Back from a week of vacation where weirdly enough I spent most of my time listening to a lot of metal. Usually it’s a ton of funk and more sunny music to complement the beach weather, but there you go. Anyway, right before I left picked up Fly to the Rainbow, the second album from Scorpions: I’m familiar with what I would call the “classic” period from Lovedrive to Love at First Sting, but beyond some excursions into the late 70s my early knowledge is severely limited. I know the real early stuff is supposed to be significantly different, so as an experiment I’m going to review this real-time as I listen to it for the first time. I guess it’s a reaction post – is that a thing? I don’t know. Let’s dive in.
If the opening track sets the tone for what’s to come, “Speedy’s Coming” announces that the feel-good straight ahead melodic rock that propelled the band in the 80s was already there. Some cow bell, some sweet soloing from Uli Jon Roth, who makes his debut with the band, replacing Michael Schenker. Stripped of the sheen of later productions, the guitar work stands out more, even if the song itself sounds like your typical Scorpions rocker.
Two songs in and the experimentation with guitar tones and instrumentation is readily apparent. “They Need a Million” has a bit of a Spanish vibe to it, and Roth’s guitar work is sublime – it immediately stands out from what I’m used to hearing in the band. Wikipedia tells me this is actually Rudolf Schenker on lead vocals; it’s not that noticeable…a bit lower register, but nothing too distracting.
Is this my first time really hearing Uli Jon Roth? I’m not sure…just like I’m not sure about his handling lead vocals on “Drifting Sun,” although this is mitigated by Klaus Meine’s harmony vocals in the background. This is a heavy stomping rock song, and again the solos are plentiful and stellar. I’m really taken by the tones on this record; there’s definitely a more psychedelic, playful mood at place here, and it’s a shame the band took a more mainstream approach moving into the 80s. Definitely the heaviest track on the album so far, and despite my misgivings on Roth’s voice, my favorite track.
As part of the agreement for Michael Schenker leaving the band, he co-wrote a number of songs on the album, and unfortunately his first contribution is the slog of a ballad “Fly People Fly.” I get it as the closer to the side, and it provides a meaty solo section for Roth to (again) shine on. Another thing I noticed is the bass really standing out – this was also the debut of long-time bassist Francis Buchholz. Some nice keyboards…that’s about it.
“This Is My Song” kicks off side 2 of Fly to the Rainbow and it’s an interesting way to start a new side. Buchholz’s bass really drive the song forward, but it’s not particularly heavy…arpeggiated chords back the verses, interspersed with Roth’s licks. It’s as good a moment as any to comment on Meine’s vocals: they may not always be intelligible, but his voice and cadence is so distinctive it’s a delight to hear it so raw and unprocessed on this album. I don’t want each track to be me exclaiming over Roth’s solos, but holy crap…this guy wails on this album.
So far Side 2 is a more sedate affair. “Far Away” starts off soft then moves into a funky kind of reggae beat. There’s plenty of space for drum fills and guitar licks, but at this point I’m yearning for the more aggressive, in your face tunes from the first half the record. Roth’s tone has that cocked wah sound that reminds me vaguely of Steely Dan.
Ahhh, closing with an epic title track. Classical guitar kicks off “Fly to the Rainbow” and then it gets into some nice twisty prog-like riffing. Meine and Roth share vocals, and their voices blend well together. It’s slow and weighty, and really just an opportunity for more solo histrionics from Roth. I wish there was a littler more meat on its bones, not sure it really justifies its almost 10-minute runtime.
You can definitely see where the Scorpions were heading with Fly to the Rainbow, and while I’m glad to hear how they fine-tuned their song craft into the lean machines that took over from 79 onward, I admit I kinda would have liked to hear them mesh some of the more out-there ideas of Roth into their later stuff. As an intro to his guitar work, all I can say is wow – dude can play. I picked up Virgin Killer as well so maybe we’ll do the same thing and hit that one next.