on 13 December 2012
I am very pleased with this release. The set opens (after the William Shatner intro) with a whirlwind of four fast-paced tracks: Into the Arena, Armed and Ready, Lovedrive, and Another Piece of Meat. The listener is immediately catapulted into upliftingly joyful, tonally perfect, wonderfully melodic, explosively volcanic, and brilliantly executed rock of a quality so high that it - in my view - is unique to Michael Schenker. For me, Schenker is the incarnation of classic rock as it should be done. In my opinion, there are more great rock moments in a single Schenker track than in most rock-band's entire careers. Listening to these four openers is a bit like being suddenly lowered into the Charge of the Light Brigade. There is no self-indulgence here - it is the listener who gets served by Schenker's style of playing. Schenker is the exact opposite of shredders who exploit audiences just to show-case their own vanity. Schenker, by contrast, energises his listeners, picks them up from whatever mind-state they were in, and makes them want to attack the future with renewed vigour. After these four opening tracks, I felt personally enabled to wipe out the entire Spartan Army. Schenker's playing is like a river in spate bursting its banks, a pyroelectric force of nature releasing its charge, with notes tumbling over one-another like people joyfully fleeing for their lives in a Spanish bull run.
Next up it's Hanging On - one of my two favourite tracks from Temple of Rock, followed by the two fantastic show-casers, Cry for the Nations and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, and then by Coast to Coast. In my opinion, we are here taken into a slightly more reflective mood in these four tracks - though Cry for the Nations also has a "Back to Attack" feel about it. The dominant feeling in Michael's music is one of joy (very rare in rock these days), but he also does different feelings, such as "resolute overcoming against the odds", and other staple existential mind-states and attitudes. What we get in the second four tracks just noted is the sense that, "whatever difficulties you are experiencing at the moment, there is a need for grim determination and perseverence, for eventual victory lies ahead". Yet again, then, Schenker steers clear of the self-indulgent self-pity that plagues so much modern music, and guides us into stock healthy attitudes: hope is not all gone - with attrition, determination, resoluteness and by sticking at it, you will overcome adversities - particularly if you turn to God for help. Well - at least this is how these next four tracks make me feel personally.
Then it's "back to attack" with Assault Attack, Before the Devil Knows you're Dead, Lights Out, On and On, and Let It Roll. I think that one way in which Michael Schenker has grown the most recently is in his renewed ability to put a superb show together - to mix just the right tracks in just the right way. Whilst one reviewer makes the point that most of the tracks on the album are from Michael's early years, I think that this decision makes commercial sense in that most people into classic rock will be familiar with the tracks chosen, and so the album is likely to sell better that way. The reviewer quite rightly argues that Michael has a massive amount of material to draw from. Once I put a "best of Michael Schenker" compilation together, making some painful omissions, and the result was still over 24 hours in duration! Michael has done a colossal amount of first-rate material - more than any other artist I can think of. It would indeed be great to hear it all live - but I suppose we live in a world where things have to make commercial sense. Such observations mock the popular misbelief that Michael lacks consistency. Michael is probably the most consistent performer I can think of: consistent highest-quality material, consistent high-level output, over a 40-year time-span. The occasional hiatus due to personal issues pales into insignificance when compared with the fact that Michael has produced far more top-draw rock than any other single individual in the history of the genre. To my mind, Michael Schenker is the greatest rock guitarist of all time. I suspect that people who say otherwise normally haven't heard even a quarter of his material.
