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Y'know I'm really starting to think that as long as the band doesn't go groove metal, a heavy metal band selling out and just trying to record the catchiest thing possible is actually a very good thing! I'm just basing this off this album, the early 90's releases of Me & Me, and, err, Celtic Frost's Cold Lake- that was a travesty, sure, but still 3 out of 4 isn't bad. Judas Priest's release is firmly in the camp of "excellent rocky sell out", a quick streamlining of the previous formula; a natural progression that's been executed well and doesn't sound forced, and some crisp, clean production giving the whole thing a radio-friendly sheen.
I like most of Priest's work but I've generally found that they're at their best when they go for the shorter song- Nostradamus being good proof of this. Here's it's all short and it's all gold - yes, I am a fan of United, in all of it's cheesy, desperate attempt at sing-a-long glory- and the end result is a good-to-excellent selection of heavy metal tunes.
Everything's kept simple and straightforward in this album; the solos short and economical, the structures, simple in their verse/chorus type, the riffs, simple but catchy. Downing and Tipton are in great form throughout, and I find the riffing in particular to be really first-class. Breaking the Law's a good enough example of what's on offer- an intro riff that will stay in your head for years, short and catchy verse and chorus sections, and a bridge that dispenses with any progressive pretensions and keeps you interested until the chorus comes back in. The formula is repeated over and over again with varying amounts of success (Living After Midnight and Rapid Fire being keepers, You don't have to be old and Steeler, not so much) but overall it works, and even when Priest shrug off the restraint and go for the unabashed, completely undignified sing along that's United it's still catchy and short enough to be inoffensive and effective.
This certainly isn't an album that's for sitting in the lotus position, with headphones in a darkened room. An in-depth listening is more liable to make you realise that the slower tunes plod along fairly heavily, that most of the songs lack any really concrete climax or progression, and that some more solos would've been welcome. However, putting this on in the car, or at a party will get you singing along extremely vigorously (Rapid Fire and The Rage in particular must be responsible for a very large amount of car crashes over the years) and it seems that's what Judas Priest wanted to achieve with this.
There's not really much else to say here. The aim, as far as I can tell, was to make a short, catchy album and that aim was achieved. It seems that everyone had a fairly good time doing it- the album has a fair bit of energy and in various interviews Downing, Tipton and Halford named this as their favourite JP record. It's a fun record that will get you head banging and pretty much appeals to everyone. Well worth getting, although those hoping for some more substantial heavy/speed metal may find themselves disappointed.