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Uriah Heep - Firefly CD (album) cover

FIREFLY

Uriah Heep

Heavy Prog


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Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars A new beginning

While the history of Uriah Heep is littered with line up changes, the single most important one in terms of their sound took place between the previous album, "High and Mighty", and this one. With David Byron having been sacked as lead vocalist, John Lawton (ex Lucifer's Child) was brought in as his replacement.

In opting for Lawton, the other band members had decided to go for someone with a completely different voice and style, so right from the first few bars of "Firefly" the listener is aware of a fundamental change. Lawton's voice is deeper and much rougher, with more of a blues/jazz tinge.

John Wetton also left the band before this album was recorded, being replaced by ex Spiders from Mars bassist Trevor Boulder. Boulder has gone on to become one of Heep's longest serving members, and is in fact still in the band today.

The music on "Firefly" is generally lighter than previous albums, with Hensley choosing to create an almost orchestral texture with the keyboards, on which the album is built. Yet again, Hensley dominates the song writing, with only one short track "Who needs me" being a rare Kerslake composition. The title track is a very soft but beautiful piece, a million miles from "Easy Livin'". Even when the band rock, such as on "Been away too long", it's not the all out wall of sound of the early days.

When listening to this album, it is necessary to first put aside any preconceptions about the music it will contain. It's not really a follow up to "High and Mighty" but a new beginning for the band with a new direction and sound. Once that is accepted, it's actually a very enjoyable album, with strong melodies, and tight musicianship.

Nice sleeve too, similar to the Roger Dean creations of earlier days.

Report this review (#31355)
Posted Wednesday, June 30, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars FIREFLY was recorded in October/November 1976 with a new line-up. John Lawton, Ex- Lucifers Friend, who, at times, was also a member of the entertaining Les Humphries Singers, replaced the sacked vocalist David Byron, while Trevor Bolder (from David Bowie´s Spiders from Mars) took over John Wetton´s bass guitar. No Heep record released after THE MAGICIANS BIRTHDAY could deliver so many winners as FIREFLY.

The opener, "The Hanging Tree", a mid-tempo rocker, is sung very energetically by Lawton, the new frontman, who wasn´t indisputed by many Heepsters, who preferred other singers, briefly considered for the vacancy, among them Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company), Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) and David Coverdale (former Deep Purple frontman). "Been Away Too Long", a song with a very melodic beginning grows by listening again and again. The Kerslake number "Who Needs Me" , by the way, the only number Ken Hensley hasn´t written, is a solid rocker, but no killer. "Wise Man", the next song, is the first absolute highlight of this album, one of the most impressive ballads of the whole Heep repertoire. It´s worthy, if you can ask a wise man, what to do and how to do, if you have questions or problems. "Do You Know" is just an average rocker, nothing especial, neither by melody nor by lyrics. "Rollin´ On" contains a very fine instrumental part, I´m always enthusiastic about every time I hear this number. Apart from the outstanding "Wise Man", "Sympathy" was another single from FIREFLY, but not with the same effect. The original album was closed by the title track, which with its fantastic fantasy-lyrics belongs to the best stuff, Uriah Heep has produced during the many years of their career. This track alone would justify the purchase of this album. The number consists of three parts, a slow balladesk one, followed by a fast-rocking part and closing with another slow one completing the first passage. I don´t like to comment the bonus tracks, because they represent worse versions of several cuts of the original album ( especially the sound), an uninteresting B-side, two previously unreleased tracks that aren´t worth a mention. The only track I listen to sometimes is "A Far Better Way", a number, which, at least, contains a good refrain. If I disregard the bonus tracks, I think, that a rating of 4.5 stars would be appropriate. But because I can´t distribute half stars I rate FIREFLY with 5 stars, even if I have to admit, that the 1972 putout DEMONS AND WIZARDS , for example, is a better 5 star album.

