Monday, December 3, 2012

Paul Raymond Project - Terms & Conditions Apply: A Huge Dollop of Classy Rock

Paul Raymond is one of the classiest acts in rock - he's been gracing great records and stages for over four decades as a member of UFO, the Michael Schenker Group, Waysted, and Savoy Brown. He supplies the melodic keyboard flourishes that so often raised UFO from good to great for almost 40 years, and now, he's releasing Terms & Conditions Apply - a record that reveals just how much of his bands's brilliance reflects off of his majestic musicianship.

Terms & Conditions Apply just might be the first great rock record of 2013. It makes me feel fifteen again, and that can't be a bad thing. This is the most solid set of songs to come out of the UFO/Schenker camp for a very long time. My mind boggles when I think of what this set of tunes could have done on the heals of Strangers In The Night.

If per chance you are unfamiliar with the legacy of UFO (and if you're not and you're reading this, I'm a little shocked, but very pleased), I suggest you immediately rectify that matter and pop on a sample of the song Love To Love, the band's 1977 classic - a song that got rock as close to Rachmoninoff as it ever got. They are a band that transcended pub rock via the use of exquisite melodies and subtle sophistication, all wrapped in perhaps the perfect blanket of hard rock. Paul Raymond is a very vital ingredient in their recipe, and this record is all the proof you need.

Born & Raised On Rock and Roll - you bet he was, and this opener sounds like the perfect primer for what's on tap. Raymond is in excellent voice, the writing is razor sharp, and his band is kicking, especially longtime cohort Andy Simmons. Simmons has played with the PRP on several albums, but on this record he truly shines - let's not mince words, he is for all intents and purposes playing the role of Michael Schenker, but that having been said, if you didn't know of the mercurial German six stringer you'd be calling Simmons the coolest thing since sliced bread. He's a wonderfully tasty player who plays perfectly for the record.

If you're a fan of MSG, you're going to love this album - End Of Life As We Know It is reminiscent of that band's most melodic moments. This muscular rocker would sit comfortably in any of the catalogs of Raymond's past. The writing on display here is especially delightful. The band has been working on this material for several years, and it's abundantly clear that not rushing things served the record well.

Deeper Shade of Blue is a mid-tempo chugging riffer that will have you singing along almost immediately. Raymond's spent many years next to the great Phil Mogg, and what has rubbed off is wonderful. The soulfulness, the ease with which he delivers the lyric, and the lyrical sophistication reveals that Raymond realizes he's been next to one of rock's greatest frontmen for many, many years.

I'll ask for forgiveness in referencing Raymond's past so often and liberally, but it is vital to realize that it is only to emphasize just how good this record is, and how brilliant a job Raymond has done. When you hear the intro of C-List Celebrity you'll agree that this is some incredibly sharp songwriting.

No Paul Raymond project would be complete without a brilliant piano ballad - from Try Me, Love To Love, to Never Trust A Stranger, the ivory tickler has provided rock with some of its most elegant moments. We Will Be Strong is his latest, and it is as close as anything I've heard to the heart of Queen since Freddie died. This has so much heart and soul that you'll be glad he wrote it, and you'll feel happy that it was written for someone. Raymond's voice is golden, silk and honey - how great it must be to have made this album at this time. I hope he's as happy with it as I am.

Terms & Conditions comes out of left field with strummed acoustics and a sweet string pad - then Raymond and company kick into a groove as he lays down a tale that is typical for his legacy. You get nothing for nothing, and nothing comes without its cost. Simmons tears off a brilliant solo on this one, but he does on about every song here. He's consistently 100% on the mark. He picks his places and fills them with precision and passion.

I didn't expect to hear a great instrumental on this record, but the ill-titled Whiskey Mac is going to make you smile. Sure, Schenker should maybe get a partial royalty for style points, but this is brilliantly written and executed. It would have fit wonderfully on Assault Attack. Great, great riff here, Paul. Well done, sir.

Bright Lights sets off with some nice harmony guitar lines and great tempo change ups before it's off to another UFO-inflected tale. Strummed acoustics and an accordian sample remind me of the brilliant Dream The Dream from the Atomik Tommy era (a woefully underrated period for the UFOsters). The power chords crunch nicely when they arrive, and the changes are again a testament to the time spent writing this, dare I say, masterpiece. Terms & Condition Apply is one of the best British hard rock records that I've heard in maybe thirty years.

Michael Schenker finally shows up. And in a place you'd never expect, the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic Reach Out (I'll Be There). I love that Raymond and the band riff rock this one up a bit, as opposed to a strictly straight reading, and it dawns upon me that maybe metal Mikey never even heard the original. If he has, he doesn't let on - his solo builds into a barn burner, starting with some nicely understated harmonies, then he states the intro melody before going into a wind up that makes you miss his presence in UFO. Oh yeah, this is what it sounds like.

Reuben Archer stops in for a cameo lead vocal on another lovely piano ballad, Love Is Blind. He sings the hell out of this number, and it makes me anxious to hear his new album. His voice is as wide as a super highway, and his phrasing is superb. This is all voice, piano, some strings and a boatload of tasty harmony guitars - sweet.

If You've Got To Fool Somebody starts off with a bit of Manic Depression - at first I wondered where it was going, but when the song kicked in, it suddenly made sense. Still not sure how, or why, but it does. This is hard rock soul of the first caliber - a great piece of songwriting. What a supremely bad assed intro riff, damn. Simmons plays some great guitar over Raymond's stellar B-3 sounds throughout the song. Eleven songs in, and we're getting stronger? The Manic Depression riff works its way back in, also - brilliantly.

Cowbell and a hard charging riff - yup, this sure sounds familiar. Still The Same sounds like I should be able to find it on Obsession, or Lights Out - it's that good. Straight ahead rocker, not as adventurous as most of the menu, but it's a welcome change in a world that is so encyclopedic and varied - there's a lot to swallow on this record, but it's all very, very tasty. And, of course, Raymond throws in a witty bridge that upsets my apple cart quite well.

Some Stax-a-riffic guitar welcomes in Driftin' Apart, when suddenly some country honk steel guitars creep in, and I'll be damned if Raymond doesn't join Keith in the realm of Richardsian solo brilliance. This might be the coolest Stones territory tribute I've ever heard - even has a sax synth solo that apes Bobby Keys perfectly. Raymond's vocal couldn't be beat on this tune by anyone.

Partners In Crime is a return to the UFO mothership for the ride home, and Paul Raymond has managed to end the album as strongly as he started it. This sets the bar awfully high for whoever puts out their next record. Terms & Conditions Apply is as strong an album to come out of the UFO camp as has appeared in many decades - I ain't gonna say it, but there is only one way to beat this.

I won't lie - I have so many ulterior motives, that I would have found a way to say something good about this record even if it weren't so damned great. Paul Raymond has been a musical hero of mine since I thought he was the new guy from a blues band that was going to screw up one of my favorite bands back in 1977. It turned out that he was one of the greatest things to ever happen to UFO. He turned the good to great, and here he has completely blown my mind. Terms & Conditions Apply is, as I said earlier, the first great record of 2013. It may be my favorite solo album by a big band member since Keith's brilliant Talk Is Cheap. Maybe that's it. Maybe you have to miss past glories bad enough that you make something of your own so special that only the love of your life can top it. That's what Keith did....

Whatever the reasons, the motives - thank you, Mr. Raymond.

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