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Compositional defiance - 86%

gasmask_colostomy, June 30th, 2017

There seems to be a weird hype about Taken by Force that hasn't communicated itself that well to me. I didn't have the pleasure of being born in the '70s when this was released, nor do I qualify as a child of the '80s so couldn't watch the profile of the band grow larger and larger as their material turned more commercial. Therefore, I've never understood why this album as a whole is any better than Virgin Killer or Blackout, so maybe that's just history talking. I received most of the Scorpions discography a few years ago from the surprisingly generous hard drive of my girlfriend's computer and have listened to much of it consistently since, though I'm still not sure about this album, despite the presence of several songs I wouldn't dare to kick out of bed.

In any case, the line-up was perhaps the most celebrated that Scorpions ever had, including both Ulrich Roth and Rudolf Schenker on guitars, though even that is odd considering it was the later albums that caused much of the interest over the group. Unfortunately I'm not quite as excited about Roth as some others seem to be, as I don't feel that his soloing is noteworthy except by its sheer amount and a few great moments, more on which in a minute. What is for sure is that this was a hot ticket in 1977 for riffs, from the semi-clean bassy groove of 'I've Got to Be Free' to the straight up drilling rock of 'Steamrock Fever' (warning: includes real drilling in the background) to the more metallic presence of 'He's a Woman - She's a Man'. Schenker gets a nod for that contribution, while Francis Buchholz's bass makes its presence felt almost as if he were playing in a power trio, owing to the fact that the mix is quite empty of distortion and excess sound, while the riffs are rarely backed up by a second guitar. The drums come through fairly innocuously too, pattering when they should be slapping and slapping when they should be pounding. You'll need your volume control turned way to the right to get much power out of this.

In terms of '70s Scorps, I feel like this is actually one of the most experimental albums out of the lot, not because anyone really pushes the boundaries too much in terms of genre (comments about proto-thrash and proto-power metal are pretty ridiculous), more that very little is played straight. For instance, there are no really straightforward rockers on Taken by Force, which should be the case with 'Steamrock Fever' or 'He's a Woman - She's a Man' yet they turn into a weird catchy song about a new kind of music that has a sort of alarm-clock sound in the background throughout and a tale of transgender encounters set to an unusual chugging riff. The ballads totally miss one's expectations too, forming the longest two tracks and failing to stick to any strict structure, which could either be an indication of messiness or of creativity depending on your reasoning. That creativity surely peaks in the whole-band instrumental workout that is the lithe, darkly funky 'The Sails of Charon' and the busy ballad 'Born to Touch Your Feelings', which has a lot of things going on for a song that barely dwells above a whisper in the first half. The additions to these songs often come from Roth's hyperactive lead guitar, though it's just as likely that we will start off from a strange riff ('The Riot of Your Time' is the most obvious example) or divergent styles (the really old rock 'n' roll of 'I've Got to Be Free') rather than one person doing anything untoward.

One person who barely stands out on this album is Klaus Meine, who turns in one terrific performance on the tangibly atmospheric closer and struggles to leave a definite mark elsewhere, leaving a significant gap at the centre of the songs, in part down to his low position in the mix, where you can hear him battling in 'The Sails of Charon'. This is another reason why the general effect of Taken by Force is less memorable and explosive than other Scorpions albums, since not only do the songs conceal their hooks for longer but his tender vocals are not up to scratch, aiming for the same aura as 'Born to Touch Your Feelings' on the acoustic verses of 'We'll Burn the Sky' and sounding some way off in terms of emotion and musicality, while he doesn't take charge often enough to give other numbers a clear focus. The guitarists do better, loading up on skill and utter coolness for 'The Sails of Charon' (riffs, solos, everything is seriously to die for), dropping into an awesome downbeat groove for 'Your Light', and setting things right with the two shorter rockers, both of which unveil themselves after a couple of spins. There's nothing really bad on here, but the odd angles and compositional defiance shown in the creation of all eight songs is an obstacle to pure enjoyment, if not more thoughtful appreciation. 'The Riot of Your Time' in particular defies definition as any particular kind of song, chopping and changing playing styles to create a confusing and dark mood.

In brief, this is not Scorpions' most exhilarating release, nor probably their absolute finest, but creativity is at an all-time high and everything here certainly deserves the label of "interesting" if not "amazing". I'm beating round the bush I guess, but I like Taken by Force a fair bit and 'The Sails of Charon' is perhaps the killer Scorps tune, even if there are a few oddities lurking around in its impenetrable depths.