At their age – 45 years and 24 studio albums – nobody could blame Uriah Heep if they coasted along when it comes to recording new material, just doing the obvious to keep the fans happy. However, this is not the case on Outsider. If anything, the band have eschewed the temptation of rehashing their trademark style and sounds, and instead they’ve tried to push the envelope – to strong effect.
In some respects, this is a return to the days of 1980’s Conquest, when Uriah Heep did slightly heavy up their approach, and gave all those musical clichés a swift kick up the arse. Now they’re doing the same thing once again.
You can hear this on opener Speed Of Sound, which has a darker riff than would normally be associated with this lot. It’s one that allows frontman Bernie Shaw to come across as a little more eerie and guttural than would normally be the case. Guitarist Mick Box, the only link between the Heep of today and the 1980s line-up, comes into his own on the manic title track and The Law. His solo on the latter is brisk and furious, and his playing throughout is beautifully balanced against a wall of vocal harmonies.
Most of the 11 songs here maintain an entertainingly high standard, with Box and Shaw coming to the fore again and again through some stunning performances. Even when things slightly dip, as on Rock The Foundation, this pair are peerless. However, the rest of the band are never overshadowed. Phil Lanzon’s fat organ sound marks out Is Anybody Gonna Help Me? as an ominous mid-pace growler, while the elastic rhythm section of drummer Russell Gilbrook and new bassist Dave Rimmer lock together with real precision on the almost funky Looking At You.
Now this is Heep, so melodies are never ignored, and each song is injected with an easy-on-the-ear tune. But whereas in the recent past the band have been satisfied to let everything stand or fall by overemphasising the chorus, here it’s the sheer breadth and heaviness of the music that sticks in the listener’s mind. _ _
Outsider isn’t as instant as, say, the Different World or Wake The Sleeper albums, but there’s something in the way these tracks are approached that will almost certainly guarantee that they stay in the mind a lot longer. It’s not a case of the band being reborn, so much as discovering a new path forward. Exciting times return!