UFO – Phenomenon (1974)
Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re having a listen to an album from an important, if rarely mentioned group, UFO. Phenomenon is UFO’s third studio album. Previously known for their space rock albums, UFO transitioned to what we would now define as a traditional classic rock sound for this third release. In reality, Phenomenon was a landmark album for classic rock and served as one of the bridges between the blues rock tinted sound of the early 1970s and the development of the heavy metal sound and commercial success of the genre through the late 1970s into the 1980s, first introduced to a wider audience by the likes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Phenomenon is an interesting album in the way that it combines the two rock sounds. It sounds distinctly different than other rock albums of 1974 (ie. 461 Ocean Boulevard by Clapton, Not Fragile by Bachman Turner Overdrive, etc.), but also didn’t embrace a core fan base, causing the album to suffer commercially. Most frequently, the songs on the album feature a softer verse with a heavy metal tinge to the chorus to combine the two sounds, and it works well to create a very cohesive sound.
I respect what UFO did on this album as I do most trailblazers. It’s the infancy of the rock sound that would become iconic in the 1980s. Most of the tracks are middling rock songs, although there are a few standouts on this record (most notably “Doctor Doctor,” “Rock Bottom,” and “Queen of the Deep”). That’s honestly okay in my book. This was one of the first times we start to see the sound of rock changing in the 1970s, and like most first attempts, it’ll take a few more attempts to make the full transition, in this case to a heavier rock sound. I like looking to see where music came from and seeing how it changes over time, and even if you’ve never heard of UFO or Phenomenon¸ give it a shot. You might find yourself with a new group that you like and it’s cool to see how rock changes over time. With that, Phenomenon!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Too Young to Know: We start Phenomenon with a great rock track that is basically what I think of when I think of a classic rock song. The production is great and fuzzes the vocals a bit, there’s the requisite guitar solo, and it’s a little soft on lyrical content and instrumental prowess. “Too Young to Know” doesn’t do any one thing well in particular, but it’s a great example of transitional classic rock. It combines the softer, early 70s sound in the verses with more of a screaming guitar through the chorus. Great example of what’s to come. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Crystal Light: I liked “Crystal Light” which surprised me because it’s one of those traditional slow ballads that I normally don’t enjoy. To me, “Crystal Light” sounds like the beginnings of what would become the power ballad; the tempo fits perfectly with the power ballads of the 1980s and is designed to show that the band has a softer side (particularly important between two up-tempo songs). This is a pleasant, peaceful song that is enjoyable to listen to. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Doctor Doctor: “Doctor Doctor” was one of UFO’s biggest hits (see also “Rock Bottom”) and it’s one of the best examples of how they combined heavy metal and classic rock on one album. We’ve already heard what happens when you combine a traditional rock sound with heavy metal on “Too Young to Know” and we’ll hear more straight traditional classic rock later, but “Doctor Doctor” goes completely in the other direction and is a straight heavy metal track. It sounds like it could have come off of a Deep Purple album and is one of the most rocking songs on the album. It’s definitely not worth missing this one. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Space Child: “Space Child” is a holdover from the sound of the older UFO sound, featuring spacey lyrics and a sound that doesn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the album. The solo is one of the best on the album and is a sort of swan song for the old UFO. Check it out to see if the old UFO sits well with you and to ear a face-melting guitar solo. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Rock Bottom: This was my favorite song on the album and it reminds me that UFO was here to rock out. “Rock Bottom” could have just easily come from a Blue Oyster Cult or Deep Purple album but it didn’t. This is such a rocker and I dare you to not nod your head along with it. Fantastic guitar, powerful vocals, and incredibly high energy are the hallmarks of this song. The professionalism of the musicians shines through in the extended solo too. Don’t skip out on “Rock Bottom!” Dad’s Rating 8/10
Oh My: We go from a nearly 7-minute long extended guitar demonstration to one of the shortest songs on the album at just short of 2:30. To me, this means one thing: They were trying to fluff the length of the album and hide a song in the middle of the record. It’s the first song of the B-side and it definitely feels like a B-side track. Nothing particularly special going on here. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Time on My Hands: Where “Doctor Doctor” was the most extreme example of heavy metal on the album, “Time on My Hands” is perhaps the most extreme example of the ‘old school’ rock sound. It features a softer guitar and more emphasis on the vocals than “Doctor Doctor,” and it’s a really good song too. The vocals are raw and powerful. Lead singer Phil Mogg didn’t have the best rock voice, but he knew how to use what he had to wring every bit of emotion out of it. “Time on My Hands” is a pleasant find. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Built for Comfort: Here’s a track dripping in blues rock sound. It’s slow and dirty, just the way you want a good southern blues rock track to be. Having said that, the lyrics are pretty terrible; they’re clichéd not particularly exciting, but “Built for Comfort” rides on its musical ability, not lyrical. It’s just another facet of an already multi-faceted album and makes it that much more interesting to listen to from beginning to end. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Lipstick Traces: Wouldn’t you know it, but the shortest song on the album is also one of the most provoking. “Lipstick Traces” is a beautiful instrumental piece that lets the music do the talking. It’s one of the better songs on the album and is a good chance for the band to show their worth as musicians. Good hidden gem here! Dad’s Rating 7/10
Queen of the Deep: We round out Phenomenon with “Queen of the Deep” and one parting shot at combining an old school sound with a new school sound. We get a little bit of everything on this track from a soft introduction to highlight the old school and a heavy middle section with a great funk to it. The instrumental, short of “Rock Bottom’s” is my second favorite on this record. “Lipstick Traces” is great for a calm sound, but I’m a sucker for a funky instrumental section and “Queen of the Deep” delivers a boisterous finale to an eccentric album. Make sure you listen all the way through the end! Dad’s Rating 8/10
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