Home Albums Box-set Review : UFO Covenant + Sharks

Box-set Review : UFO Covenant + Sharks

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Review by Rob Broom for MPM

UFO proved they were still ‘too hot to handle’ during 1995 – 2002 with this excellent box set from Cherry Red. 

As the 1970s ended UFO had forcefully smashed open the door for success and were ready to reap the rewards. Having formed in the late 60s, Phil Mogg (vocals), Pete Way (bass) and Andy Parker (drums) had been working hard, but not really making much progress except in Germany and Japan. It was while on tour in Germany during 1973 that the recruitment of guitarist Michael Schenker really kickstarted the bands upwards trajectory. Albums such as ‘Force It’, ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Obsession’ paved the way for the monster double live album ‘Strangers In The Night’ (more on that later) and then as success was there waiting, Schenker was gone. 

Despite much shock and lamentation among the fanbase and media, the bands days were certainly not numbered with the loss of the bands talismanic guitarist although at the time (and indeed even now in some corners of the fanbase!) you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

The reality is the replacement guitarist Paul Chapman was also a tremendous guitar player (I first saw the band with him on guitar when UFO toured to support the ‘Strangers’ release) and the band continued to record and tour. However, for what ever reasons (and no doubt, the rock and roll excesses of drink and drugs played a part), UFO didn’t quite make it into the mega league of rock royalty, although among rock lovers of a certain age the band were always thought of fondly, (and of course, Steve Harris and Iron Maiden have kept the flag flying with the use of UFOs ‘Doctor Doctor’ as their entrance music).

Flash forward to 1995 and Michael Schenker was back in the band and there was a new album – Walk On Water’ – and a tour (which yields the live recording found in this set). Then in 2000 we get to the two studio albums also found in this box set – ‘Covenant’ – released in 2000 and ‘Sharks’, released in 2002.

As musically I had moved onto a much wider palette by the 1990s, somewhat surprisingly (to me!), I missed the return of Schenker and these albums, and therefore this is the first time I have heard them and so, on to the review.

The first thing that strikes me with both albums is the swagger and confidence contained within them. This is no band just trundling through the motions of a ‘reunion’, there is flair and excitement brimming across the performances and the songwriting.

Songs such as ‘Love Is Forever’ and ‘Unravelled’ from ‘Covenant’, and ‘Outlaw Man’ from ‘Sharks’ are terrific compositions that scream quality rock music at you!

‘Midnight Train’ (from ‘Covenant’) positively canters along, while ‘Quicksilver Rider’ from ‘Sharks’ has an infectious groove and rhythm.

There are some digs at the music industry and perhaps also at particular individuals, (‘Miss The Lights’ and ‘The Smell Of Money’ from Covenant, ‘Someones Gonna Have To Pay’ from Sharks) and plenty of great riffs and guitar solos scattered throughout both albums to keep the air guitarists busy!

Phil Moggs vocals certainly cement his place as one of the great rock vocalists (and he was still sounding good on the ‘Last Orders’ tour), although he is often overlooked in favour of others. Pete Way delivers the ever flamboyant bass and (and one assumes) plenty of the lyrics.

Overall these are two great rock albums with lots of musical variety to savour, but for the UFO completist, what about the bonus live album included in this box set?

Well first perhaps, for those less familiar with UFO, let’s flash back to 1979 and the release of ‘Strangers In The Night’.

Arguably ‘Strangers’ is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – live albums ever released, certainly within the rock genre (there are other contenders of course, Hawkwinds ‘Space Ritual’, Thin Lizzys ‘Live And Dangerous’ and Lynyrd Skynyrds ‘One More From The Road’ to name but three!). Two slabs of black vinyl with an amended set list running order to ensure each side of vinyl had the maximum impact. It is difficult to really impress on people how powerful the opening cut of ‘Natural Thing’ sounded at the time. Gob smacked might do it!

For this album, recorded at the Blind Melon club during the 1995 US tour, the band also had Paul Raymond on keyboards and guitar, so four of the five members of the band that recorded ‘Strangers’ can be found here. That most certainly is a promising proposition and for the most part, you won’t be disappointed with the contents. 

Although there is no opening call to arms, the set kicks off with a thundering ‘Mother Mary’ and with barely a breath in between rips through ‘This Kids’, ‘Let It Roll’ and ‘Out In The Street’.

Then we get two cuts from the Walk on Water album ‘Venus’ and ‘Pushed To The Limit’. These hold up admirably against the classic material and then we get an epic ‘Love To Love’ followed by a furious ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ where Phil Mogg is at times trying to keep up with the bands pace while getting the audience involved. It adds to the live experience and more importantly makes the set worthwhile, it’s not a carbon copy of ‘Strangers’ – after all what could be!

‘Too Hot To Handle’ follows and rattles along with the band in thunderous form before we get the final closing number ‘Rock Bottom’. 

Whilst this is often considered a Schenker guitar highlight reel, the whole band maintain the momentum from ‘Too Hot’ and this is really a great version of the song. This is a band firing on all cylinders and to my humble ears leaving nothing behind. If you want something different to ‘Strangers’ this is a good as place to start as anywhere and highlights what a fantastic live band UFO were. 

In conclusion, this is a tremendous box set that is well worth a listen and if you have an interest in UFO or quality rock in general, it should be in your collection. 

Pre-order here: https://cherryred.co/CovenantSharks

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