Monday, January 25, 2010

Scorpions Say Goodbye

I'll take the bait here and join the internet glut of articles following the announcement today of the band's intention of ending their 40 year career. 

For me The Scorpions haven't been very relevant for some time, but I'll also add that they have been amongst my favorite outfits for some 35 years.  They put Germany on the rock and roll map, probably being far bigger than any other non-anglo outfit except maybe ABBA.  As they grew larger in popularity their artistic relevance shrank, but that's not what I want to focus on here.

The Scorpions did for heavy metal, and rock in general, what Kurt Cobain would later largely undo.  They brought technical proficiency and pure passion to the form, in a way that far outshadowed their popularity at the time.  They introduced not one, but two of the most influential lead guitarists in the history of shred guitar.  Michael Schenker found greater fame in UFO, but it was in The Scorpions that he laid the groundwork for his illustrious future.  As younger brother to founder Rudolph, Michael played the role of lead guitarist to his brother's relentless rhythm guitar abilities and songwriting talents.  Even after his stay in UFO, Michael rejoined The Scorpions briefly in 1979 for the recording of Lovedrive, the band's first outing after the departure of legendary virtuouso Ulrich (Uli Jon) Roth.  Unfortunately, Michael's desire to lead his own army and his dislike of attention on a grand scale drove him to a successful solo career.

Uli Roth joined the band when they had lost Michael to UFO, who were a much better opportunity for Michael at the time, giving him musical control for the first time, at a time when his riff writing skills were becoming apparent.  Roth brought to The Scorpions a voice that was extremely unique at the time.  His playing captured both the wildness of Jimi Hendrix, and a technical prowess previously unmatched in the realm of rock.  His solos fused trem-bar madness with exotic scales for the first time.  No other guitarist ever outdid Roth at using Hendrix as a stepping stone and not just a high water mark.  Roth went far beyond Jimi in many ways.  Roth has never been quite given his due, but his technical abilities far outshined those of the more illustrious Ritchie Blackmore, the only other true contender for the title of Father of Shred Guitar.

Roth also brought to the band a very different songwriting style than that of Rudolph Schenker and Klaus Meine, which may have cost the band commercially, it certainly made them a much more interesting band on record that they were ever to be again.  His  tunes were laced with extreme doses of Hendrixian psychedelia, and were stupendous examples of what a Fender Stratocaster could do in the right hands.  Buddy Holly never saw Uli coming, that's for sure.

What made The Scorpions great in the Roth era is exactly what finally drove the gypsy guitarist from the nest.  The Scorpions were on the verge of breaking out on a much larger scale and at the same time Roth had the urge to follow his more eclectic muse, so a parting of ways on made sense.

What had made The Scorpions perhaps the most interesting and progressive metal band of their time turned out to be not only what seperated Roth from the band, it also lead them to huge worldwide success.  Such is the strange mix of music and commerce.

The albums that The Scorpions made with Roth remain some of the finest documents of the early history of heavy metal and hard rock.  His final two outings with the band, Taken By Force, and the live, Tokyo Tapes, are perfect examples of what made the band brilliant.  You have Rudy and Klaus supplying incredibly melodic, commercial metal riffs alongside Roth's high brow mentality, and the marriage sounded incredible.  The production on this material by Dieter Dierks always set the standard by which I measure the audio quality of anything to which I listened.  Stunningly good.

Always overlooked were the tremendous vocals supplied by Klaus Meine, as fine a singer as has ever recorded.  His huge range was matched by his ability to self harmonize and creatively arrange massive amounts of overdubbed singing.  I've always been stunned that he never got the acclaim he so deserved for his skills.  I'll chalk it down to the band's german heritage and their tendancy to let the music do the talking.

While the lead players always got the ink, Rudolph Schenker may have influenced heavy guitar rock more than any other guitarist, save Tony Iommi.  I simply don't think you'd have James Hetfield's precision right hand rhythms had he not tuned in to Rudy's stunning German precision.  As much as Kirk Hammett cut his teeth on brother Michael's lead work, Hetfield and a thousand subsequent metallers got their schooling from Rudolph Schenker, who also set the standard for the recording of acoustic guitars in a hard rock setting, almost inventing the rock ballad along with his brother's work in UFO.

It's not my intention to shortsell Matthias Jabs or the fine work he's done with the band, but everyone knows this already.  His melodic soloing has always been one of the hooks that captured the world's ear, but he never developed a signature style as had Michael, and Uli Roth.  I've always thought he might do something on his own to highlight his talents, but I remain waiting.  Maybe now?

It'll be very interesting to see where this leads both Rudolph Schenker and Klaus Meine.  I know Klaus has historically battled throat problems, but I certainly hope we've not heard the last of this amazing voice.  As for Rudolph, maybe we'll finally get him back together with his brother (they've been promising this for years).  At any rate, if we never get a note out of any of them, we all owe more than we know to the greatest German rock and roll band to ever stalk the tundra, The Scorpions.

Incidentally, I'm aware that years ago the band went to using simply Scorpions, but that's not really the band I've been writing about.  Go back and find the early stuff and you'll be more than amazed.  This band was so very much more than Rock You Like A Hurricane. 

Thanks to a great band for so much great music for so many years.

peace, tc


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