Scorpions: Return To Forever (Sony Music)
Now in their 50th year, Germanic rockers Scorpions have delivered what is very likely to be their final album, Return To Forever. Now, before I get stuck into this review, bear in mind that this is a band I have loved for a long time. From the psychedelic meanderings of the Lonesome Crow and Fly To The Rainbow; the move to harder edged rock era of In Trance and Virgin Killer and the more commercial but still hard rocking late 70s Lovedrive and Animal Magnetism as well as the early 1980s success of the blistering Blackout and Love At First Sting, culminating in the classic double live album World Wide Live, I have lapped them all up. Stunningly good live, full of power and drive with anthem after anthem, Scorpions were a staple part of my teenage years. Despite the god awful Wind Of Change and the dirge that they produced through the 1990s, they remained high in my affections, much to my wife’s bewilderment. 2010’s Sting In The Tail left fresh hope that the band had rediscovered their cutting edge that had been buried for a long time and as they embarked on a farewell tour that has lasted forever, a further release has finally arrived.
So, is it any good? Well, in truth, it’s a pretty mixed bag overall. Opener Going Out With A Bang starts with an almost Southern Country style riff before the classic harmonies kick in on the chorus, and the trademark riffs of Rudolph Schenker and Mathias Jabs punch in. Klaus Meine has one of the most distinctive voices in hard rock, and this album is no different. Fuck it, for a man in his late 60s, his high range tenor is still damn impressive. Going Out With A Bang morphs into quite a rocker before first single, We Built This House arrives. This feels more like the cheesy Scorpions that we've been used to for the last 20 years; lyrically Scorpions were never going to tackle world politics; love ballads, innuendo and the odd chest thumping is about as in depth as you get, and in the main, this is what you want. Rock My Car is a decent thumper of a track, some old school hooks and riffs surfacing along with the formulaic delivery and sing-a-long chorus, “Rock, rock, rock, my car, Let’s put the pedal, down to the metal”. Yep, it’s high intensity stuff but after eight pints this will blow your head off with some decent solo work from Mathias Jabs hidden in the middle. Unfortunately the Def Leppard style chanting make you feel a bit queasy at times.
Next up is the first real ballad, House Of Cards. Whilst I appreciate Meine’s vocals, I just find the rock ballad in any setting cringe worthy virtually without exception. However, I guarantee that the arenas of Europe will be lit by lighters for this one. It’s so sickly you should get a free savoury snack to balance the taste out. From here on in, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. All For One falls into the anthemic arena rock category but is really nothing special whilst Rock ‘n’ Roll Band starts like a steam train, reminiscent of Now from Blackout, and is quite a balls out rocker, allowing James Kottak and Paweł Mąciwoda, both stalwarts of the band to power the rhythm section forward. Despite the clunky lyrics, this is one of the heaviest tracks on the album and I’d give a few quid to see this live. Catch Your Luck and Play is all filler, another sing-a-long chorus and the opportunity for mass audience participation; several chances to sing “woo” and punch the air. Rollin’ Home is almost a Queen track with a We Will Rock You drum sound and some very eerie Freddie Mercuryesque vocals at times. It’s not very good.
Return To Forever is too long, especially by Scorpion standards. 17 tracks? Since when? Hard Rockin' The Place is formulaic, throw away stuff but still perfectly listenable with some driving riffs and melodies and Jabs peeling off solos for fun. However, Eye Of The Storm, another ballad induces the nausea and has you reaching for the sick bag. Unsurprisingly, the lyrical content throughout the album is reflective and sentimental, with the inevitable end slowly looming into view. The Scratch is a slight departure with a smashing rockabilly feel and one that would be pretty awesome at a drunken wedding with your best mates; you know, the kind of do where you think you can jive and twist but actually you look like a twat but it doesn't matter in the slightest. This might just be my favourite track. It’s like heavy metal Stray Cats! However, the fun doesn't last, as sombre guitars introduce yet another introspective ballad; Gypsy Life with lyrics such as “The years go by, the clock is ticking way too fast”. This is followed by The World We Used To Know, yet another self-reflection and even more Freddie Mercury style vocals. This is horrible stuff I’m afraid. Stay with me folks, we’re up to track 14, Dancing In The Moonlight, with a riff stolen from Steve Vai’s Surfing With The Alien; It’s an up tempo Eurovision style song; almost but not quite power metal. When The Truth Is A Lie is quite a mixture, some killer guitar work combined with an acoustic theme and Meine’s high vocals. Who We Are – well, just makes you want to vomit. It’s ghastly. Album closer Delirious is a reasonable offering; some of the old Scorpions fire threatens at times and brings an overlong album to a respectable end.
So, if this is it, which I am pretty certain it is, is it a fitting epitaph? For me no. It contains too many throw away tracks, far too many ballads and not enough of the Scorpions I loved. I’d still love to see them live again, although I fear that could destroy my memories. Tracks like The Zoo, Make It Real, Blackout, China White, I'm Going Mad and We’ll Burn The Sky; that’s where I live. Maybe we should just leave a slightly grumpy old man with his memories and old school music in the corner in his comfy chair and slippers; dreaming of the days when already receding Germans looked the mutt’s nuts in stripy yellow spandex and performed human pyramids on stage. 6/10