Report this review (#31358)
Posted Sunday, January 23, 2005 | Review Permalink
loserboy
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Nothing finer in the world than the hard progressive rock vibes of 'The Heep'. For me "Firefly" was just one of those albums from the 70's that I played over and over again and along with "Demons and Wizards" was just part of my childhood. For me "Firefly" encapsulated everything and worked on multiple levels... a fine rock album and fine shifting progressive rock sound. No question in my mind that URIAH HEEP had hit full stride by the release of "Firefly" offering to the rock world a creative high energy album. I love the keyboard work that Hensley pumps out on this album with some nice deep organ and vintage keyboard work as well as some of Mick Box's best guitar work. I would say that the title track "Firefly" is likely my most beloved URIAH HEEP track from the mid 70's era albums and I was sure as a kiddie-boo-boo that this was the finest tune in the world (you know what I mean). Overall "Firefly" is still a fantastic album for this music lover.
Report this review (#31360)
Posted Saturday, February 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is a very lovely hippie rock record! The fantasy oriented covers with romantic theme and light pastel colors fit the musical style of this album perfectly. The keyboards and guitar paint an airy and comfortable sound walls, and the compositions are emotional and mostly glad. The most memorable tracks for me here are "Been Away Too Long", "Wise Man" (which was also being played at their 2005 Helsinki concert) and the title track "Firefly", which is totally marvelous rock suite in three parts. I wouldn't recommend this for those who seek angst from music, but the fans of softer art rock should like this.
Report this review (#31361)
Posted Sunday, April 3, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars "Firefly" is the first album to feature singer John Lawton (who hade left Lucifer's Friend to join Uriah Heep) Lawton is a much better singer than David Byron but that doesn't mean that the Lawton era Uriah Heep albums are better than the Byron era albums, quite the contrary actually. But still you can tell that is is a refreshed Uriah Heep that created "Firefly" and it is better that the last Uriah Heep album "High and Mighty" ('76) and it is also better than albums like "Sweet Freedom" ('73) and "Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble" ('70). It is actually not very far away from Lucifer's Friend's "Mind Exploding" album from '76 both in quality and style. It is also much better than the second Lawton era Uriah Heep album "Innocent Victim" that was released later the same year.
Report this review (#39343)
Posted Wednesday, July 13, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Released as the first album after the ousting of their much loved or much hated (depending on who you are) vocalist David Byron, Firefly saw the group replace him with British born John Lawton who had been singing for German hard rockers Lucifier's Friend. Lawton, who was graced with the vocal abilities of a genius, elevated Heep to the best period of their whole career and a new peak after their brilliant early albums with the late great David Byron. John Lawton's strong, belting voice actually had an effect on UH that would not be expected- Uriah Heep mellowed out when he came into the band. Firefly is my favourite Uriah Heep album, as every track is full of all the trademarks of their fantastic sound. Mick Box plays stunning and sensitive guitar lines throughout, Ken Hensley's writing and grinding organ sound have never sounded better, and the rhythm section of Trevor Bolder (Bass) and Lee Kerslake (Drums) are outstanding. Every track here is brilliant, but I would particularly say the two softest songs on the album are two of my most loved tracks by any group from any era. "Wise Man" is a song that I relate to, having met some in my life and wanting to know a lot they couldn't or could tell me. The laidback melodic electric piano and Lawton's graceful voice gradually build up into a truly outstanding chorus and the song is full of peace and beauty. Lawton steals the song at the end, with a wailing Gospel influenced crescendo that leaves me breathless and at the same time feeling very good inside. All the hard rocking tracks on this album are the best Heep ever recorded, sounding full of energy, enthusiasm, and power, but the title track which ends the album to me is along with Salisbury's title track the best thing Heep ever did. Let me warn you, I love rainbows and have a weakness for any beautiful songs that make mention of them, but from the opening line "My love lives at the end of a rainbow/One day I'm gonna fly there on a Firefly/ High above wide and green waters/With a love song in my heart" you know this song is special. While it may not be a 16 minute long blow out like "Salisbury" it's Uriah Heep's greatest achievement. The soft, flowing music and Lawton's peaceful soothing voice build up into a mini epic of majestic, flowing, soundscapes of tranquility and peaceful dream like images of conquering all that is wrong in the world with love. The idea of riding a firefly to the end of a rainbow to find the love of your life I find to be a beautiful image, and the song builds on that beautiful image and turns it into a masterpiece. When the rocking passage comes in and is heralded by another change of mood you know UH have all their confidence back after the serious blow of having to fire Byron for his excessive drug and drink problems that would tragically take his life in the mid 80s. To bring it all back to Firefly, as great a singer as David Byron was Lawton is better, more confident, and more reliable. If you want to hear UH rock with all the power of their classic Byron period and the other big hard rock giants of the early 70s Deep Purple just witness "The Hanging Tree" and "Sympathy" (Not the Rare Bird song). Then listen to the beautiful tracks together with the rocking tracks, this is Heep's best record.
Report this review (#62410)
Posted Friday, December 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars I can safely say if this album had Byron in place of Lawton, this would have been yet another hit from Uriah Heep. Its not that Lawton is a bad vocalist--he's good. But never as good as crystal clear Byron. Two major things had changed for the band in this album. First the vocalist, second the dominance of synthesizer. Uriah Heep had been using synth from Look at your self, but never used it as the dominant instrument. In this album, the opening track opens with ARP and you can sense ARP's presence in most tracks in a dominant way. Coupled with the new voice, you'd think you won't see the Uriah Heep you heard before. Three songs-- Sympathy, Firefly and Wiseman-- remain outstanding in the album, while the rest are enjoyable to various degrees. Who needs me sucks. and we could do without DO you know.
Report this review (#84057)
Posted Tuesday, July 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars From the most brilliant hard-rock (even symphonic at times), the Heep's downhill was hard to imagine. Their last three studio albums were average to poor (IMO).

