Graded on a Curve:
UFO, Lights Out

How deep an impression did the British hard rock band UFO make on my teenage years? Well, I got this baby on 8-track for Christmas one year and I can’t remember a damn thing about it. I suspect I listened to it once, went “Bleh,” and tossed into the discard pile.

Hell, I have no idea what possessed me to ask for it in the first place. Probably a review in Creem magazine. Those fuckers were always leading me down the primrose path.

UFO’s 1977 Lights Out was certainly an odd choice for something to ask for, seeing as how I never much dug hard rock or metal and didn’t even like Led Zeppelin. The snooty teenage me looked down on metal, thought it was dumb, but my good taste has gone to shit over the years and good thing, seeing as how good taste (and this has been scientifically proven!) takes all the fun out of life. Shit, I didn’t even like Foghat, and what kinda way is that for a person to live?

So a coupla days back I decided to give Lights Out another listen and guess what? I love it! It’s the greatest heavy metal album ever! Okay, so it’s not as good as Kix’s debut LP, or Van Halen’s 1984 for that matter, but it packs a big dumb sonic punch that lights up my pleasure receptors every time I put it on.

At times Lights Out rocks harder than those bozos in Foreigner ever would (compare “Too Hot to Handle” to “Hot-Blooded,” I dare ya!), at others it anticipates Def Leppard’s glossy pop-metal sheen. Like Bad Company but with a soggy soft side (see the great “Love to Love” and their cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or”!), or AC/DC only quicker on the trigger, Phil Mogg (vocals), Michael “Displaced German” Schenker (lead guitar) and Company produced some of the most shamefully likable hard rock this side of Elton John, who I could swear plays piano (it’s credited to Mogg) on the very Captain Fantastic “Just Another Suicide.”

Seriously, people: Lights Out’s only dying fish flopping on the shores of rock’n’roll is power ballad “Try Me,” and even it works depending on your tolerance for chick-bait vocals set against big string arrangements. Me, I like Schenker’s solo turn on guitar, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to doggy paddle through the schmalz waiting for it.

“Lights Out” (“lights out in London!”) could be UFO’s answer to “London Calling,” and you know what? It’s got more velocity and is the better punk song. “Too Hot to Handle” boasts a riff for the ages and makes a big noise–kinda reminds me of AC/DC only with more get up and go. “Just Another Suicide” is pop metal (love the strings) at its best and has this big Who-like hook that reminds me of “Pinball Wizard.” And Elton John on piano!

“Electric Phase” sounds the way Journey would have sounded if they’d had balls. And it’s better than any other song I can think of with the word “Electric” in the title–including Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue”! “Alone Again Or” ain’t all that but ain’t half bad for what it is; tempo’s a bit too fast for my liking, but I never find myself skipping over it so there. Meanwhile, “Gettin’ Ready” is BIG (as in riffs) and tres catchy (as in melody) and kinda makes me think of what would have happened had Bad Company decided to go power pop.

As for “Love to Love” it opens with the sound of a resounding gong (probably borrowed it from ELP) and is pretty beyond words, what with Schenker’s mysterioso synthesizer (think The Exorcist!) and sea of strings. Then in comes Mogg sounding as sensitive as shit as he sings, “Misty green and blue/Love to love to love you,” and it never fails to remind me of Hüsker Dü’s “Pink Turns to Blue,” which is unfortunate cuz the girl in the Hüsker’s tune is dead!

As I listen to Lights Out now all I can think is my teenage self’s tastes were for shit! I mean, he liked Heart’s Dreamboat Annie but he didn’t like this? What a stuck-up and all-around arrogant little cretin! I… I… I wanna go back in time and kick his punk ass!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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