Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Special - 91%

gasmask_colostomy, July 14th, 2016

Nestled somewhere between the kooky heavy metal genius of the 70s and the more straightforward heavy rock that made them huge in the 80s, Scorpions put out Blackout. Maybe the least stupid of all Scorpions album covers to this point (and certainly the least sexual if you'd care to cast your eye back over the rest), the Germans had started to tilt the balance in the direction of commercial success, taking the experimentation down a few notches and filling out their muscles with some hefty choruses and catchier moments. Now, I'm not one to ever write off catchy music, especially when it's played with as much passion as we can see here, but I prefer the earlier Scorpions sound that had so much creativity and innovation, even if it wasn't always totally on point with quality.

What I usually forget about Scorpions is that they are much heavier than I imagine them, mostly because their songs are very accessible without giving up the kind of weight and speed and aggression that lots of the NWOBHM bands had in the early 80s and really no one had in the 70s. The songs on Blackout aren't as metal as Taken by Force or even Virgin Killer in places, trading places with chord-based hard rock tunes like Judas Priest were doing in the same time period. That some of the hard rock songs are heavy metal in places doesn't seem strange exactly, but it sure as hell gives Scorpions an advantage over AC:DC because of the variation they can get and the amount of energy the band generate when they step it up a notch. 'Blackout' kicks things off in this vein, with charged riffing and a huge drive from the band, proving that rock doesn't have to mean half measures. Here, as was kind of the case with Animal Magnetism, we get the album split roughly in half, with first half loaded more with the single material that you could imagine playing on the radio, while the second half is quite a bit darker and more experimental, though provides more lasting satisfaction.

What makes me love Scorpions for this kind of mixed recipe is that I'm a sucker for diversity and a little bit of a fidget when listening to a whole album, so we get the attention-grabbing stuff at the start, all of which passes by nice and breezily with songs lasting about 3 and a half minutes, then the songs start to stretch out later on, especially 'China White', the extended crawl of which has an almost stoner aesthetic of repetition to it. Then, there's that other thing - even Scorpions' generic songs have something you don't expect. Take 'Can't Live Without You': read the lyrics and you will certainly shake your head because they make you think the song will be pointless, just a random ode to the fans; then, as you listen, that cheeky on-off rhythm guitar leaps out from the shockingly raw chugs and you're already smiling; then, that kind of dumb verse is flung off by Klaus Meine along with a swirl of overdriven licks and we're already in the unforgettable hooks of the chorus. The whole song is like that, just when you think it's going to drop into something normal, someone steps up and does something remarkable, usually the delicious pairing of Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker on guitar. The only time the quality and invention drops is the rather predictable third verse of "Stand up and shout / We're ready to rock, we're ready to roll", though that leads into a great solo, so it's quickly forgotten.

With a more commercial album, you'll be expecting a few ballads, so it's reassuring to learn that they are done extremely well for the most part. 'No One Like You' has been incredibly popular, though avoids some of the cliches of the form by including a lot of lead guitar shading (so it doesn't get boring) and Klaus Meine, who can do a lot with his voice in terms of emotion and subtlety that I wouldn't trust to any other singer from his era. Again, that song is heavier than we are led to believe: if you listen to the timbre of the chords in the chorus, the sound actually grates and squeals slightly, so metallic is it. 'You Give Me All I Need' is more a typical ballad by comparison, going acoustic at points, yet not sticking to any section for very long. Meine isn't able to work the same charm on this one, but he has a very amusing line where he sings, "It makes me sad all the time / To see you around with all these guys". Is that tongue in cheek or what? The final ballad and album closer (I know 3 out of 9 makes me a bit suspicious at first) is the absolutely superlative 'When the Smoke Is Going Down', which might take the distinction of being my favourite ballad fucking ever. It is chock full of atmosphere and delicate emotion, everyone - but especially Meine - using so light a touch to build a nostalgic and affecting portrait of a special kind of sadness, that of the low after the show has finished. It's simply breathtaking and a perfect way to close the album.

This isn't a perfect album exactly, but what makes me love Scorpions so much from this period is that they feel special in that all their good ideas could not have been thought up by anyone else and even the more generic ones have a certain touch of quality. 'You Give Me All I Need' and 'Now!' are not quite up to the standard of the other songs here, but almost everything is great, not only in terms of skill but also enjoyment and sheer fun. You won't be disappointed with a dip back into Scorpions earlier material, and you can't go wrong with this one either.