A major line-up change with the replacement of Byron as lead vocalist. This sounds like a thunder. Something like the departure of Gillan from Purple or Gabriel from Genesis. I have to admit that Lawton does a good job here.

On top of that, this is the best Heep album for quite a long time. Energetic, hard rocking like in the golden era. it was quite a good surprise for me.

The first poor track of this album is the rock ballad :"Wise Man". I guess the intention was to please the FM audience ... "Rollin' On" is good blues/rock song like Purple could have produced (Hughes / Coverdale era). Great guitar solo.

"Sympathy" is quite good : great ryhtmic section, good vocals and great harmonies. This sounds like a track from ancient ages ... "Firefly" starts like a symphonic and mellow tune and then turns out as a rockin' Heep song with a great (but too short) guitar solo. The song then returns to the mellowish style. Not bad, though.

Three bonus tracks on the remastered edition if you want to prolong your experience. "Crime of Passion" is another blues/rock oriented song (again, Glenn Hughes could have written this one). There is also a duplication for "Do You Know" and "A Far Better Way" is another good but non essential track.

Of course, this is not an essential album in the music history (nor even in the Heep's one), but at least the Heep rebounds a bit with this effort. Three stars.

Report this review (#118595)
Posted Monday, April 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
febus
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam
3 stars THERE IS STILL LIFE AFTER DAVID BYRON DEPARTURE!

I remember being really worried when this new URIAH HEEP album came out. We all knew DVAID BYRON, the VOICE of the band has been kicked out due to drugs and/or alcohol abuses. At the end of his stay, Byron sometimes couldn't even remember the words of the songs when on stage and has become a distraction for the rest of the band. He will pursue a solo career ( not that successful !!) until his untimately death a few years later! another schocking fact about this sad ending is that there were no URIAH HEEP members at his funeral. ( only JOHN WETTON showed up)

About JOHN WETTON, he too left the ship at the same time and was to be replaced by TREVOR BOLDER of SPIDERS OF MARS fame; To this day,31 years later the ''new'' bassist is still with the band, hair and all!!!

URIAH HEEP didn't try to find a BYRON clone and went quite the opposite way with the arrival of JOHN LAWTON, a very good singer, but more in the blues/rock style a la CHRIS FARLOWE from COLLOSSEUM , very deep and strong.Looking at his picture, you knew the other members would not worry about him playing the sex symbol as his predecessor did. The cover was very nice, very.....prog in the ROGER DEAN style.

You have very good songs on this album and it rocks quite a bit; no, no metal here, but a good hard rock album , very melodic ( this is still URIAH HEEP) but played with a lot of energy like THE HANGING TREE which opens the album. You may find some vey average tracks like BEEN AWAY TOO LONG or the insipid DO YOU KNOW! UH even tries the FM style ''power '' ballad with the very forgetable WISE MAN.

But very good things come later with what was then-side 2: ROLLIN ON is a great mid-tempo rocker with one of those emotional great guitar solos like the one on PARADISE from DEMONS AND WIZARDS ( played i think by HENSLEY and not by MICK BOX) Then you have a great classic UH rocker with a great guitar riff followed by the best track of the album the self titled ''FIREFLY'', a track that could have been featured on any UH albums from the golden age: nice harmonies, great melody, quite proggish, and a great guitar riff in the middle of the song followed by once again one of those simple but very well played guitar solos, a very good song indeed.

