Released: 2004, Hip-O Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Hip-O Records has lovingly released, BOX OF SCORPIONS, a three-disc box set dedicated to veteran German hard rockers, The Scorpions. Boasting some of the most legendary dual guitar work in rock history, The Scorpions have had Micheal Schenker, Uli Jon Roth as well as the long-time pairing of Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs in their line-up and many musicians regard these men as major influences. The ever-powerful voice of Klaus Meine echoes through the tracks adding to The Scorpions instantly recognizable sound. For a band that has sold 50 million records worldwide and is nearing their 40th anniversary, it seems odd that long-time label Polygram Records never bothered to give them the box set treatment, but Hip-O, a label best known among the hard rock circles as handling the Motley Crue reissues, has gone over and above what anyone could have asked for. Spanning thirty years, BOX OF SCORPIONS takes at least one song from every one of The Scorpions albums, beginning with 1972’s LONESOME CROW right through to the new tracks recorded for 2002’s BAD FOR GOOD: THE VERY BEST OF THE SCORPIONS. Even their two landmark live albums, 1978’s TOKYO TAPES and 1985’s WORLD WIDE LIVE, receive nods. All 51 tracks have been digitally remastered removing analog tape hiss and giving a full, rich sound to the tracks, which is instantly noticeable to anyone who has been used to hearing these songs complete with imperfections over the years. Housed in a fold-out four panel digipack with a plastic slipcase, BOX OF SCORPIONS also includes a thick booklet with notes by former Metal Edge editor Gerri Miller, loads of photographs and a song-by-song commentary by vocalist Klaus Meine and guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs. All of the band’s hits are here including “Blackout,” “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “Big City Nights” and “Wind of Change,” but Hip-O has made this more than a rehash of previous collections. Never before has The Scorpions’ entire catalogue been included in one package and the evolution of the band over 30 years is quite amazing to hear.
The first CD covers the 1970s and sees the band going through several lineup changes as they begin to form their sound. “I’m Goin’ Mad,” complete with maracas and an intro that sounds remarkably close to The Who’s “Magic Bus,” sees the band in a vastly different light than that of the power chord arena rock of the 80s they would become. While tracks like “Speedy’s Coming” and the slow/heavy pacing of “In Trance” show glimmers of what was to come, the heavier sound that The Scorpions became known for began to fully emerge around 1976’s VIRGIN KILLER album. The raw guitar intro of the title track and the sharp riffs from Uli Jon Roth (one of the most underrated guitarists and lyricists ever) set the stage for that undeniably heavy, yet catchy, sound that the band would further explore on songs like “Another Piece of Meat” and “Blackout” among others. “He’s a Woman – She’s a Man” is a heavy track dealing with transvestite hookers, while the band further explores the salacious side of life with an ode to groupies on “Backstage Queen.” While writing many of the band’s early classics, Roth’s vocals on “Dark Lady” further show what a force he was in the band. The LOVEDRIVE album saw the beginning of the period that many people are most familiar with. “Loving You Sunday Morning” was the big break for The Scorpions in North America and “Coast to Coast” and “Lovedrive” feature an albeit brief return to the fold for original guitarist Michael Schenker. “Holiday” is one of the band’s—if not hard rock’s—best power ballads with only a simple acoustic guitar and Meine’s voice through much of the track.
