The body of work released by UFO’s second incarnation – featuring the now legendary Michael Schenker on guitar – has inevitably overshadowed the rest of their catalogue. The run of releases between 1974’s ‘Phenomena’ and 1979’s career-defining live album ‘Strangers In The Night’ represents a musical CV that would make any rock band proud, but there is so much more to UFO than those “glory years”.
They released enjoyable albums throughout the 80s, and you’ll even find some particularly solid stuff into the twenty first century featuring guitarist Vinnie Moore, but in terms of “buried treasure”, it’s their ‘High Stakes & Dangerous Men’ that most deserves a re-appraisal. It’s unique in UFO’s history in that its the only studio album to feature ex-Wild Horses men Laurence Archer (guitar) and Clive Edwards (drums), and on the bulk of the release, these classic rock veterans really add a genuine energy to the band’s sound. Most importantly though, it contains more than its share of solid songwriting, and a few vocals from Phil Mogg that – although sounding a little more mature – could rival his best. So, then, considering the album is so good, why has it been forgotten? It’s simply that it spent so long out of print. Luckily, Cherry Red’s hard rock and metal subsidiary label, HNE Recordings, saw fit to champion this “lost classic” in 2022 with a long overdue reissue, and by coupling it with the brilliant ‘Lights Out In Tokyo’ live set – another release long AWOL – sought to shine a light on this brilliant but short phase in UFO’s long history.
And not before time.
Released in February ’92, ‘…Dangerous Men’ received positive reviews from some corners of the rock press, but it’s timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate. The alternative/grunge tidal wave had started to roll with a huge momentum at the end of the previous year, and throughout 1992 it would continue to change everything. At the point that UFO should’ve been shifting units, their solid, dependable hard rock was the sound of yesterday’s men, and even a last minute piece of advice to retitle the album from ‘High Stakes & Desperate Men’ wouldn’t make it seem any edgier or vital in the eyes of many casual record buyers. There’s always time to catch up with forgotten gems, though; good music has no genuine sell by date, and there are at least six tracks on the album that stand up with the very best UFO fare.
In terms of instant highlights, the moody and semi-bluesy ‘Back Door Man’ is a killer track. Opening with a grubby riff that could challenge Tangier, Great White or any of the era’s more blues influenced, big haired rockers, UFO show how they were never just a straight up, simple band and with Archer dropping in some massive riffs, they certainly weren’t keen to give the new boy a back seat. Mogg takes an angst ridden lyric and runs with it, almost as if it’s something he’s been singing for decades, and there’s plenty within his velvety tones that calls back to the band’s formative years, which is enough for even the most casual fan to find a musical affinity. Similarly, ‘Ain’t Life Sweet’ latches onto a bluesy core – a tone that’s a perfect fit for Archer – but cranks the gears to create a hard rock/blues rock hybrid that sounds like UFO tackling Pat Travers. Its descending riffs during a taut but brief chorus create a simple hook; Clive’s drums rattle out a solid rhythm and Mogg sounds like he’s in his element, grabbing the opportunity to perform a little more aggressively with a real relish. It isn’t very sophisticated, but with the addition of a few backing vocals, some synth horns, a ragged lead break or two and a tried and tested “goin’ down” vocal hook tipping the hat to the legendary Memphis Minnie during the coda, it has everything a rowdy bluesy rock number needs to catch your attention.
‘Borderline’ captures a far more sophisticated UFO. A side step from some of their boogie laden hard rock, it boasts an intro where atmospheric slide guitar and soulful vocals owe more to bits of Richie Sambora’s ‘Stranger In This Town’ solo release, before branching off into some punchy hard rock where Archer dominates, but the whole band appear to be pulling their weight. Mogg’s vocals are among his finest this time out, and there are a few great moments where Pete Way’s bass punches through the main riff, showing how the much-missed musician was able to have a huge presence without relying on anything too flashy. A bigger chorus would have been most welcome, but considering this track features one of the album’s best guitar solos and riff/vocal combinations, it’s a minor complaint. Way leads the charge into ‘Burnin’ Fire’ with a pumping bass rhythm that sounds like a combination of peak Foghat and early Saxon, before the rest of the number settles into a stodgy but enjoyable rocker that sounds like the ultimate throwback to the ‘Force It’ days. A few female backing vocals lift everything in a way that was fashionable in classic rock circles at the time (not a million miles away from those on the Quireboys debut and The Black Crowes’ ‘Southern Harmony’), but the core of the track is pure UFO, with Mogg latching onto a rootsy vocal, and Archer eventually springing into life via a string-bent lead and busy closing salvo. It’s a track that seems a little more throwaway than some of ‘High Stakes…’, but in terms of the band really rocking out, it’s a sure fire winner.
