I think I’m like most people. I’m guilty of not taking Germany’s hard rock/heavy metal band the Scorpions seriously enough. I don’t know why that is? They’re a great, melodic hard rock band. Yet they’re not spoken of or thought of with that same reverence people seem to have for say, Aerosmith. They’ve always been more of a fun band than a menacing one, maybe that’s it? The Scorpions have rarely been dour. And the Scorpions’ lyrics – typical for heavy metal – fixate many times on sex – and that may make them seem “sophomoric.” At the end of the day, they’re a really stellar (or in the parlance of heavy metal, kick ass) band who deserve more attention and respect. With a lead guitarist as skilled as Rudolf Schenker, you’d think they’d get more reverence from the hard rock faithful.
Perhaps its my lack of taking them seriously that has caused me to lose track of them for large gaps of their career, as I alluded to when I reviewed their first single from the new LP Rock Believer a few months ago, “Peacekeeper.” I admitted in that post that I have lost track of the Scorpions several times over the years. Oh, and by the way, I dug “Peacekeeper.” The first time I saw them live, when I was in early high school, they opened for Nugent (and Def Leppard opened for them) and I was sufficiently impressed to buy Animal Magnetism. The album didn’t hit me like I thought it would, although listening to it now I love it. The cover art probably kept some of the female fans away… a woman kneeling in front of a guy with doberman and a cold beer probably didn’t win them any points… (pictured below),
But Klaus Meine was a charismatic front man and Matthias Jabs and the aforementioned Rudolf Schenker were a dynamic dual lead guitar threat. Those guys ran around the stage opening for Nugent that night like meth addled maniacs and we ate that up! I almost enjoyed them more than Nugent. Of course at the time I had no idea they’d been around for a decade already. I still don’t know anybody who has any Scorpion’s LPs from prior to say, 1979.
After a few furtive spins of Animal Magnetism, (another album cover that disturbed my mother much like the cover for Sabbath’s Mob Rules that I was listening to around that time as well) I sort of spaced off the Scorpions. It wasn’t until I was in college that the Scorpions exploded with the metal masterpiece Blackout. We were all into that album. There was a guy from Dodge City who lived down the hall from us and he’d show up drunk in the middle of the night and beg us to play the Scorpions. He loved the song “Can’t Live Without You.” His name was Les (name changed to protect the guilty) and he was a big dude, so it wasn’t like we were gonna say “no” to him. He more demanded the Scorpions vs begged us to play them. He’d stand on a chair and JAM with is air guitar. It was actually quite terrifying. At that point I was all in on the Scorps, Les’ frightening, drunken displays of rock n roll intensity aside. I bought Love At First Sting the day it came out. Songs like “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “Bad Boys Running Wild” were in high rotation on my stereo… and coincidentally also in high rotation on MTV. Although I do remember playing the Scorpions for my friends back home that summer of ’84 and one of the many friends named Steve derided me for listening to “cheesy metal.”
Regardless of that particular Steve’s opinion, the Scorpions were huge in the mid 80s. All hard rock enthusiasts dug the Scorpions. At the time, it was rumored that Robert Palmer was thinking of dabbling in heavy metal and after some exhaustive research had reached out to the Scorpions to collaborate, much in the same way he had with Little Feat at the beginning of his career…sadly it didn’t come to be. But talk about respect! I didn’t know many people who didn’t own at least Blackout. Love At First Sting was actually more popular with help from MTV and the pervasiveness of heavy/hair metal in those days. The Scorpions even dabbled in politics on Love At First Sting with the anti-war and at the time anti Cold War track “Crossfire.” The Scorpions, after years of toiling, had finally gotten near the pinnacle of hard rock. They were thought of like Van Halen or Motley Crue. It was around that time I heard the older LP from 1979 Lovedrive and was again impressed. But then… things changed. The Scorpions waited four years – a lifetime back then – to release the follow up to Love At First Sting, Savage Amusement. By then I had left college and had entered my corporate exile in Arkansas. I was an adult now… the party was seemingly over. I would hear “Rhythm Of Love” on the radio occasionally when I was driving from Ft Smith to Shreveport, Dallas, Kansas City or any place but Arkansas but it didn’t reach me. Maybe it was because I was living in a rock radio void but I completely lost track of the Scorpions.
I’m embarrassed to say it wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick around the turn of the millennium that I rediscovered how great the Scorpions were. She bought their 2-CD greatest hits album, Deadly Sting, on one of our first dates where we’d gone to a record store. We sat around jamming on that thing all summer. I did see the Scorpions a couple of times in that time after Arkansas and before the Rock Chick. I think I thought of them as more of a touring band – the type of act you go see live but don’t buy or investigate their LPs. Grunge had made my listening turn a little more serious. I felt at the time that the kind of anthemic, hard rock they played had no place alongside Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Silly me… there’s room for all kinds of music in someone’s collection. Play what you like, screw the trends. I took the Rock Chick to see the Scorpions but my friends got too drunk and we had to leave early… she still hasn’t forgiven me for that. They weren’t taking the show seriously. The Scorpions always delivered live. After the Rock Chick turned me back onto the Scorpions, I was actually paying attention again and picked up their 2010 LP Sting In The Tail, an album that to me was a real return to form. But as usual… after buying their Unplugged LP in 2013… I lost track of them again.
