Scorpions – ‘Blackout’ Turns 35
Scorpions are synonymous with German rock music, it is safe to say that no other hard rock band made nearly the impact that they have in the last 50 years. The early days saw the band with young and talented guitarist Michael Schenker and the middle days with neoclassical god Uli Jon Roth; however the band found their greatest success, if not their greatest strength, writing anthemic and memorable songs that would stand the test of time. Blackout was an album firmly in the middle of the “arena rock” era for the Scorps and arguably the best of that bunch.
From start to finish Blackout is about as consistent an album Scorpions have ever released; Guitar punch provided by Rudolf Schenker and Mattias Jabs accents Klaus Meine’s vocal harmonies on the self-titled opening track and does not relent. The band exudes raw power, the drums pound and Meine’s iconic vocal style soars above the pack in between divebombs and solos -- it’s difficult to tell that Meine was recovering from a nearly career-ending infection of his vocal cords during the recording. Meine came so close to losing his ability to sing permanently that the band recorded demo tracks with Don Dokken behind the mic [They aren’t online. We looked - hard-Ed.]. In fact maybe Meine’s near-brush with obsolescence motivated his performance.
The consistent energy sets this album apart from any of the band’s preceding works, even their commercially successful run of records with producer Dieter Dirks beginning with Lovedrive. Those albums established the band’s sonic footing in Germany and the rest of the world. Lovedrive went gold., and so did its follow-up Animal Magnetism, but Blackout went platinum in less than two years.
Keeping in mind that commercial success and the band’s relative songwriting quality, Scorpions could be considered to be the best popular hard rock band of their era; Blackout easily trumps anything AC/DC and Van Halen were doing in 1982, and also goes head to head with those band’s own magnum opuses. It is a shame, then that in 2017 Scorpions are often remembered “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, the single for 1984’s Love at First Sting, and little else as far as passing interest. There is a real wealth of great songs being flat out ignored, most from Blackout and before. “No One Like You”, the big hit from Blackout, is easily as good as “Rock You Like a Hurricane”. “Can’t Live Without You” accurately describes how the ‘80s hard rock scene would have felt without this Teutonic tour de force lurking around the corner.
‘No One Like You’ personifies the band and their unique approach to hard rock. It’s not a fast song, like the kind their German contemporaries in Accept were tinkering with. It dedicates itself to hard rock clichés like “love” and being with “girls” the way that Van Halen and their rising hair metal successors did, Scorpions never wanted an empty space at night for themselves or for their fans.
Other songs are as good. On “Now!”, the fastest track on the album, the guitar duo of Schenker and Jabs cut loose with a solid footing provided by Francis Buchholz on bass, strumming and trying to keep up with the furious pace.
Blackout’s b-side has classic Scorpions all over it but you don’t always hear enough love for songs like “Dynamite” and the very radio friendly “Arizona” too often, unless you happen to be surrounded by a group of Scorpions super fans. Another fast-paced track that really explodes, ‘Dynamite’ provides the lack of subtlety from rock music that fans have to come to expect with the opening salvo of “Kick your ass to heaven, with rock n roll tonight.” “Arizona” paints a picture of the state too often reserved for southern California and the story being told here might even make David Lee Roth blush: “Loved her in the car, took me to the stars, babe we went nuts all the way.”
After 35 years Blackout stands as one of the best hard rock albums of 1982, if not ever. To those who have neglected Scorpions over the years, there is honestly no better “gateway” album into this legendary band.