Of all the winners at the 2011 Classic Rock Roll Of Honour, none were more deserving than the Scorpions. The Metal Guru award was an appropriate and long overdue recognition of the greatest and most successful European heavy metal band of them all.
In a career that began in Hanover, Germany in 1965 and will end some time in 2012, or even 2013, with the conclusion of their current farewell tour, the Scorpions have sold over 100 million albums. In the 70s they elevated European hard rock to the world stage, with Hendrix-worshipping guitarist Uli Jon Roth hugely influential on landmark albums such as Fly To The Rainbow, Virgin Killer, Taken By Force and the legendary live double Tokyo Tapes.
At the turn of the 80s, with Matthias Jabs replacing Roth after the band’s original lead guitarist Michael Schenker made a brief return, the Scorpions released four classic albums back to back with Lovedrive, Animal Magnetism, Blackout and Love At First Sting, the last of which made them superstars in America.
And although they would endure a lengthy lean period across the next two decades, the band’s tenacity is now being rewarded. With their 2010 album Sting In The Tail acclaimed as their best since Love At First Sting back in 1984, the Scorpions are aiming to bow out in a manner befitting of a great band. As singer Klaus Meine told Classic Rock, with reference to one of the band’s most celebrated anthems: “We plan to go out while this is still a rock’n’roll hurricane.” But with Comeblack, their final album, the Scorpions are ending a brilliant recording career on a strange and anticlimactic note. Described by the band as “an encore for our diehard fans”, _Comeblack _combines two of the worst ideas in rock’n’roll: the remake album and the covers album.
Featuring newly recorded versions of seven classic Scorpions tracks, plus covers of six rock and pop standards, this is an album as misconceived as it is nonsensically titled. Much as Meine feels it “exciting” to re-record old songs with what he calls “an up-to-date sound”, it is a pointless exercise, and self-defeating. The new versions are of course played well – the band has performed them countless times over the years. And at 63, Meine still has the voice to carry them. But there were qualities in the original recordings – vibe, power and intensity – that no amount of modern technology can recreate, be it the ferocity of Blackout, the sleazy big city atmosphere of The Zoo, or the emotional charge of epic ballad Still Loving You. And equally, the six cover versions could never match the originals.
The Scorpions’ choice of songs is mostly in “tribute” to their heroes from the 60s. And having previously paid homage to The Beatles on the title track of their 1976 album In Trance (on which Meine quoted I Feel Fine), the Scorps handle John Lennon’s Across The Universe with a surprising amount of care, given their famously gonzoid sensibilities. But there is a lack of imagination in their choices. Bowie has covered Across The Universe, the Stranglers covered The Kinks’ All Day And All Of The Night, and even this album’s surprise turn – a rock version of Tainted Love, the 60s soul classic revamped as a gay anthem by Soft Cell – is something that’s been done before, by Marilyn Manson.
In every sense, Comeblack is a flawed concept. The idea of updating the Scorpions’ classic songs might have worked if developed over a whole album, especially if they had gone deeper into their catalogue – beyond 1980 and The Zoo, the oldest track on Comeblack – to revive great 70s songs such as Catch Your Train, We’ll Burn The Sky, Always Somewhere or Pictured Life. Likewise, a straightforward covers album would at least have had a sense of cohesion, even though this idea has been done to death over the years, and has resulted in some of the worst albums ever recorded by major artists – Ozzy’s Under Cover being a notable example.
As it stands, Comeblack is frankly a bit of a mess. The Scorpions really should have left Sting In The Tail as their final album. But if Comeblack is not the triumphant last hurrah, the band’s farewell tour surely will be.