The second CD is the highlight of the set, as it covers the years 1979-1989. The biggest success for the band was found during this time as they released LOVEDRIVE, ANIMAL MAGNETISM, the back-to-back landmark albums BLACKOUT and LOVE AT FIRST STING, WORLD WIDE LIVE (one of the best live hard rock albums ever) and SAVAGE AMUSEMENT. “The Zoo” employs a “talk box” and one of the catchiest riffs Rudolf Schenker ever wrote. The four songs taken from BLACKOUT see the band get in the ring with the arena rock gods and take them all down. Between the ANIMAL MAGNETISM and BLACKOUT albums, Meine had major vocal surgery which had an unexpected effect on his vocal range—it broadened it even more! The scream he unleashes at the end of “Blackout” and his vocals on the godly “Can’t Live Without You” are jaw-dropping. “No One Like You” is one of the band’s best known songs and the live anthem “Dynamite” features a smoking solo from Jabs. Little discussion of the tracks from LOVE AT FIRST STING is necessary because everyone knows them as the best the band ever did. “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “Big City Nights,” “Bad Boys Running Wild,” “Still Loving You”—immaculate. The inclusion of the forgotten gem, “Coming Home,” is a real treat because The Scorpions do the slow/heavy thing better than anyone and this song is a perfect example. SAVAGE AMUSEMENT, a somewhat overlooked album sandwiched between the BLACKOUT/LOVE AT FIRST STING double feature and 1991’s CRAZY WORLD, contains some of the band’s best songs from that period. “Don’t Stop at the Top,” “Rhythm of Love” (with background vocals from Canada’s own “Metal Queen,” Lee Aaron) and “Believe in Love” are included here. “Media Overkill” would have been a nice one to include here, as well. “I Can’t Explain,” a cover of an old song by The Who, is a rare track recorded for 1988’s MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOUNDATION album. The band offers a pretty faithful treatment to the original, but this is the kind of song that belongs on a box set. The inclusion of the dreadful “Twentieth Century Man” and a live version of “Another Piece of Meat” are odd choices and they are the only real lull in an otherwise stellar string of songs on this disc.
The third CD covers the period 1990-2002. The early part of the decade saw the band reach unparalleled chart success, but with the public’s changing musical tastes, The Scorpions struggled during the latter half of the decade. Experimentation with electronic elements and Europop led to many fans that grew used to the heavy sound of guitars and actual drums to turn their backs on the band. The CRAZY WORLD album was never a favorite because it smacked of commercialism with its reliance on ballads and top 40 ready choruses. Five tracks from that record are included here. “Wind of Change” was timed just perfectly as the world embraced it as an anthem to coincide with the falling of the Berlin Wall. With the exception of “Hit Between the Eyes,” the CRAZY WORLD songs sound like a band who have been stripped of their integrity for the almighty dollar. Yes, they are catchy, but just too slick and polished. FACE THE HEAT saw the band continue on this path, but they do get their balls back on “Alien Nation,” one of the heaviest tracks they have ever done. “Under the Same Sun” tries to capitalize on the socially-conscious momentum of “Wind of Change” but seeing it turn up in a Steven Seagal movie (1994’s ON DEADLY GROUND) instantly stripped it of any credibility. The bluesy feel of “Woman” is a real departure for the band and one of the most interesting included here. Unfortunately, the remainder of the disc really stinks. Filled with bonus tracks from best of collections that were left off studio albums for all too obvious reasons to bandwagon-jumping orchestral experimentations, the last half of disc three is best forgotten. The real low-point, though, is “Mysterious” from the abomination entitled EYE II EYE released in 1999. Whatever inspired The Scorpions to utilize a drum machine and go Europop is beyond me, but they quickly realized the world only needs one U2 and the fans’ openly voiced their displeasure. Also, “Hurricane 2000,” a re-recording of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, is a dreadful run through the mud of a great song. The orchestra dominates the mix too much and the female background singers do nothing to help matters. I am happy to say that The Scorpions have put this nonsense behind them with 2004’s UNBREAKABLE, though, and seem to be back to amore “classic” sound.
BOX OF SCORPIONS is a nice, tidy package that will be an excellent addition to any long-time Scorpions fan’s collection. For any newbies, this set gathers all the band’s hits as well as some forgotten gems and even a few that should have stayed hidden away. But for what it’s worth, this warts-and-all set does an excellent job of wrapping up the storied career of one of hard rock’s most respected and prolific bands. Feel the sting!