The Michael Schenker Group: The Michael Schenker Group - Album Of The Week Club review

A guitarist battling demons, a bunch of seasoned session pros and a novice singer: welcome to the Michael Schenker Group

Michael Schenker Group: Michael Schenker Group
(Image: © Michael Schenker Group)
Michael Schenker Group - Michael Schenker Group

(Image credit: Michael Schenker Group)

Armed and Ready
Cry for the Nations
Victim of Illusion
Bijou Pleasurette
Feels Like a Good Thing
Into the Arena
Looking Out from Nowhere
Tales of Mystery
Lost Horizons

The first Michael Schenker Group line-up had all the big names you could ask for: future Mr Big bassist Billy Sheehan, session supremo drummer Simon Phillips and legendary bassist Mo Foster plus current Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey.

The album was produced by Rainbow’s Roger Glover, although it could have been very different. “Peter Mensch offered ‘Mutt Lange’ for my first album but I refused,” says Michael Schenker. “He produced all of Mensch’s bands and I didn’t want to be the same.”

Tough yet anthemic rock songs like Armed & ReadyVictim Of Illusion and the epic Lost Horizons made the album a Top 20 success in the UK. Little did anyone know myriad personnel changes and self-inflicted damage would ensure MSG had already reached their commercial peak in Britain.

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Background

Working in London on demos with the first Michael Schenker Group, Michael buckled under problems with alcohol and drugs, going AWOL. “He was caught between heaven and hell,” says brother Rudolf. “He was playing the best I’d ever heard him, but mentally he was in terrible shape.”

“I hospitalised myself,” Michael explains. “I’d been taking tablets for stage fright – the same ones that killed Keith Moon – and they were highly addictive. It was a tough withdrawal.”

Fortuitously for all concerned, a demo by unknown singer Gary Barden happened to be playing just as Michael walked past the Head of A&R’s office at Chrysalis Records. The chemistry between guitarist and the swiftly hired singer was instantaneous enough to to ensure that work on the album was able to be resumed.  

Other albums released in August 1980

  • Kaleidoscope - Siouxsie & the Banshees
  • Crimes of Passion - Pat Benatar
  • Alibi - America
  • Panorama - The Cars
  • Drama - Yes
  • No More Dirty Deals - Johnny Van Zant
  • Wild Cat - Tygers of Pan Tang
  • A - Jethro Tull
  • Doc at the Radar Station - Captain Beefheart
  • Neutronica - Donovan
  • One-Trick Pony - Paul Simon
  • Reach for the Sky - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Stand Up and Fight - Quartz
  • The Swing of Delight - Carlos Santana
  • Xanadu - Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra

What they said...

"Highlights like Looking Out from Nowhere and Lost Horizons are laced with the pomp and bombast typical of the era, and storming opener Armed and Ready is arguably Schenker's finest solo track. Vocalist Gary Barden wisely stays out of the way, his understated style (not unlike that of UFO singer Phil Mogg) placing all emphasis where it is intended: Schenker's stunning axe work. In spite of its random quirks, the general consensus among fans holds that this remains the MSG's best work." (AllMusic)

"The album does have weaker moments like the cheesy Feels Like a Good Thing, which I would have left off. The band's instrumental showcase, Into the Arena, once more shows off the talent of Michael Schenker and crew with crazy guitar work and even catchy keyboards. Drummer Simon Phillips also does a great job on this track. (Sputnik Music)

"This is a phenomenal debut, featuring killer tracks like the classic anthems Armed and Ready, Cry for the Nations, and Schenker’s legendary instrumental, Enter the Arena. Underrated masterpieces include the upbeat rocker Feels Like a Good Thing and the epic closer, Lost Horizons. Four years of Michael Schenker Group superiority start out in fine form with this debut. (ZRockr)

What you said...

Steve Gardiner: Fantastic album. I still listen to it regularly. Saw their very first UK show, at Bristol Colston Hall. Got to meet Cozy Powell that day. Saw them many times following that, including the "Surprise Surprise" Sunday headline show at Reading Festival 1982, when everyone was expecting Graham Bonnet to be singing but, who actually walked out on stage? Gary bloody Barden, that's who! Epic.

Mike Knoop: This album hits the same sweet spot for me as previous club picks by Whitesnake, Rainbow, UFO, Scorpions... melodic riff-forward hard rock that puts as much of an emphasis on songwriting as guitar flash. [Side conversation: With this album, does Michael Schenker set the record for most appearances in club picks?] Vocalist Gary Barden is the real surprise here. AllMusic describes his style as "understated," but I think he matches Schenker's Gibson Flying V wail for wail. Hard rock hallelujah!

John Davidson: There's no doubt that Michael Schenker is one of the finest guitarists to emerge in the 70s. 