Anyway, back to the tracks, I should point out that I think that the musicianship of the whole band is magnificent. Michael himself is on absolutely fantastic form. In my view, this live album is Michael's best, and I've got all of them. I too appreciate SITN and ONAB (Strangers in the Night and One Night at Budokan), but TORL (Temple of Rock Live) is just so enjoyable, that I think I prefer to listen to it than to SITN and ONAB. SITN and ONAB both have moments of inhuman genius on them in terms of Schenker's playing, but I prefer the overall feel of TORL. It is just as good guitar-wise, but a more energising mix of tracks in my view. On the studio version of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, I was less convinced at first, but this track fits better into the track list on TORL, and I now realise that it's a great track. Assault Attack is one of Michael's live staples from sets during 2004 - 2006, so it's great to hear that track back in the set again after five or six years or so. I think that I mildly prefer the original version of Lights Out to the Walk On Water version (which is what Michael plays in live sets these days), but the newer version is still great and is amazingly executed on this album. I am a huge fan of Doogie White as well - his vocal range easily encompasses the material on TORL, whilst Michael Voss is also a good front man for Schenker.
On to disc two of TORL and straight away we're fire-bombed with the incendiary Shoot Shoot and Rock You Like a Hurricane. I think the latter song-title - whilst being a Scorpions number - aptly describes what Michael does. When I was trying to think of a title for this review, loads of slogans like "rock you like a hurricane" were coming to mind. "Stampede of the Behemoth", which combines the notion of frantic energy with that of a mythical beast, is what I eventually settled on - though "engine-room" and "German engineering" were concepts I would have liked to have included in my review title in order to communicate that, with Schenker, we don't just get energy, we get structured-energy, or layered musical architecture with an emphasis on great composition, exceptionally strong melody, uncannily accurate empathic feeling-states - and all with tremendous economy, with absolutely no "filler". In my view, other bands occasionally write tracks as good as Schenker's, but Schenker does about five classics per album, and has done about 40 or so albums (I count about 130 official releases, but this includes a lot of compilations by different record companies). Track three by the way is Rock Bottom - an absolutely incredible rendition of it as well. I prefer this rendition to the ones on SITN and Rockpalast. There is an incredible version of Rock Bottom on Schenker's guest appearance with UFO on Uli Jon Roth's "Legends of Rock" album (2001 I think), but I think I even prefer this version on TORL to that.
Next up it's Holiday, which I remember being a highlight from the live show I attended. I have seen the Scorpions do this track terribly, but Schenker more than rescues it here, adding in some wonderfully bluesy soloing. The slow down of pace is also welcome after Rock Bottom. Not for long, though, because we're then straight into Blackout - a superbly energetic Scorpions number. Great guitar-work on this - tonally and pace-wise a bit like being ambushed by a runaway sawmill. None of the simean noodling, strangled onanism, or spandexed mincing of weak-toned stylophonic shred here - more like a Panza Tank with a broken silencer. Just what a biker-gang would want their hogs to sound like. You could do a wrong-turn and play this in a red necks bar in Texas, no problem. Then, to end the set, it's Doctor Doctor, which everybody knows and loves.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, we then get five bonus tracks from a different concert. Immediately, we're immersed into some kind of Messerschmidt engine testing room - such is the greatness of Schenker's guitar tone on Armed and Ready. It's industrial, it's weapon's grade - actually it's downright agricultural. Schenker puts the geology back into rock. Another Piece of Meat continues in the same vein (no pun intended) and assaults the ears like some kind of Strombolian eruption about three feet distant. We're then treated to another performance of Rock You Like a Hurricane, with guitars cranking up like the Santa Pod Raceway just moved into your lounge. Probably because we've got both Schenker brothers on stage now - which is a line-up I'd like to see MUCH more often, Michael and Rudolf. Come on lads: do a whole album together - you'll be sorry if you get to the end of your lives and haven't teamed up together properly, at least on one album! Just imagine it - it would be like a tectonic collision between two mountain ranges! To round off we've got Hanging On and Doctor Doctor. Personally, I love Hanging On. Along with Fallen Angel, it's my favourite track on Temple of Rock. As for Doctor Doctor, this rendition is even better than the other on TORL, and Michael plays beautifully on it.
In short, this is an outstanding live rock album, and probably my favourite of all of Schenker's live material. Definitely five-star material; definitely worth the very reasonable price. Why don't you have it already? - that's I want to know!