"A Conspiracy of Stars"

By The Great Sun Jester

 I shouldn't be writing this review. In 2015, I should be writing an UFO retrospective, not a review for their latest album. The fact that I am writing about the band's new studio album, in my opinion, qualifies as one sign that not all is yet lost. Rock music may not enjoy much of its former cultural and commercial cachet, but seasoned rock devotees know that this diminished visibility has nothing to do with quality or merit. UFO's newest release from SPV/Steamhammer, A Conspiracy Of Stars, offers ample evidence of abiding creativity and a brawling, passionate spirit that time and changes in fortune cannot dim.
 Wunderkind guitar players and other longtime members have left their mark on UFO's history, but the beating heart of the band from day one has always been vocalist and lyricist Phil Mogg. The album's opening track, "The Killing Kind", offers ample evidence of that. Mogg delivers another strong entry in his library of lyrics on hardscrabble lives and doomed love affairs. However, what might be relatively standard fare in another singer's hands finds new life in Mogg's clear, authoritative yowl. The brisk tempo and edgy melodicism are welcome elements in an UFO opener. "Run Boy Run" is anchored by a simple, snarling riff knifing over Andy Parker's steady pulse and punctuated with an assortment of lead guitar flourishes. However, those fills are a good idea carried a bit too far. This song should be as tight as a fist and presented like a right hand lead hitting your jaw, but some flurries overstay their welcome or wail without reason.
The dusty Texas blues romp "Ballad of the Left Hand Gun", another Mogg paean to the American western mythology transposed to the rough and tumble world of rock and roll. Any hard rock fan over the age of eighteen has heard a riff like this. The band's current incarnation pumps out a swinging blues riff with impressive tightness and skill, but the instrumental break busts out of a comfortable strait-jacket and the band turns up the intensity with some particularly hard-hitting passages. Vinnie Moore plays a brief, but on point, solo that serves the song well.
 "Devil's In The Detail" is one of the album's best songs. It opens with a diffuse guitar introduction, but soon snaps into focus as a biting mid-tempo rocker. There's no real narrative to construct from Mogg's lyrics like one can find in the opener, but Mogg excels in giving us enough concrete detail and suggestion to fire a listener's imagination. While Mogg's voice has adapted remarkably to age and years of self-abuse, he shares one trait with many of his generation's best singers. His superb phrasing manifests itself in his subtle shifts of intonation and syllable stretching. The instrumental break on this track is punishing - rarely has the band sounded so heavy in recent years.
UFO strikes a strong Stonesy-grind on "The Real Deal". This is an ideal track for Andy Parker to shine on and he doesn't disappoint with a textbook swing that gives this needed gravitas. Paul Raymond's keyboard color adds much, especially with a big pre-chorus vamp, and it's these sort of seemingly small touches that lifts otherwise routine groove tunes into the realm of the memorable. Muscular riffing opens "Messiah of Love" before shifting into a simmering slink, but this elastic song has more surprises than an old sock drawer. A ho-hum chorus is the only weakness in an otherwise spirited workout that takes surprising turns.
The finale, "Rollin' Rollin'", is another high point on the album distinguished, primarily, by Paul Raymond's vivid keyboard playing. Many have written in recent years about Raymond's crucial role as a cog in UFO's creative machinery and, while his songwriting, backing vocals, and guitar playing are consistent presences on each new release, the keyboards have a larger presence on this album than recent efforts like 7 Deadly and The Visitor.
 It's a fool's game to try ranking albums, but it isn't any stretch to place this near UFO's best work and certainly the best album since Vinnie Moore has joined the band. Adding Rob De Luca's songwriting talents to the mix might encourage the interpretation that new ideas has placed a well-timed kick to their collective asses, but the band has been riding a full-on creative resurgence since their first outing with Moore, You Are Here. This new album plays like a consolidation of the promise from the previous four albums and ballsy notice that the road keeps going from here.