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Scorpions are one of those classic bands I never checked out until recently, so I won't try to make this review sound like I know everything about the band - rather, I'll be writing this from the perspective of a new listener who has not yet become familiar with all incarnations of the band. Blackout was the band's eighth album, the newest at the time in a long line of innovative hard rocking glory. Well, as was par for the course at the time, Scorpions did not do the same thing they did on the last album, changing gears yet again and still retaining their signature German rocking charm. However, unlike previous changes in style, Blackout was the band's first nose-dive into the 1980s, so the order of the day became shinier, catchier hooks and a sparklier production. Out went the drug-induced haze of Hendrix and Sabbath and in came this new sound.
Blackout, though, is not a shameless sell-out record. The band got a little dumber lyrically, and they started repeating the title of the song more often for their choruses, but does that make this any less of a killer? Fuck no, this is about as good as it gets with commercial Heavy Metal. Virgin Killer is a little better, but this just rules. The thing I like about this album is that while it takes on a very streamlined, basic approach, it never begins to wallow in the realm of the dreaded pandering that so many later bands did. It is a near perfect marriage of the budding 80s brand of poppy commercialism and the traditionally energetic and complex Heavy Metal that had been thriving in the underground for about ten years at the time. The hooks are crystal clear and sticky as hell, the vocals are high-pitched and saccharine, and the riffs are ass-kicking hard-rock-drenched slabs of metal that I just love, galloping along with ease and making you bob your head and tap your feet while you sing along. And yet Scorpions never become too asinine or silly in their simplicity. These guys are honest, never sounding sleazy or watered down, never slowing down the tempo and never playing with anything but 100% energy and heart with that unique Scorpions flavor layered over it like honey.
So, yeah, the title track starts out with a classic, jumpy riff and a chorus that will never come out of your head - this is the definitive Scorpions sound right here! "Can't Live Without You" is another direct hit on the rock radar with its even more upbeat and poppy chorus, drilling itself into the listeners head with ironclad syncopation and a beat for the ages. The album hits a bit of a dead spot with the next two songs, which sort of repeat the exact same formula as that song does (and they even sort of have similar names...), but then the explosive "Now!," with its high-octane chorus, kicks up, and the album soars straight to the stratosphere. "Dynamite" is a straightforward ass-kicker in the same mold as the title track with blazing leads and a heroic chorus, and then "Arizona" is a more staunch and mid-paced jaunt, with a wide-open, roaming sort of feel to the music - definitely the most 70s sounding song on here. "China White" is a real surprise, as it is a total Iron Maiden-esque epic, with a booming vocal performance from Klaus Meine and some nice, searing guitar melodies, and then even the ballad of the album, "When the Smoke is Going Down" isn't sappy or over-done at all (rather a very quiet song, closing out the album with grace); very nice for this sort of music!
I really do wish more bands had taken this sort of path, but alas, even Scorpions themselves would become wrapped up in a proto-Def Leppard/Motley Crue sort of sleaze with the follow up to this one, that I just don't like as much at all. So we're left with Blackout, a shining gem in the rough, full of pep and muscle both, sparkling with a vivid and charging intensity that will provide for many more afternoons of fun. Get this one if you like quality metal or rock music in general, you will not regret it.