Another standout, ‘Primed For Time’ features a huge stomp from the rhythm section, very much tapping into some of the pre-grunge, big haired rock of the not too distant past, augmented by Archer, clearly seizing the opportunity to throw out some semi-bluesy fills against a solid riff. A great riff and even better chorus would be enough to secure this as a forgotten classic, but Archer’s featured solo is staggering. It may well be a little more metal oriented than some UFO fans would expect, but during the number’s second half, he launches into a couple of lead breaks that straddle edginess and melody, much in the way that John Sykes had given Thin Lizzy a much needed kick back in ’83. Looking between the slight bombast, though, there’s plenty that calls back to 70s UFO too, especially in the way Mogg latches onto a natural vocal that could easily sit alongside ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ or ‘Rock Bottom’. He sounds a little older in places, but still retains those stately and confident tones long associated with his best recordings.
The opening of ‘Revolution’ features a cheeky nod to ‘Cherry’ in its intro via a flurry of muted notes and subtle melodicism, but quickly blossoms into something more of its own, when Clive throws out some massive drum sounds and kicks the band into a mid tempo groove. As the verse unfolds, there are traces of solid rockers like and ‘Shoot Shoot’ and ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ but thanks to a harder guitar sound and more natural production it sounds more 90s, and a few busier moments definitely hint at a line-up that’s keen to put their own stamp on the UFO sound. With another busy solo and some effective grinding effects during the fade, it’s often Archer who dominates again, but since his playing somewhere near a career best here, it’s certainly not a complaint. Slowing down a little, ‘Don’t Want To Lose You’ works around a really cheesy, almost calypso-like rhythm. Initially, it doesn’t sound like it’ll be very good. Luckily, these slightly misjusdged sounds are balanced out by chunky riff on the chorus – far more in keeping with classic UFO – allowing Mogg to hit upon a much more confident vocal. With its bright sound and female backing vocals, though, it sounds far too much like an 80s throwback, though – certainly not in keeping with what a lot of other rock bands were doing at the time. There’s some nice guitar playing from Archer and a solid bass sound from Mogg, but you’d never consider the end result essential. In fact, a few listens makes it sound like something purloined from the Jimmy Barnes ‘Two Fires’ sessions; a track that’s more than competent, but never seems to fit the band entirely comfortably. In terms of weak links, of course, it just highlights how strong the rest of the album actually is.
Utilising the brighter guitar sound and a few AOR elements again, ‘Love Deadly Love’ is much better. Via an intro borrowed from Bob Seger, Mogg quickly latches onto a great, slightly bluesy vocal before everything explodes into a classic rocker where jagged guitars reign. The hard, muted sound very much calls back to the 70s glory years, even if a sharp piano gives away the slightly more modern recording. It doesn’t pretend to be smart; the main aim here is to whip the audience into excitement – a job it does very effectively – and via an old school “sha-la-la” hook and effortless guitar solo, it updates the core of the ‘Obsessesion’ era with ease. The extremely hard edged ‘Running Up The Highway’ pushes new drummer Clive further into the spotlight on a verse that almost drops into something that sounds like an early AC/DC pastiche. A few more classic sounding, distinctly UFO-centric riffs fill the pre-chorus and main hook, and in lots of ways, the stodgy groove and hard sound captures the band on auto-pilot, but it doesn’t matter – it sounds brilliant with the volume cranked, and as soon would be evident, it would sound even better live. At the tail end of an (almost) filler free album, ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ cuts loose with a mid tempo workout that flaunts a punchy bass against a hard ringing guitar, eventually blossoming into a tune that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on ‘Force It’ or ‘No Heavy Petting’. Naturally, that means it doesn’t yield any big surprises for even the most casual UFO fan, but with Mogg in great shape and a backing vocal that sounds like someone impersonating a Humble Pie era Steve Marriott, it has a lot in its favour…predictable or otherwise.
