on 5 December 2013
This is yet another magnificent, exhilarating, vivifying, adrenalizing, jubilant, and energizing offering from Michael Schenker. Bridge the Gap (BG) is an understatement - you could span continents and oceans with this album.
Over the years, in my opinion, Michael has proved himself to be rock's greatest ever guitarist, having: the best musical compositions; the greatest stylistic versatility; the largest and most consistently outstanding portfolio; the most originality; the most beautiful style; the most sophisticated melodic architecture; the best use of structural progressions; the most blistering solos; more riff ideas than anybody else - the list goes on. In my opinion, name any objective musical criterion (as opposed to subjective taste), and Michael Schenker towers over the competition (with the possible exception of Hendrix - though, in my view, Schenker ultimately surpasses even him).
That Schenker is not more popular than he is is surely a sad testament to the dark powers of market-engineered and socially constructed consumer-conditioning, to the pre-critical passive submission of media-targeted demographic groups to herd-mentality and to the unthinking "chav-culture" adoption of behaviourally-mimicked and non-interrogated received habits of speech about this or that artist's achievements or failings. Michael may have had the odd "dark year" in terms of live performances, but these pale into insignificance next to the thousands of great live gigs he has under his belt, and next to his amazing studio-output, which is about two or three times the size of that of the next most-consistent rock acts.
And the standards remain high in this album. I thought Temple of Rock (TR) was superb, but if anything I think BG is even more consistent. In my view, and speaking of TR, then tracks 2,3,4,5,9,10,13, and 14 were fabulous, with tracks 1,6,7,8,11,12,15, and 16 being still very good (Schenker doesn't do "bad"), but not quite as outstanding. This meant that TR had three "zones" of "greatest strength" that were interspersed with slight dips.
By contrast, in my view, BG is sheer greatness from track 1 all the way to track 8 inclusive, with a slight dip at 9, followed by more greatness in tracks 10 and 11, a slight dip again for 12 and 13, only to end with greatness again with track 14. So, again, we have three zones of "greatest strength", and a couple of dips, but in BG we have fully 10 tracks of greatness, whereas in TR there were 8 tracks of highest quality. In BG, moreover, since the first 8 tracks are all good, you get a more consistently great "album" experience. And 9 is still pretty good, so really you get almost unbroken top-notch classic rock for 11 tracks, which looks pretty consistent to me!
As to the tracks themselves, then we begin with Neptune Rising, which is really the start of Track 2, Where the Wild Winds Blow. Taken together, we end up with a great single composite track: explosive and haunting opening, melodically strong, excellent tone and mix, well-layered, catchy, with plenty of pace, an acoustic then electric solo, but still with sufficient restraint to create a building effect when we go to track 3, Horizons. Horizons is fast-paced, original, energizing, with a superb solo, and is well-known by those who've been to see Schenker live. Track 4, Lord of the Lost and Lonely, is a highlight for me - absolutely brilliant.
It is amazing how Schenker keeps coming up with classic after classic. You're left thinking, "I thought everything had been done already in rock, but I was wrong!" Generally, in rock these days, there is a numbing sameness and melodic paucity to the material of many bands. The reason for this is that very few people have more than a couple of great ideas. Schenker, though, is like a constant source of brilliant genre-defining ideas.
Track 5, Rock n Roll Symphony, is also an absolute corker in my view. You've got pace, energy, joy, melody, sing-along accessibility, trade-mark engine-room riffing you could recalibrate Greenwich atomic clock by, brilliant soloing interspersed with great keyboards. And by now, you've realized that Doogie White is one hell of a great singer.
One thing that singles Schenker out is the sheer joy and happiness in his music. There's none of the usual self-pitiousness or addiction to ominousness you find in most rock music these days. Schenker is never monotomous, never boring, but always packing in idea after idea, concept after concept, structure upon structure into his music. By comparison, other bands always seem depressing, dull, samey, cross-fertilized in their copying of one another in order to conform to market-driven fads and hit the money - traits that Schenker is famous for successfully, rightly, and uniquely avoiding like the plague.