The sound of the album is quite lighter than in their haydays; KEN HENSLEY doesn't do any wall of sound with his organ and plays quite more discreetly in the background; very nice production as well!

Not a masterpiece by any means, not an album you are going to take with you when you go in exile, but a good ,simple (light) hard rocking release played with energy and fun you will always enjoy when you play it! Sadly the future will not sound so nice!!!

3.5 stars rounded to

3 STARS

Report this review (#131518)
Posted Friday, August 3, 2007 | Review Permalink
aapatsos
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Heavy Prog Team
4 stars The magic is still present in the second era!

Firefly is one of the records that I am emotionally bonded with, as it was my first full Heep album... With this record begins the second era of Heep, after the departure of David Byron and the arrival of John Lawton on the vocals. Yes, the sound is a bit 'softer' than before, the vocals are bluesier (a bit towards Coverdale) and Ken Hensley's hammond sound is not as evident as it used to be. Don't expect to hear a new Demons and Wizards or Look at Yourself. The production is cleaner and is mainly based on the rhythm section, often giving the impression of an 'empty tone' feeling.

However, the typical Heep melodies and heavy powerful chords are plentiful, with Lawton adjusting perfectly to the new sound. This record has a unique nostalgic rock atmosphere, noticeable at each track, from the ballad Wise Man to the pure rock'n'roll Who Needs me and Do You Know. These three tracks represent the middle-part and are probably the less interesting, in a record that does not really contain weak songs. Sophisticated bluesy mid-tempos (Rollin' On) and heavy prog tunes (The Hanging Tree and Been Away Too Long) mix in a diverse and interesting output, where Lawton's vocals are a very strong asset, giving a different 'vibe' and a remarkable character to the album (a response to the uncertainty after Byron's departure).

Sympathy, with its distinct beautiful guitar passage, can be easily compared to the band's 'all-time' hit masterpieces, such as 'Easy Livin' and 'Look at Yourself', though a bit more melodic this time and less raw. The album concludes with the enchanting title track, prompting the listener to early Heep tunes. These latter two, along with the opening track form, in my humble opinion, the highlights of this album. It is also worth mentioning that the cover fits very well with the music. I don't know what exactly it represents, but it gives you this nostalgic, 'purple' feeling.

Different singer, different sound, still excellent.

Report this review (#155417)
Posted Friday, December 14, 2007 | Review Permalink
b_olariu
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Still a good album

After departure of Byron, Uriah Heep, and specially Mick Box the main man of the band try to find somebody at the same level with Byron but not a copy. They find - Lawton (ex. Lucifer's Friend), he has integrate very well in the Heep music machine. So, the voice here on the first album where Lawton appear is very powerfull, he has a strong voice, easy to remember. The opening track The Hanging Tree shows exactly where Lawton stands in Heep's music. The music become more mainstream, more hard/boogie kinda easy to listen, but not comercial, still some great tunes like The hanging tree, Been Away Too Long and the title track Firefly. All in all a good album, but no more than that. I think the next one is the best Heep album with Lawton on voice. 3 stars

Report this review (#158924)
Posted Friday, January 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars To me, this was the beginning of the end. Without David Byron Uriah Heep seemed to turn into a new band completely. It was not that John Lawton was not good. He was. But the spirit, or the perfect chemistry if you like, was gone. The sound was lighter, more pop oriented and definitly Ken Hensley was not the same anymore (he latter claimed he should have left the band at the time, but was persuated to stay eventually). The cover is quite deceiving: it looks like a work of Roger Dean, but watch closer and you´ll see it is far from the real thing. The same goes for the music.

Even today, 30 years after the release of this album, I still find hard to listen to it. The songs are ok, at least most of them. The first track, The Hanging Tree, is the only one that has some of the old UH power in it, but the remaining tracks are not nearly as good. In fact, there are some bad ones, and Who Loves Me definitly seems to be included on the album to please the drummer (who was also threatening to leave). Everything sounds a little forced on Firefly. Even the title track, an efford to emulate their earlier prog epics, sounds half baked and rushed.

Clearly a transitional work, I can only recommend this CD to stabilished fans and completionists. Although it has some interesting moments, this is not a good starting point for a newbie. Two stars.

