgier, electronic end of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. And while I’m on the subject of Birmingham’s finest, the staccato riff found on the following ‘Suicidal Man’ is the stuff of Tony Iommi’s dreams, and it’s this combination of guitar and organ that pierce the listener’s eardrum like an arrowhead. With the throttle wide open and the band careening wildly, ‘So Tired’ features lots of brief solos (like the mid-section of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, only amped up to the max) that are dizzying in their rapidity. Therefore, amidst all these fast-paced rockers, the obligatory power ballad ‘The Easy Road’ sticks out like a sore thumb. Some might argue that it injects a change of pace, but in reality, it interrupts the album’s flow. A proposition that’s affirmed when we flip the vinyl over and are greeted with the unabashed ‘Something Or Nothing’, an up-tempo number that’s delivered in the very best Uriah Heep tradition. It evidences a band who are happy in their own company and are rocking out like their life depends on it, and if you want to know where early Iron Maiden got their chops, I suggest you start here. What makes Wonderworld such a compulsive listen is that no two songs inhabit the same space, with the penultimate ‘We Got We’ being a funky number that’s punctuated by some sublime slide guitar which sets things up nicely for atmospheric closer, ‘Dreams’. It’s an evocative, slightly psychedelic number that transports you to another dimension (as all good heavy metal should) and brings Wonderworld to a rousing conclusion.
Despite reaching a rather respectable number 23 in the UK charts, Wonderworld is often an overlooked and underrated album in the Uriah Heep discography. That’s partly because there’s no real standout track on here; there isn’t a focal point like ‘Easy Livin’’ or ‘July Morning’ for the other tracks to orbit. However, that makes Wonderworld an album that’s built for the long haul, and one best experienced whole, from start to finish.
- Wonderworld is released via BMG on 26th May 2023 (available here).
- Official Website
- Suicidal Man
- The Shadows And The Wind
- So Tired
- The Easy Road
- Something Or Nothing
- I Won’t Mind
- We Got We