Track 6, Live for the King, is another stunning offering. There is more of Schenker's "deep-south" style going on in the soloing, catchy and faultless structure and melody, and an opposite-to-early-Budgie progression of structures. The comparisons with Dio, Maiden and Rainbow have some truth to them, but the "Schenkerizing" filter is strong - as though Schenker were revising the earlier works to show how it should be done.
The thing with Schenker is the way one just wants to listen to his music again and again because there is an energizing delight to what he does. With other rock bands, however, (great bands like Rush, Fish and a few others aside) there is much more limitation, predictability, and two-dimensionality. With Schenker, though, there are layers to be discovered - a definite "grows on you effect". In fact, it is even dangerous to review a Schenker album too early because often he sacrifices immediate "bubble-gum" impact in order to bring us something more substantial. As one friend pointed out, with Schenker what at first might seem simple turns out to be much more complex than you at first thought - so that new highlights and empathy-moments emerge after multiple listens. Schenker doesn't really fit into "sound-bite" culture; and yet, at the same time, his conciseness is almost unmatched. He's a bit like a great beer - you have to wait for the after-taste; everything does not happen the first moment it hits your tongue.
Track 7, the third fast-paced track, lives up to its title, Land of Thunder. Another thing you notice is what a great drum and bass combination we have with Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz. Don't be fooled by their clean-cut and friendly "family-man" demeanor - these guys are superb accompanying musicians and outstanding rockers who are used to playing together. They both really shine out in Track 8, Temple of the Holy. There are yet more strong accessible melodies and deep-south style soloing on this track. Billy Gibbons take note. In fact, Schenker is mixing styles again - the gravelly deep-south soloing is spliced with a more Euro style structurally.
Track 9, Shine On, which I indicated earlier was a slight dip - well, now I'm not sure. Again, it just may be one of those tracks that takes longer for one to appreciate properly. Certainly, the soloing in it is wonderful, and Wayne Findley's consistently strong backing guitars come into welcome prominence. Track 10, Bridges we have Burned, is a wonderful track. Totally original riff-structures, strong vocals, marvelous chorus.
The material is so strong, you're not at all desperate for the solo to start like you are with other bands. Rather, Schenker's soloing is more integral to the track as a whole, which demands more restraint perhaps, but which serves to create a unity that empathically resonates with the listener and helps them to build imaginary worlds. In other bands, by contrast, one's own journey is often interrupted by a vanity-display solo that - for that reason - soon seems dull.
Track 11, Because You Lied, is yet another surprise. Break-neck pace; three solos; structurally original and unusual; addictive. Track 12, which again brings Wayne Findlay's 7-string guitar and keyboards to prominence, is a welcome slowing of the pace after the mania of the previous track. Superb extended soloing, great singalong potential; great sense of building. With Track 13, the pace is upped slightly, though not quite enough in my view. Nevertheless, there is a great accessibility to this track, good beefy rhythm guitars, and a good melody and chorus. Overall, I think this track is the weakest on the album, though it has several redeeming features. I would have preferred a final track like How Long on Temple of Rock, which had a truly inspired outro solo. Instead we get a bit of an anticlimax after such a first-class run of tracks.
Which is why the album to get is the one with the bonus track 14, entitled Faith, which is really "Positive Forward" from Thank You, but with a welcome guest vocal appearance from Don Dokken. This last track is top-notch in my view, and serves to remind those who don't know about the great work that Michael did on the "Thank You" albums - all of which were something no other rock guitarist could have written, in my view, such was their quality, complexity, accessibility, and originality.
To cut a long story short, definitely get this latest offering from Michael Schenker. It Bridges the Gap, spans the oceans, and crosses the continents. I almost single-handedly conquered Sparta, chiseled out my very own Norwegian fjord, and hand-built a granite aqueduct across the Bearing Sea after listening to this. I felt so rock-vectored with resolve, that even Monday mornings seemed to offer no resistance!