English heavy rock veterans re-record classic tracks.
Greg Moffitt 2009
To mark an amazing four decades of rock and the imminent arrival of their bus passes, Uriah Heep have re-worked a dozen of their best loved songs alongside a pair of brand new numbers. Despite the fact that the band had no less than 21 albums to choose from, all but two of the re-recorded tracks are drawn from the period 1970-75, during which they enjoyed their greatest success.
Kicking off with catchy three-minute newie Only Human, the band ram home the fact that although this album is an exercise in pure nostalgia, the material they’ve written in the last couple of years has been of a very high standard indeed. Last year’s Wake the Sleeper – their first studio album in 10 years – was a resounding hit with fans and critics alike. The second new song here, Corridors of Madness, is a stately procession of Heep trademarks; heavy Hammond organ chords and multi-layered vocals weaving themselves around the tasteful lead work of guitarist Mick Box.
New studio versions of vintage material rarely improve on the originals, but if fans can live with later line-ups performing early songs on stage, they should find albums such as this tolerable at least. Bernie Shaw, Uriah Heep’s vocalist for the last 20 years, is a superb singer in his own right so it’s no disrespect to him that his take on songs first recorded by the band’s original frontman – the late David Byron – lack a certain something. In particular, Byron’s rendering of July Morning from their 1971 album Look at Yourself possesses an inimitable magic.
What Celebration certainly does achieve, however, is a slick ironing-out of sound quality and production values. Gone are the sometimes creaky eccentricities of 1970s studio techniques, replaced by a thoroughly modern sheen which demonstrates just how consistent and well-constructed the band’s first six albums are. That’s more than can be said for either Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple in whose shadow Uriah Heep have somewhat unjustly languished.
They never scored their Stairway to Heaven or Smoke on the Water, but the classy likes of Bird of Prey, Sunrise and Lady in Black suggest that fans of melodic, progressive hard rock would be richly rewarded by a trawl through Heep’s back catalogue.