Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: The Scorpions, "Comeblack"

The re-recording of old favorites has always been a tough one for me. I know there are sometimes reasons to do it – rights issues or personnel changes – but as a fan, it’s hard for me to put aside 30 years or so of listening to a song and embrace a new version. That’s what The Scorpions ask us to do on their latest, and supposedly final album Comeblack.

The first seven tracks of the album consist of updated version of some of the band’s biggest hits — “Rhythm of Love,” “The Zoo,” “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “No One Like You,” “Blackout,” “Winds of Change” and “Still Loving You.”

First off, there are a couple of songs in that list that I’ve just had enough of. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” was a favorite of my childhood, but overplay on classic rock radio has turned it into a track that I skip most of the time. It’s a great rock song, but I’ve just heard it too many times.

I was never a big fan of “Winds of Change,” which contemporary rock radio burned out at the time of its release, and I just don’t think “Still Loving You” is a very good song, either. So, fair or not, there are strikes against the remakes with me to start.

There is one thing about all seven of the remakes, though, that no one can deny. They sound fantastic. They’re bigger, fuller and more textured. They fill up the speakers when you crank them up. In some cases, that’s a plus, but not in all. My favorite here is “Rhythm of Love,” which benefits greatly from the new treatment. I actually think I like this version of the song better than the original from 1988’s Savage Amusement, a record I played the hell out of, despite its slightly more commercial bent. This one is just bigger, better and grander.

There are things that I like in all of the remakes, particularly the bluesy guitars that rise up out of the mix on “The Zoo,” but there are things that I think detract from the songs, too. In “Hurricane,” for example, I miss that big, spacey flange effect on the vocals. It’s still there, but it’s dialed back and subdued, and I miss it. Aside from “Sails of Charon” from the Uli Jon Roth era of the band, “Blackout” is probably my favorite tune from The Scorps, but the treatment here tames it a little too much for my liking. One of the things that drew me into the song in the first place was the raw, frenetic energy. Sure, it sounds better in the new version, but it also loses some of that wild abandon in translation.

So, let’s call the remakes part of the record a wash. They sound great, and they’re not bad remakes. Fans will like them, but I figure most will probably reach for the originals they’ve been listening to for decades over these versions.

That brings us to the second half of Comeblack, a collection of six classic rock covers, a few perhaps surprising. The obvious starting point is the most surprising of the choices, a cover of Soft Cell’s 1980s new-wave hit “Tainted Love.” I kind of liked Marilyn Manson’s creepy take on the song a few years ago, but I cringed a little when I thought of it done Scorpions style. Surprisingly, it’s not nearly the train wreck I envisioned. It’s actually a blast — one of the more fun moments on the record. The more you listen to it, you end up with it stuck in your head.

But “Tainted Love” is not the star of the show. That, for me is a two-way tie.

Perhaps my favorite song on the album is the cover of T-Rex’s “Children of the Revolution.” It’s almost impossible to beat a big, epic, swaggering Marc Bolan riff, and The Scorpions definitely do it justice. Klaus Meine’s vocals don’t carry quite the cool factor of Bolan’s on the verse, but this version brings a heavier sound and dials back the glam/disco high notes on the chorus.

The absolute best performance, though, is The Scorps’ version of the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.” I’m not a big fan of ballads, but this one seems tailor-made for The Scorpions’ hard-rock treatment, and Meine’s vocals on this tune are his best of the 13 tracks here. Though the rocker in me leans toward “Children of the Revolution,” this is probably the highlight of the record.

The other covers are mostly faithful and mostly good. The only one I don’t care for is their version of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” It’s just too delicate a song for Meine’s voice. The version of The Small Faces’ “Tin Soldier” is a fun, stomping rocker on the chorus, much like the original; The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” is obviously right up the band’s alley, and they have fun with it.

Comeblack doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is — a parting gift for fans in advance of their Final Sting 2012 tour. The covers are the star of the show, and the remakes are just an added bonus.

If you haven’t seen The Scorpions live, I highly recommend getting out for one of these shows, as they always put on a great one, and it might be your last chance.

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