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Uriah Heep - Firefly CD (album) cover

FIREFLY

Uriah Heep

 

Heavy Prog

3.55 | 264 ratings

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TCat
Special Collaborator
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
3 stars We've come to 1976 and the band Uriah Heep is now 9 albums in. The band had reached a successful pinnacle for a while with a fairly steady line-up, but had floundered a bit over the previous couple of years. Yes they had lost a member here and gained another somewhere else, but there was a core that looked impenetrable. But it wasn't. The first major change in the band's line-up was taking place as David Byron, the band's amazing lead singer with an impressive range, was having alcohol problems and was fired from the band. This was a huge move and it came when the band was losing strength in their popularity from their move to a more radio-friendly sound. However, the label and the band didn't want to accept the fact that their music output was the problem.

In 1976, John Lawton became the new lead singer after the band turned away David Coverdale, Ian Hunter and Gary Holton. He was fairly unknown, but had worked with a few smaller bands. It was admitted that he didn't have the range of Byron, but he could hold his own with the style of music the band was playing. Also, the band had unknowlingly lost their most talented bass player John Wetton who said he wasn't feeling comfortable with the band, so they recruited Trevor Bolder who had played for David Bowie in the past. Bolder would end up staying with the band until his death, so at least their woes with ever changing bass players were ended, but their lead singer problems were only beginning. However, this line-up would at least put out 3 studio albums and 2 live albums before more changes would come.

Uriah Heep came into their 10th album with a new attitude and confidence, that was at least what would be said about it. 'Firefly' looked to giving the band back it's earlier, more stripped down sound, sort of a return to their roots. But, that had been said about their last few albums also. This one would originally consist of 8 tracks, but would be re-issued in an expanded remaster in 2004 which would include other songs that were recorded around the same time, but unused, adding 8 more tracks to the album.

On the original album, Ken Hensley would be soley responsible for writing all of the tracks except for co-writing credit with Jack Williams for 'The Hanging Tree' (the first track), and 'Who Needs Me' which was completely written by Lee Kerslake. Granted, this first track does recall earlier UH music, melodic with a good mix of heavy guitar and keys. It's a good start for the album. This is followed with the more soulful 'Been Away Too Long', which also dips into the earlier sound of the band. Lawton has a soulful enough voice to pull it off, but you can also hear him straining to put power behind the higher notes. The instrumental break even adds in some light prog, and you almost think the band is on their way back. Kerslake's contribution comes next with 'Who Needs Me', a more straightforward rocker, and Lawton's vocals prove their rock god possibilities. 'Wise Man' was an attempt at a single from the album. It is a slow rock ballad drenched in synth keys that are still restrained. It's a predictable track that in theory should have done well for a single, but didn't seem to chart anywhere in the world. Not a bad track that should have sounded good on the radio, but nothing to get excited about either.

The 2nd half of the album begins with 'Do You Know'. Much like the opening track, this one draws on the thick organ sound, which almost brings a more constant drone-like quality, but the music is fast and upbeat again with a lot of spirit. But it is also quite poppy. This side of the album has two 6+ minute tracks, the first of which is 'Rollin' On', the next track. This is a nice, moderate moving track based on a blues-rock style. This track cements the hard rock style of the band and almost sounds like something that you would expect from 'Rainbow', 'Montrose' or any of the other hard rock bands of that style. Other than a repetitive chorus, it's pretty good with some great soulful guitar playing from Box. 'Sympathy' was another attempt at a single, which at least did chart in Germany. It picks the pace up a bit more, but is quite straightforward, and Lawton lets loose a scream during the vocals that doesn't really help and the song really doesn't go anywhere. 'Firefly' ends the album with the 2nd 6 minute track. Hensley and Kerslake help out on the vocals which build a nice harmonic chorus that will also recall the band's glory days. It is only the 2nd track that closely resembles anything prog, and when the song builds intensity later in the track, it really gets much better. It does have a more 'suite-like' structure, but fades much to early. You can tell that the band seemed to be on the right track this time, but unfortunately, it would have trouble following through with this completely in subsequent albums.

The 2004 deluxe edition adds a lot more tracks to the album. It starts with 'Crime of Passion' which was a non-album b-side to the 'Sympathy' and 'Wise Man' singles. It is one of the heavier tracks from the album sessions with a good guitar riff. Three outtakes follow this, starting with 'A Far Better Way' in a demo mix. It has an unfinished sound to it, as expected, but not a bad track that would have been decent with a little more work. It starts weak, but gets better as it continues and has Lawson hitting a lot of high notes at the end as he tries to turn it into an anthem. 'I Always Knew' starts to show the band running out of ideas, and it lacks anything new or interesting, sounding like bad 70's plastic funk, like they were trying to write a song that would be eligible for 100s of prom night theme songs. This was a good one to leave off of the album. Unfortunately, the next one is even worse: 'Dance Dance Dance' is a horrible attempt at disco or something equally as bad. Ugh!

At this point, the bonus tracks goes to alternate versions of songs on the album. There is a demo version of 'Been Away Too Long' which seems to go from being lifeless to over-the-top in split seconds and another demo version of 'Do You Know' which is a little bit better than the previous track. This is followed by a long 9+ minute live version of 'Who Needs Me'. This version incorporates a long guitar solo which is accompanied by a repetitive background riff. It's a good addition that allows the listener insight into the band's concerts. During this time, the band was opening for 'Kiss', and this track shows UH's dominance in the talent aspect over the questionable musical talent and quality of Kiss. The reissue ends with the TV backing track for 'Wise Man' that was used for commercial purposes.

The reissue does add a little value to the overall album, but not enough to boost it above the 3 star rating that the original album generates. Firefly is a good enough album and is a good attempt to return to form for the band, but instead of building on that, UH makes the mistake of continuing to become more commercial friendly. The album is good enough, but has very few progressive moments. However, it isn't obnoxiously commercial either. You can detect some real spirit from the band. The only time this lacks is when the band ventures away from that into a more popular music territory, and unfortunately this will continue for several albums. Firefly is not a complete wash out though, and should be heard if you have a chance. But it is still material that is far away from the stellar material of their glory days, yet it is still better than "Fallen Angel" and other albums that are yet to come.

TCat | 3/5 |

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