It was back in December 1969 when keyboard player Ken Hensley was asked to join a band called Spice. Shortly thereafter the band changed its name to Uriah Heep, and a rock legend was born. However, if you'd been running a sweep five decades ago as to which of the many rock bands on the go would ultimately celebrate a fortieth anniversary, I doubt anyone would have been cheering as they drew the name Uriah Heep out of the bag.
But despite enduring fifteen lineups, seven drummers, six vocalists, six bass players, five keyboard players as well as deaths, drugs, enough mayhem to fill a quadrilogy of Spinal Taps and a solitary guitarist — sole founding member Mick Box — the band is still here. When many a more critically acclaimed band has fallen by the wayside, Uriah Heep has toured their backsides off across the rock-starved former Soviet Republics and beyond.
In 2008, they released their 21st studio album, Wake The Sleeper, their first studio album in 10 years, which saw them getting the kind of praise that eluded them in the seventies. So it's strange to relate that their fortieth anniversary album, Celebration, is largely a set of re-recordings from their early years.
There are two new tracks in amongst the fourteen songs, and both "Only Human" and "Corridors Of Madness" would have sat happily on the Wake The Sleeper release. Both solid rockers with the Uriah Heep trademark sound, they're a hybrid of progressive rock and classic rock set well in place.
I suppose that fans may be interested to hear how "new" vocalist Bernie Shaw (twenty-two years a member, and counting!) gets on with the old material, but then he's sung them thousands of times in concert and on an array of live releases. I could reel off at least half a dozen live albums where Shaw sings the classics, including the likes of Live In Moscow, The Magician's Birthday Party and Magic Night, just to name three. Of course, it could be royalty related. After all, those record deals of old weren't exactly brimming over with pots of gold for the musicians. It may even be that new record label, Ear Music, wanted something that the casual buyer would pick up and go, "Oh, I remember 'Easy Living.'" Hell, it might actually be a gesture of thanks to their fans, but given that it's coming out in three different formats I think we can discount that.
In case you're wondering, that includes the standard edition (which has only the CD), the deluxe editions (which throws in a seven-track DVD of Uriah Heep’s performance at the Sweden Rock Festival in 2009), and a collector’s edition (which comes with a 7” vinyl single, boasting 2 exclusive bonus tracks, signed by the band). Start saving, Heep fans.
The music, however, remains quite remarkable. Uriah Heep have, for the most part, managed to maintain a unique sound over their career, and as soon as you hear parping keyboards, high pitched multi-part harmony vocals, and a rock-solid rhythm section, then you know you're in Heep country. The band play it fairly safe as they dip into their back catalogue, with only a few minor arrangement tweaks here and there. However, on some of the tracks, the 21st century production really works. Some early Heep albums had a fairly flat sound, but the version of "Gypsy" on this release blows the original away. Heresy I'm sure to fans of original vocalist, David Byron, but it's true.
Nine of the re-recordings hark back to the David Byron era, when they managed to put out five albums in two years, something that will send a shudder through today's workshy rockers. They do pull out two songs from Innocent Victim, one of the albums originally released with John Lawton on vocals, but there's only one song from Bernie Shaw's tenure in the band, with a curtain being drawn over most of the '80s, when John Sloman and (subsequently) Pete Goalby were singing.
Now I'm no apologist for Conquest, John Sloman's sole album with the band, but the shiny AOR of Abominog, Head First and Equator would certainly have been worth a return visit. Songs like "Hot Persuasion," "Weekend Warriors" and "Rockarama" would have completed the picture, although their tentative foray into rap-rock on "Stay On Top" is probably best left locked away.
Regardless, I really enjoyed Celebration, and anyone who likes Uriah Heep will like it as well. The band — vocalist Bernie Shaw, guitarist Mick Box, keyboardist Phil Lanzon, bassist Trevor Bolder, and (new boy) drummer Russell Gilbrook — is a group of top-class musicians playing top-class songs. It's a testament to their powers that this album even exists!
:twisted :twisted :twisted :twisted / 4 out of 5
Standard - Buy @ Amazon
Deluxe - Buy @ Amazon
Collectors - Buy @ Amazon