Album Review: UFO – A Conspiracy Of Stars

I spend some of my free time frequenting a few message boards dedicated to music, and one of the lines of commonly accepted fact is that veteran bands are never producing music as good as they did when they were younger. If I believe what I read, after about five albums, no band has ever made an album that wasn’t at best ‘decent’. I don’t believe this line of thinking, but it seems to perpetuate in the music scene like a virus of stupidity. I have my own theories as to why people think this way, which is the subject for another column, but suffice it to say that veteran bands rarely get much respect for their new music.

UFO, having been around for forty years at this point, is one of those veteran bands that gets more attention for still being together than for any of the music they make. This is one of those cases where I think the disregard is actually warranted. Since the last reunion with Michael Schenker, which hit its apex with the very good “Walk On Water”, UFO hasn’t done much of anything that I would consider worth seeking out. I have nothing against the current incarnation of the band, nor do I have any particular love for Schenker, but the most recent albums have been UFO by-the-numbers, without many songs that are going to endure by the time the next record comes along.

I bring all of that up, because “A Conspiracy Of Stars” is one of those albums that destroys the myth of the decline of veteran bands, and single-handedly makes the last twenty years of UFO worth the ups and downs. Yes, it is that good a record, and this will be controversial to say, but I’ll lead off my critique by saying I find this to be the best album of UFO’s career.

Kicking things off with “The Killing Kind”, we get UFO at their bare-bones best. With a simple bar band riff, Phil Mogg spins the kind of melody he’s trademarked, with vocals that have only gotten more interesting with age. His voice is just the right amount of weathered, with the limitations encouraging him to stay in his best range. He’s emotive beyond the capabilities of most rock singers, and his tone is uniquely his own. There is no one else like Mogg, and he has always been UFO’s calling card.

Moving deeper into the album, we can hear two very different strains running through it. The songs written by Rob De Luca and Paul Raymond are old-school UFO, the kind of songs that recall the three chords and a chorus days. They serve as the short, sweet bites in between the more expansive Vinnie Moore penned songs.

Vinnie Moore has never quite seemed to find his voice as a writer in UFO, but that changes here. He is responsible for seven of the album’s ten tracks, and there isn’t a single one of them that is less than killer. He moves beyond what you would expect from UFO, and plays a bluesier style of rock that fits the mature swagger men of this age should have. “Ballad Of The Left Hand Gun” rips with some stinging slide guitar, and lyrics that I interpret to be about someone now in the band’s past. It has that spaghetti-western tinge to it, and provides an ample canvas for Mogg to spin his story.

But the real meat of the album is still to come. “Sugar Cane” is as good a song as I’ve ever heard from UFO, a blues-soaked rocker that slows the tempo to Moore’s fantastic riff. Mogg is in his best form here, with the tempo being perfect for his voice, and his melody hitting hard and sticking with you. “Precious Cargo” is a similar song, perhaps a bit softer than you would expect from UFO, but hitting all the right marks. This is a band that has found what they do best at this stage of their career, and play right into it.

As if that wasn’t enough, the album closes with the one-two punch of “Messiah Of Love” and “Rollin’ Rollin'”, two of the catchiest songs of their career. There are a couple of sketchy lyrics about stripper poles and ‘galvanized porn’, but damn they are undeniably great songs. The common theme throughout this record is that Phil Mogg is on fire, writing his best melodies since the solo album he put out with the $ign Of Four. You could argue that his voice has been better, but as a writer this is his finest moment. From start to finish, every song here has a chorus that would have been the standout of the last several albums. To gather them all together for this record is amazing.

What we have here in “A Conspiracy Of Stars” is UFO digging deep and turning out a late-career gem. Bands this far into their careers aren’t supposed to make records that are this good, but UFO has done it. I think this is their best album, and while I’m sure most won’t agree with me, we should all be able to see that this is the best UFO has been in at least twenty years. “A Conspiracy Of Stars” is a remarkable record, and one of the best albums of 2015.

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