Report this review (#165167)
Posted Thursday, March 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This was great follow up album to High and Mighty. With John Lawton now replacing David Byron on vocals and Trevor Bolder replacing John Wetton on bass, there is a distinctly obvious stabilisation of the group in this line up. John Lawton is a formidable vocalist and a worthy substitute to David Byron. His prescence on the classic ' The Hanging Tree' demonstrates immediately that Uriah Heep were not going to dissipate into the ether of punk rock/new age dominance. I guess they have proved that regardless of line up changes and musical shifts to this present day.

Firefly is another solid track as is Rollin On. Personally after High and Mighty I put Uriah Heep on the back burner and am now revisiting some of their later releases post 1976 and if the album Firefly is anything to go by there will be many more enjoyable moments to come.A solid three and a half stars and not least assisted by the invaluable inclusion of John Lawton.

Report this review (#175985)
Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008 | Review Permalink
SouthSideoftheSky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
3 stars John Lawton (previously of the great band Lucifer's Friend) and Trevor Bolder (of The Spiders from Mars fame) gave new life to Uriah Heep here! In my opinion, this produced one of the very best and most consistent Uriah Heep albums. John Lawton is a much better singer than David Byron ever was, Lawton can hit the high notes without any trouble and his distinctive voice is simply much more pleasant to listen to.

Another thing that makes this album stand out in the Uriah Heep catalogue is that it is better produced and all the instruments sound clearer and more powerful. The keyboards are more varied than on most other Uriah Heep albums. Usually, the Hammond organ plays the leading role. Here, on the other hand, we have electric piano and symphonic synthesizers playing a much larger role.

But, as always, the most important thing is to have good songs and we have many strong ones here; the title track, The Hanging Tree and the ballad Wise Man are all very good. There are always some lesser good material on Uriah Heep albums, but even the weakest ones here are a bit better than they were on Sweet Freedom, Wonderworld or Return to Fantasy.

Firefly is a recommended album. (If you like it I would also recommend the first five albums by Lucifer's Friend which was John Lawton's pervious band. Great stuff! In my opinion, much better and more progressive than Uriah Heep!)

Report this review (#177592)
Posted Monday, July 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
poslednijat_colobar
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars With the recording of Firefly,Uriah Heep enter a new era with John Lawton as vocalist,the first album without David Byron.And I think this album is the best without David Byron on vocals,until the releasing of Wake the Sleeper in 2008!Firefly contains the classic Uriah Heep sound,but with some new rock & roll elements added by John Lawton.He is more oriented to that kind of music.The album mixes some progressive/hard rock songs fron the previous era of the band like - The Hanging Tree,Been Away Too Long,the famous one Wise Man,the magnificent song Firefly.But it is full of light rock & roll songs like Who Needs Me,Do You Know,Rollin On and the cult one - Sympathy.The mixture between two kind of songs is well enough for every high quality collection!
Report this review (#181860)
Posted Saturday, September 6, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Wow! Who knew that, with a new singing and bassist, that Uriah Heep would still live, and give a very progressive rock type of record? No one though that they could, but Mick Box and Ken Hensley, the two original members, pulled it off! The cover art is excellent too, with a beautiful fairy type of woman, over a lake near a rainbow. The music is definatly awesome, and is some of their most proggy moments ever.

