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Uriah Heep - Sweet Freedom CD (album) cover

SWEET FREEDOM

Uriah Heep

 

Heavy Prog

3.44 | 341 ratings

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TCat
3 stars Uriah Heep's 6th full-length studio album 'Sweet Freedom' was released in 1973 and had the honor of following up what was UH's biggest two albums in their discography, 'Demons and Wizards' and 'The Magician's Birthday'. It also followed the release of the band's first live album 'Uriah Heep Live', which was released in April of 1973. This album would be the first album on the ever popular Warner Brothers label, and, unfortunately, we start to hear the heavier corporate influence, as the band starts to lean more on popular sounds and moving further away from progressive rock.

The line up during this immensely popular time in their history remained the same as it did for those two albums, and would continue to remain the same for the next album 'Wonderworld'. David Byron, the original lead vocalist, would continue to be the voice of the band, and of course there is the one constant member Mick Box, guitarist. Ken Hensley (keyboards, guitar) was also an original member and would continue until 1980 for the 'Conquest' album. Lee Kerslake (drums, percussion) had been around since the 'Demons and Wizards' album and would continue through the 'Fallen Angel' album until 1979. Gary Thain (bass) started around the same time as Kerslake, but would be replaced by John Wetton in 1975 on the 'Return to Fantasy' album. Things were going well for the band, and they wanted to try their hands at some new sounds (new to the band anyway) and try to win over even more fans. This, however, would be the slow decline of the band as they tried to bring in a more accessible sound. This album would end up being pretty much as big of a seller as the previous two albums and would feature the single 'Stealin'' which charted in 5 countries including the UK and US.

The album starts off with the funky scratch of 'Dreamer' written by Thain and Box. The track starts everything off with a heavy guitar riff that seems to be one of the band's heaviest, but the chorus has a definite accessible sound with most of the band harmonizing and the guitar ends up driving the song along with a hard rock sound. Right away, it drops the dark and deeper organ-heavy feel of the previous album. This is followed by the popular and familiar sound of the single 'Stealin'', which is a great track for a single. This is one of the many tracks written by Hensley. It is a bit quieter, on the first verse and chorus, with Byron's unmistakable, soulful voice and Hensley's heavy organ drenched riffs. Box gets to show of his catchy guitar on the middle instrumental break. So far, it seems the band has picked up a lot of enthusiasm and melodic sensibility from their successful time together with this powerful one-two punch.

'One Day' is co-written by Hensley and Thain. The hard-rock sound continues with the solid opening of the track, which continues to keep the solid power on high as the track continues. Byron's vocals sound more restrained on this track, probably just the way that the new big record label (for the band) Warner Brothers wanted, his vocals sounding very much like a confident and headlining vocal. But this is also where we start to see a slip in the band's quality, because a lot of their personality was in Byron's more vulnerable, soulful and emotional vocals, and the fact that so far, nothing as emotionally wrenching as 'Sunrise', 'Blind Eye' 'Echoes in the Dark' and 'Rain' has been made apparent on Sweet Freedom yet, and we're already almost through the first side of the album. The title track comes next, and is the longest track so far, at just over 6 minutes. Well, the organ and the vocals are sounding a bit more like the UH of before, but, it also seems to burn up a little bit of time just making crescendos out of repeating riffs. There is some style to this track, however, there isn't much substance, no daring organ or guitar solos that stand out, but there is a lot more standardized song structure, even in this longer track written solely by Hensley. It's an okay track, but just lacks anything memorable.

On to the 2nd side of the album, 'If I Had the Time', written by Hensley, starts off with thick organ and synth playing a riff that repeats and then softens before Byron's vocals start, this time with more promise of a more emotional melody. After each verse, the synth riff repeats and follows this pattern for a second verse, then goes into a heavier bridge, but the synths stay in control through the track, repeating that same riff. Though the song has a more memorable melody, the track still offers no real substance and no progressiveness. The guitar finally comes in during the last minute, the band becoming full before quickly fading out. 'Seven Stars' is another one by Hensely, more upbeat, but still melodic and pretty basic. The organ and rhythm guitar pretty much guide this one along, but again, the track is quite simple. When Byron runs out of lyrics, he starts reciting the alphabet to the melody. 'Circus' has an acoustic feel with a jazz edge, it has a nice, mellow vibe to it, and Byron's vocals match it quite well, restrained and soft. It's a better track, just short. It's obvious that there are different songwriter influences on this one as Thain, Box and Kerslake have the credits for this one. The longest track 'Pilgrim' is saved for last. Co-written by Hensley and Byron, it is probably the best track on the album, and is more reminiscent of material on 'The Magician's Birthday. It's just too bad they had to wait until the end of the album to really let loose. There is a full on assault of keys and guitar to start this one off, and it sounds a bit more like the UH of earlier times. Even the funky scratch of the guitar sounds good, and the high pitched synth riff that plays during the vocal breaks has the typical UH sound. Byron gets a chance to show off his vocal abilities, which doesn't happen enough on this album. After a few verses, the music becomes darker with some excellent organ and guitar work. Finally, Box gets to let loose after being pretty much muted through most of the album. Best track on the album, which totally does justice for the talent involved in this band. Too bad music like this wasn't present through the rest of the album.

On the 1996 remaster, two more tracks were added, an outtake called 'Silver White Man' written by Byron, and 'Crystal Ball' written by Thain. Both tracks are outtakes recorded earlier, but not used previously on an album. Both are quite standard tracks, 'Crystal Ball' being a little more interesting, but neither track really adding anything more to the album.

The 2004 Expanded Deluxe Edition does not have these two added tracks, but instead adds 6 more tracks to the album. First is 'Sunshine' which is a non-album b-side from 'Stealin' single. Co-written by Thain and Box, the track is heavier, and sounds more like something from 'The Magician's Birthday', though it would have fit on this album much better than some of the other tracks, but it is a bit repetitive at the end. After this, there is an extended version of 'Seven Stars', which boosts the album version from 4 minutes to 7 minutes, but it only adds more repetition and alphabet singing. Another extended version follows, this time of 'Pilgrim', which adds another minute and a half to the track. This was already the best track on the album, but this longer version makes it even better with added organ and guitar work in the extended instrumental section. Next there is a demo version of 'If I Had the Time'. This stripped down version features Thain and Byron singing together, and it is actually better that the album version. The last two tracks are alternative live versions of 'Sweet Freedom' and 'Stealin'.

It's a shame that the music of Uriah Heep started to see a slow decline in their music from this point on, for quite some time. The move to a more accessible sound is apparent, and the album remains mostly unremarkable until the last two tracks. The deluxe edition definitely adds to the album and is the version that should be acquired if you are looking to buy the album. 'Pilgrim' is the definite highlight to the album, and 'Circus' is great, but too short. The one thing that is obvious here, that the real star was Byron, and he was unfortunately not put to the best use here as most of the songs didn't highlight his vocal abilities. I think if not for the untimely death of Byron in 1985, he might have become better known as one of the best of the classic rock vocalists. As for this album, however, there are better ones out there, this one averages out to 3.5 stars.

TCat | 3/5 |

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