Released a couple of years earlier – or perhaps a few years later in an internet filled world, where the word of mouth between classic rock fans really helped to keep things moving – this is the kind of long player that could have been massive. As it is, it’s place in history as one of the “lesser” UFO albums seems a little unfair. If you’ve never heard it, or perhaps haven’t heard it in a long time, it’s certainly worth seeking out. It might not feature any bona fide classics, but in terms of offering listeners a solid set of hard rock songs, it’s terrific – definitely better than the likes of ‘Mechanix’, ‘Misdemeanour’ and the far more lauded ‘No Place To Run’.
Recorded on the ‘High Stakes’ tour, ‘Lights Out In Tokyo’ is an excellent live document. Not so much in that the set list is brilliant, but moreover that it presents UFO with a proper “live” tone. ‘Strangers In The Night’ is undoubtedly a classic, but much like Thin Lizzy’s ‘Live & Dangerous’ it sometimes has too much of a perfect and almost sanitised feel. There’s no such bother here. Right from the opening bars of the then new ‘Running Up The Highway’, the band’s sense of punch is further augmented by a little echo – most notably on the drums, but also giving Archer’s guitar work an extra gritty feel. It’s here, too, that Archer’s slightly more metallic tendencies get to present themselves, in a way that makes this line up of UFO sound more energised than any of their predecessors. Mogg, of course, sounds as you’d expect, filling spaces with a blues tinged hard rock tone that’s almost indistinguishable from a decade previously. The also new ‘Borderline’ and ‘Back Door Man’ already sound like set fixtures, and the latter especially really allows the band to exercise some particularly chunky grooves throughout, on a performance that runs rings around its studio counterpart.
…And if these can be seen to present the early 90s UFO with all guns blazing, a well curated run of genuine classics are on hand to thrill fans even more. ‘Lights Out’ comes across particularly aggressively, with Archer really putting his stamp on the band via a more shrill guitar tone and a couple of especially edgy solos; ‘Cherry’ mostly retains its older melodic charm, but again, there’s enough here to differentiate the performance from any 70s live recordings – most notable in a harder drum sound, but Mogg, too, seems to be a little more upfront performance-wise, and the evergreen ‘Love To Love’ is afforded an eight minute extended workout where some particularly 80s keys do battle with a few howling guitars, all of which are respectful to UFO’s past while sounding a little more contemporary for the time, thanks to a tougher approach.
The evergreen ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ features an intro that sounds as if its been beamed in from the end of a corridor, but the arrival of an especially loud drum sets everything straight, and Mogg performs as if he still believes in the material and its great to hear the Japanese fans singing with enthusiasm. Set regular ‘Rock Bottom’ is put through its paces across a gruelling ten minutes, and even with a slightly faster tempo and heavier sound, still sounds like a genuine classic, and hits ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Shoot Shoot’ flesh out everything with reliable material which, at this stage, still packs a massive punch. The only real misstep comes courtesy of a cover of ‘C’mon Everybody’ which just sounds too frivolous when tacked onto the end of an otherwise brilliant set. It’s worth remembering, though, that it acts as a tribute to the first UFO live release from over two decades previously. It may well sound trashy against the more recent, more sophisticated material like ‘Running Up The Highway’, but the fans present at the show clearly love it, and that’s what really counts.
There are a vast number of UFO recordings out there, official, semi-official or otherwise, and ‘Strangers’ will always be the definitive, but ‘Lights Out In Tokyo’ is a superb document. It doesn’t matter where you drop the metaphorical needle before the encore; you’re guaranteed a great performance, and the energy within the brief union between Mogg/Way/Archer is amazing.
Chances are, if you’re a massive UFO fan, you either bought these albums upon release (even with ‘Lights Out In Tokyo’ being notoriously hard to find) or tracked them down on the second hand market. However, if they still represent a gap in your collection, even if you’re the kind of casual fan who never made it much past their 80s work, this reissue is essential. It’s worth picking up for the live disc alone. In supplying a superb snapshot of a classic band more than holding their own in both the studio and live environs, this double disc set supplies a vital look back. In terms of introducing people to a lesser remembered of UFO’s long history, it’s just as important. Whichever way you approach it, this two disc set belongs in any self-respecting fan’s collection. Despite a no-frills approach to packaging, it’s a most welcome reissue indeed.
Buy the CD here: UFO – High Stakes & Dangerous Men / Lights Out In Tokyo