"The Handing Tree" has a nice keyboard intro, followed by some nice drums by lee Kerslake, awesome baslines from Trevor Bolder, nice guitar by Mick Box, and some awesome vocals from John Lawton. He instantly gets with the groove of Uriah Heep. This song is more or so pop prog, but still has a nice and different feeling than most of the other prog acts at the time, who were pushed out by Punk Rock. The lyrics are excellent and seem to tell a short story. "Been Away Too Long" is a good track, with some nice keyboards and excellent guitar parts at the beginning. It seems that it would be a much slower song, but then after a good yell from John, it seems to get much more hard rocking than one would think. But it's still a slower song. The guitar is awesome throughout, but it seems to get quieter when John starts to sing. "Who Needs Me" is a hard rocking track, and much different from the first two tracks. It's much more like their older songs, but the lyrics seem to be much less interesting than most of the albums, but they are alright. The guitar is very prominant, and the bassline is excellent and loud. "Wise Men" is one of the more proggy tracks, though it's a bit shorter than one would think. The musicianship is excellent, with a slow organ and vocal intro, with John singing some oh's at the beginning. The lyrics are fairly good, but not the best of the album. This song is very nice slow, and the guitar works well with the flowing basslines of Trevor, they work well with the excellent keyboard work from Ken Hensley. "Do You Know" is in the same style of some songs from their previous albums, and is much more heavy metal with the hammond organ turned on high. The guitar is loud and very interesting. The bassline is very simple, but works well and is very loud. The vocals are excellent, but the lyrics are very simple and are very uninteresting. "Rollin' on" is one of the two longer than normal tracks, which in reality means just about seven minutes, but it's a bit longer than their normal songs. It's a great song, the guitar is excellent, and the moog sounds great. The bassline is working great with the drumming from Lee. The lyrics are great, and the vocals sing it passionatly with some excellent vocal harmonies. "Sympathy" was the lead single, and it's a great short prog rocker. The guitar solo at the beginning sounds excellent, and is very loud, and sounds a bit doubled. The lyrics are great, with a great sense of rhythm on this song. John turns in a great vocal performance, with some very nice falsetto in parts. The bassline is fairly simple for this kind of song, but it's much better than some of what the Punk Rockers were doing at the time, playing stupidly picking is with a crappy bass. "Firefly" is the best of the two extended tracks, and is the best track of the whole album. The keyboard intro and vocal intro is followed by song really nice hard rocking part, and then it goes to a soft much more acoustic sound. This song has some really high contrast with it's self, and it's a great story type of song. This song is a very mini prog-epic.

This album is great, but has some slightly bad lryics at times, but most of this album is great and is very proggy considering their last few albums. This is a full 5 stars, you need to have this album in your progressive rock collection, or your heavy metal collection.

Report this review (#256513)
Posted Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
stefro
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Although still very popular throughout Central and Eastern Europe(especially, for some reason, in the Balkans) and with a large(ish) following in the USA, Uriah Heep have very much been a cult item in their British homeland ever since punk rock came along and pretty much ruined everything. However, during the early part of the 1970s they were actually quite a big deal, issuing some excellent progressive-themed albums('Demons & Wizards', 'Salisbury', 'Look At Yourself', 'The Magicians Birthday') and enjoying brief chart success with this more polished mainstream rock effort from 1976, an album that reached the lofty heights of no.13 on the UK album charts and in the process probably giving the group a collective nosebleed. A hard-working and highly prolific outfit('Firefly' would be their tenth studio release in six years) Uriah Heep had always straddled the chasm between earthy hard-rock and colourful prog, their sound doused in metallic riffs, meaty organs and David Byron's semi-Operatic vocals. With Byron's departure, however, the group could focus on producing more radio-friendly rock, new lead singer John Lawton owning a deeper, more muscular tone. With Lawton backed by most of the group's 'classic' line-up of Mick Box(guitar), Ken Hensley(keyboards), Lee Kerslake(drums) and Trevor Bolder(bass; replacing heroin-addled Kiwi Gary Thain) 'Firefly' was the sound of Uriah Heep with one eye firmly focused on the lucrative American market, the progressive flourishes and fantasy themes of their earlier material replaced by hip-grinding rhythms, thick riffs and shorter, more concise songwriting. Tracks such as the surprisingly catchy opener 'The Hanging Tree' and the galloping title-track emphasize this fresh new approach with slick production values, bouncy melodies and Lawton's direct delivery in stark opposition to the ambitious song-suites found on the orchestra-augmented 1972 'Salisbury' and it's progressive brethren. After initial listens It's easy to see why the album sold so well, carrying as it does a populist, everyman streak designed to appeal to a wide rock audience, though in truth much of 'Firefly' simply fades from memory pretty quickly. Most damningly of all, It's actually pretty difficult to distinguish much of the material on offer here from the rest of their post-progressive output, and whilst occasional nuggets such as 'The Hanging Tree' showcase a rare deft touch, the bulk of 'Firefly' contains precious little beyond the simplistic rhythms and repetitive lyrics. A disposable, progressive-lite offering, 'Firefly' features an overtly-commercial tone that has more in common with American AOR than it does with British prog. By no means dreadful then, yet there are many better Uriah Heep albums to be enjoyed. If it's anthemic hard-rock you're after, try the likes of Journey, Foreigner or Styx instead, groups who cleverly blended fist-pumping rock and arty ingredients and epitomized exactly what it was Uriah Heep were hoping to become.

STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2012

Report this review (#720460)
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
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.

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Posted Monday, June 1, 2020 | Review Permalink

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