His work with UFO reached a peak with the career defining Strangers In The Night until egos and alcohol brought that crashing down before they hit the really big time. Schenker then briefly re-joined his brother's band (Scorpions) and sprinkled his signature guitar licks over the better songs on LoveDrive before that too came to an end.

MSG starts with three absolute crackers (Armed and Ready, Cry for the Nations and Victim of Illusions) , the instrumental Bijou Pleasurette contains some impressive guitar layering and shows off Schenker's various styles but it doesn't really fit on the album, Side one closer Feels like a Good thing is a bit rock-by-numbers but not bad per se.

Side two opens with the instrumental barnstormer Into the Arena and closes with Lost Horizon (which is just the right side of leaden but not quite a stone-cold classic in the slow/heavy Rainbow style of 70s metal). The songs in-between haven’t stayed with me since 1980, and in fact having heard them in the last 30 minutes, I still can’t remember them.

The production and arrangements haven’t aged too badly though the keyboard into to Cry for the Nations almost puts a lie to that.

The session musicians that provide the backdrop to Schenker’s superb guitar work and impressive soloing are all competent and professional without getting too fancy.

Gary Barden is a decent singer with that slightly throaty vocal style that was popular in the early 80s (as a stark contrast to the screamers and bluesmen of the 70s). It works well enough on the better songs but doesn't lift the mediocre ones.

In terms of song-writing I can't help but note that none of the songs are as good as Schenker’s best work on UFO - perhaps the tension with Phil Mogg fuelled additional creativity or maybe Barden just doesn't have Mogg (or Way's) ear for melody .

All in all, a pleasant detour down memory lane but not an album I’m tempted to reacquire – whereas I still regularly put on some UFO.

So as not leave on a sour note, I would absolutely recommend seeing Michael Schenker live. I caught him on tour a couple of years ago and the man can still play guitar. A hugely impressive talent and someone who has clearly battled his demons over the years but come out the other side.

Overall, with nine songs and four straight-up classics among them. I’d give this a 7/10.

Anthony Latz: Part of the soundtrack of my teenage years. Blizzard of Oz, Down to Earth, Ready and Willing, Glory Road, Corridors of Power, British Steel, Chinatown all part of a resurgent old guard in response of the NWOBM.

Johnathon Hoskins: Loved this album first time I heard it. Still have it on vinyl. By the next record he had taken everything apart. Never really had a consistent solid line-up again for years. If it ain't broke, you don't have to fix it. Think Michael lost traction after this. Got it back a bit on Assault Attack, but the big musical picture was a little blurry after that.

Jonathan Novajosky: Being a huge fan of UFO during the Schenker era, I was excited to give this album a listen for the first time a year ago. I came away satisfied, and perhaps even more so the second time listening.

The opener, Armed and Ready, is unquestionably the best track here. The speed, riffs, and classic 80s rock vocals are all there. I enjoyed a couple of other lesser known tracks too. Victim of Illusion has a smooth, melodic hook that is reminiscent of the fantastic Schenker UFO albums (Lights Out in particular). That and Feels Like A Good Thing seem to be a continuation of the sound that Schenker helped established before leaving UFO. There are a couple of solid instrumentals too, although they are hardly mind-blowing by any standards.

All in all, MSG's debut is a successful one. There really isn't a bad song on the album. I wouldn't say I love most of these compared to my favourite UFO songs, but it may be unfair to compare the two bands. Any fan of 80s rock looking to delve a little deeper than what's on the radio should check this one out. 7/10

Bill Griffin: This is good but nowhere near as good as Schenker's work in UFO. 

Gary Barden: sounds like Rob Halford a lot, especially on Armed And Ready, a track which itself would be quite at home on a Judas Priest record. 

I'm glad for the remaster, because the original sounds pretty bad. Even the bonus demos on the remaster sound better than the original album. The instruments are more balanced (Sheehan can be heard, unlike Mo Foster.) 

I saw MSG play a local bar once. Didn't know a single song they played (no UFO in the set at all, not even for the encore) so was kind of disappointed. That bar burnt to the ground shortly thereafter. This is the first of them I've listened to since.

Simon Cryer: Some posts here claim that his UFO work is 'better'. It's just different. The MSG project, particularly this and the follow up, show Schenker in a free spirited and experimental phase, with some truly soaring solos and some solid driving riffs. This album is foundational for the follow up, I think, but there's some good stuff on it.

