Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
The ongoing reissues of the Uriah Heep catalogue in limited edition picture discs has been the perfect excuse to re-explore their story, seeing how they cut their own individual swathe across the music world to become the titans they now are.
Often underappreciated, the band could happily join Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple on a rock music Mount Rushmore. Whilst not reaching the peaks of ‘Look At Yourself’ or ‘Demons and Wizards’, both certainly have their charm and, as with Sabbath, there may have been issues in the background but this didn’t stop them being compelling.
The band weren’t in a good place for the recording of 1974’s ‘Wonderland’, internal issues with money, drugs and egos threatened to tear the band apart and the recording sessions themselves were, to say the least, fraught. With arguments about direction rife, the more Prog Rock leanings of the album show through, the title track in particular was a grand opening statement that moved away from their core, hard rock sound. This though was balanced out by the following ‘Suicidal Man’, a driving number that upped the riffage considerably and Mick Bow’s solo particularly fine here.
Another switch with the joyful, almost poppy, romp of ‘The Shadows and the Wind’, a number that wouldn’t have been too out of place in one of the plethora of rock musicals that dominated the 70’s as David Bryon flexed his vocal skills. Solid as a rock, drummer Lee Kerslake was the one member of the band seemingly not struggling with either the process or the songs themselves, his steady power an oasis of calm compared to the sadly drug addicted world of bass player Gary Thain. When tensions did arise, sparks flew but sometimes produced sterling results, the interplay between Box and keys player Ken Hensley on the heads-down ‘So Tired’ is one of the highlights here, the two producing some great performances that enhanced the album no end.
With orchestral ballad ‘The Easy Road’ a grand gesture and something done to either stretch their wings or just because they could and bubblegum Glam rocker ‘Something or Nothing’ added to the mixed amongst others, it’s certainly eclectic. As a whole, the album doesn’t hold together well as some of the ingredients of this melting pot just don’t gel as an overall flow but, seen as a slice of history and without the critical and fan expectation of the time, it’s certainly worth diving into.
1976’s ‘High and Mighty’ was another watershed album for the band, the last to feature Byron and bass player John Wetton who’d joined Heep shortly after Thain was sacked following the ‘Wonderland’ tour. Again, it was a mixed bag of different styles, causing confusion and disappointment amongst the fans as the rocking ‘One Way or Another’ was a false dawn, the material then veering into Prog territory with ‘Weep in Silence’ and pastoral folk pop with the excellent ‘Misty Eyes’.
Following on from the very commercial vibe of their ’74 release, this softer sound was peppered throughout and the defiantly titled ‘Can’t Keep A Good Band Down’ mixed its prog and hard rock with a big slice of pop, ‘Woman of the World’ more akin with a whimsical Beatles or Small Faces than the roar of old.
With gentle ballad ‘Footprints in the Snow’ and the nadir of ‘Can’t Stop Singing’ coming on like another rock opera reject, it was thankfully the Southern Rock infused boogie of ‘Make A Little Love’ that the album closed with, Box’s slide guitar swinging and the whipcrack of Kerslake’s drums bringing a welcome bit of fire.
After this time in the wilderness, it took more line-up changes to truly find their mojo again but thankfully with 1982’s ‘Abominog’ putting Heep well and truly back where they belonged, the rough years were behind them and they continued to grow. That’s a story for another day though. The quality and content of both ‘Wonderland’ and ‘High and Mighty’ were a real roll of the dice and are far from classics but there’s diamonds amongst the dust and as an exercise in nostalgia, both should warm some hearts.
Released by BMG