True to form, I didn’t even know they’d put out another studio album in 2015, Return To Forever. Oh well.. But I was thrilled when I heard that former Motorhead drummer Mikkey Dee had joined the band and brought back some of that early energy. They were re-energized enough to go back into the studio. They had been urged by a fan in Greece to get back to that sound of their 80s heyday. When I heard the first single “Peacekeeper” my thought was, “this could be from ’84-/85.” It’s a great first single and frankly with it’s theme of putting war behind us it’s even more relevant today than a few months ago when released.
2015’s Return To Forever was, by all accounts, a disappointment. If that album left you wondering if the Scorpions still had anything left, all you have to do is crank the opening track on Rock Believer, “Gas In the Tank” and you’ll have your answer. The Scorpions, re-energized by drummer Mikkey Dee (formerly of Motorhead) are still Klaus Meine on vocals, Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs on guitars with Paweł Mąciwoda on bass. This album really does harken back to their heyday. If you dug them in the 80s you should absolutely check out Rock Believer. Oh yes, the Scorpions have plenty left in “the tank.” The aforementioned opening track’s lyrics include references to a “Trans Am,” and they actually say the words “Wham bam thank you ma’am.” What’s more 80s than that?
The album starts with a trio of classic sounding Scorpions’ hard rock tunes in their classic style. While the tracks feature squealing, crunchy guitars they are melodic and really drill into your brain through your ear. “Gas In The Tank” and the second track “Roots In My Boots” set the stage. They’re both big, arena-rock style tunes. You’re not going to find any introspective truths here, just fun. They follow those up with a crunchy rock song “Knock Em Dead” and I love that guitar sound. The songs are so upbeat they’re almost lilting.
The album shifts down to more midtempo, bigger riffing in the second stage. The title track is catchy as hell and I love that tune. I keep waking up with it in my head every morning. The song rocks but it’s a slower pace than the first three. “Scream for me screamer, I’m a Rock Believer, just like you…” Hell yes! “Shining Of Your Soul” is another slower paced rocker. I almost thought it would be a ballad, but with its big riffs and drums, its just midtempo. “Seventh Sun” has a slow, almost plodding, heavy riff but it builds and builds. The elastic guitar solo at the end is worth the journey on that song. The chorus is tailor made for a stadium full of drunken fans to sing along with. I’d be remiss not to mention that Klaus Meine’s vocals are still razor sharp. He hasn’t lost a step.
“Hot And Cold” takes it up a notch at that point. It’s a very standard Scorpions song and it rocks. It’s the only track that didn’t resonate with me and I have no explanation as to why not. Things really kick into high gear for the “meet-me-at-the-finish-line” of “When I Lay My Bones To Rest.” I can’t wait to listen to that one in my car on the highway. “Let me see your haaaaands!!” The album finishes on some (relatively) mellower notes. “Call Of The Wild” is a sexy “come on” kinda song again with a great solo at the end. The lyrics tell the story, “I will treat you right girl, it’s a summer night..” which takes me back to my college days on summer break. You had to be there. Finally they end the main album with a ballad, “When You Know (Where You Come From).” I think it’s a gorgeous track but I’ve always been a sucker for those power ballads… well, some power ballads… Aerosmith went a little nuts with them.
On the ‘Deluxe’ version of the album – and I think it’s the only one you can buy – there are five additional tracks on a second disc. At first I thought they should have omitted the bonus tracks. I really did not like “When Tomorrow Comes” or “Unleash The Beast.” However, upon repeated listens I really liked the rockers “Shoot For Your Heart” which is a great driving rock song that would also be fun to, yes, listen to in the car. “Crossing Borders” is a crunchy rock song about a woman vs anything political but it’s a great rocking song. Then the bonus tracks end with an acoustic version of “When You Know (Where You Come From)” which is a perfect bonus track. I might have cut out “When Tomorrow,” and “Unleashed” and just given thirteen tracks as the proper album with the acoustic track as a bonus, but hey, when the music is this good I’ll take what I can get from the Scorpions.
While many people won’t take this review or the Scorpions themselves very seriously, this is a great hard rock album. The 80s are much maligned, rightly so, but some of that hard rock from the era was really quite good. I mean, we can’t listen to Leonard Cohen all the time, right? This is great, beer drinking, head banging rock n roll. It’s precisely the kind of album B&V was founded on. I told the Rock Chick that no one takes the Scorps seriously and she said, “I guess we’ll see how the tickets to their Vegas residency sell…” I see a trip to the hated Vegas in my future… I have to make up for those two drunk friends who ruined the show I took her too all those years ago. Turn this one up, dance around with a bottle of Southern Comfort and enjoy yourselves! Good times require good time music. You’ve earned it!