Kathy Kerr Gonzalez: Full disclosure - metal isn’t my specialty, so I speak with an outsider’s point of view. This album is a vehicle for Michael Schenker’s guitar work - and that vehicle is a ‘72 Chevy Nova. The sound is ahead of its time - it could be at home with 1990-era Skid Row or Queensryche - and its bombastic nature should appeal to teenagers, but... you have to only listen to the guitar, not the inane lyrics or trying-too-hard vocals. At times, things get downright Spinal Tap-ish. It also has a unique talent for wearing me out while simultaneously lacking depth. But nice sound, and nice guitar work. I can see how people would like it - but not for me.

Mauro Lucke: Schenker' s on fire on this one! Check out the solo on Armed And Ready... it'll give you goosebumps. What about the furious instrumental track Into The Arena? Amazing! Great album!

Iain Macaulay: To fly in the face of popular opinion, I don’t like this. Sorry about that, but It never got me at the time and still doesn’t spark anything now. Yes, the lead guitar work is great, there is no disputing that, but where I feel the album is let down is in the guitar playing through the verses and choruses. 

To me, most of them sound quite bland and uninspired to an almost extreme level of commercial acceptance. I feel the same about the lyrics. And the keys on that second song! That very nearly killed listening to the whole album stone dead for me. But I did, and persevered through a second listen. But nothing changed.

However, If there was one saving grace for me it’s Feels Like A Good Thing. That’s how I would have expected the whole album to sound. Big ballsy thought out riffs with lots of attitude. Everything comes together on that song and showcases, for me, what makes the album - the drumming. There are lots of great grooves and clever ideas that all feel quite relevant to the songs and not just thrown in for the sake of it. But it’s just not enough I’m afraid. So many other groups did the same thing but with a lot more imagination.

Carl Black: I can exclusively reveal the contract that Michael had drawn up regarding this album. Clause 1: There must be at least two guitar solos in every song. Clause 2: Verse, chorus, verse chorus, middle eights, solo, verse, chorus, solo, end... For each song. Clause 3: The guitar solo must start within the first two minutes of every song. 

All the members of the band, management and record label all signed, sealed, delivered ( I'm yours) and so thus the album was produced to those letters of the law. Not quite classic rock, not glam, not heavy metal. It's not quite anything, which is not a bad thing, but it does struggle with identifying with any kind of audience. Some good moments on here, notably Victims Of Illusions and Lost Horizons. But in large, its a case of hard rock... squared.

Fred Varcoe: Hadn't heard this in a while and was going to give it 9 out of 10 as I love UFO a lot more. But this is really good and Schenker isn't just another guitarist; he is simply the best. Other guitarists just play notes; Michael creates astonishing music with his solos.

Gary Claydon: Alongside One Night At Budokan, this is The Mad Axeman's best album outside of UFO. Solid hard rock which not surprisingly puts Schenker's six-string prowess to the fore. Nothing groundbreaking here, although Lost Horizons is a bonafide classic. Caught a couple of the gigs on MSG's first tour and they really were superb .

Robert Anthony: Being that I am a huge fan of Michael Schenker: I rate this one a solid 10. Of course it could just be my bias however I like what I like; no apologies.

Gary Barden is a solid rock vocalist and he really shines on Lost Horizons. The rhythm section of Mo Foster and Simon Phillips are always spot on; Simon Phillips is my all-time favourite drummer, bar none.

IMO, the first four MSG albums are a 10 for me; as I have said a million times: everything in life (including music) is subjective. Thank you for including this gem in your lineup, because I truly believe it is a Classic Rock Album!

Roland Bearne: This is just brilliant. A stone cold rock/metal classic. Schenker is the the "Meister" of tone and phrasing. In the canon of classically influenced hard rock players it's he, Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth (two from three to the Scorpions!).

Brian Carr: I listened to The Michael Schenker Group quite a bit over the past week, and as expected, it's bliss for guitar geeks like myself. Into The Arena is an absolute killer track: relentless theme, high caliber guitar leads and superbly crafted, I thought.

I was a bit surprised I didn’t love the album, though. The band is tight throughout, naturally exceptional guitar, but while the songs were fine, they weren’t necessarily memorable. My favourite tracks were the two instrumentals. The vocals were fine, but at times I heard Halford, other times Coverdale, as well as other singers, but not as iconic as any of them.

And, as mentioned in a couple of posts, that terrible keyboard intro to Cry For The Nations - wow, that is so bad it would make Steve Miller proud. Putting it second on the record was a poor choice. Flip flop that with the heavy and impressive Lost Horizons and we’re talking. Solid album overall, though.

Steve Jestico: Stuck this on the headphones while doing some jobs around the house yesterday, First time I'd played it in years and I ended up grabbing any object to air guitar along with the solos! 

Terrific stuff throughout and Lost Horizons should be recognised as a classic track. 10/10 and I hope I never got secretly filmed while soloing away with the Vacuum Cleaner hose!

Final Score: 7.98 ⁄10 (296 votes cast, with a total score of 2365)

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