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'The Visitor' comes 'round metal legends UFO

UFO's new album, The Visitor, sees the veteran outfit exploring more of a blues-oriented direction.

by Martin Popoff

Yes, that’s two now — count ’em, two — UFO albums with returning original drummer Andy Parker firmly on the throne.

The first was 2006’s The Monkey Puzzle, and now we’ve got The Visitor, Andy joining anchor of the band vocalist Phil Mogg, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond, and lone American Vinnie Moore (the album’s got a stand-in bassist — Pete Way is very sick) in a lineup that is gelling nicely in a warm, bluesy but still hard-hitting direction.

What’s more, the band is becoming a semi-regular touring proposition in America, and live … man, the UFO gang kick up a cloud of heritage-rock dust that brings a tear to the eye, to be sure.

The Visitor’s sturdy-as-oak sound would seem to be at odds with what one would imagine a notorious shred king like Vinnie Moore would contribute to the brew.

“Well, I think a lot of fans probably attribute that to me,” says Moore of the new UFO’s very traditional sound. “And I take partial responsibility, but I think over the years, it surprises me how bluesy Phil has gotten. I mean, I was surprised when I joined the band. I didn’t know he was so into blues. He has all these blues CDs, anything from Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters and all this stuff, and I had no idea. And basically when we write for a record, I send him lots of ideas, and he chooses the ones that he thinks get his point the best, the ones he likes the best. And a lot of times he ends up choosing the bluesier type of stuff. So a lot of it has to do with him.”

Andy Parker concurs that this is a very different Moore than the one you would find on, say, the man’s new solo album To The Core. “That’s funny. I was doing an interview last week and this came up. The strange thing to me is if you listen to Vinnie Moore’s solo albums, he doesn’t sound ... there’s no way he’s a blues player — he’s a full-on shredder. And I know he listens to guys over the years, but UFO came out of that ’60s English blues boom; that’s what we formed from. So to me, we’ve almost come completely full circle. You know, when we did it, The Monkey Puzzle had a much heavier blues influence, and this one has gone even further! And it seems that the stuff Vinnie writes in UFO, the stuff we collaborate on, there’s a lot of slide playing on there that you don’t hear on his solo albums too much.”

Moore’s slide work is not the only reason for UFO’s increasingly bluesy orientation.

“It just seems that the stuff that works for UFO has become more bluesy,” continues Parker. “And Phil does tend to go for those bluesy things. Like I say, it’s full circle because when I first got together with these guys, we were doing old blues stuff like ‘Loving Cup’ and ‘Goin’ Down,’ just more blues-influenced songs. You know, the first Zeppelin album, the songs they did on there, they weren’t attributed to Willie Dixon (laughs), but same thing there. They were extremely blues-influenced, and into the ’70s, they got more into rock, as we did. But it’s your roots; it was kind of what I was looking for with the drums on this album, and it just turned out, and yes, absolutely, I don’t mind that. I don’t know how our diehard fans are going to feel about this. They didn’t seem to mind too much with the last album …”

Dollops of time-honored UFO melody are massaged into the mix as well. In fact, many of the best tracks on The Visitor lean away from the rock into Mogg’s Springsteen-ish storytelling ballad area — “Can’t Buy A Thrill” and “Stop Breaking Down” coming to mind.

“Yeah, interesting,” muses Andy on the subject. “Vinnie was talking to me, and he’d just done the ‘Eddie Trunk’ show, and Eddie told him that his favorite song was ‘Stop Breaking Down,’ and that’s the first time anybody told me that. My wife likes ‘Living Proof;’ she thinks that’s the best track on the album. I’m kind of torn. I like ‘Living Proof,’ but I don’t know if it’s going to work live. I like ‘Hell Driver.’ To me, that’s like mid-’70s UFO, like ‘Natural Thing’ or something, just short and to the point.”

“I think we’ve kissed the blues a bit more,” chimes in Mogg, ever the joker, but affirming our original thesis on the record and the band here in its rejuvenated state. “I think it’s a little bit more soulful, and lyrically, well, great. Sorry, I had to drop that one in. I think Vinnie plays an outstanding guitar ... I thought his solos were so cool. He’s playing more in a cool mode. He plays great guitar, and I think it’s a great album.”

And why’s it called The Visitor? I let Andy field this one … “Search me (laughs). I wish I could tell you. Phil just had this idea that he wanted to use something old on the cover. I think he’d seen an article somewhere or somebody in England had maybe used a really old painting, and they got a lot of acclaim for this great cover, and he thought this was a great idea. And, of course, if you use something old, you don’t have a copyright on it because it becomes public domain. So he had all these different things put forward, and we just kind of liked that Hogarth thing. I think it’s called ‘Bedlam,’ and I think it’s supposed to be a mental asylum, which is why you see that thing with the eye because I think they used to charge people a penny at a time to look through a peephole in the door and see all the loonies in there. And as far as why it’s called The Visitor, I wish I can tell you, but I really can’t!”

OK, Phil … fess up!

“Ooh, you’re putting me on the spot now. Well, the cover is Hogarth. Hogarth was like 17th, no, 18th, Victorian era, London, at that time. And he did a whole thing … it’s called ‘The Rake’s Journey.’ It was either that or Goya (laughs). But The Visitor is like … the visitor. It’s someone that you don’t really want to your house, and that comes from horror movies. You see, I should stop watching horror movies — I watch too many, and not all of them good (laughs).”

Check out UFO on tour in America this fall. With Pete Way quite ill due to liver damage, it’s up in the air who would be playing bass for the boys. “We haven’t really talked about that yet,” says Moore. “It’s kind of weird; we’ve always used Barry Sparks or Rob De Luca or Jeff Kollman, but I don’t know who’s going to be available at that point. We haven’t really discussed that. We’re just playing it by ear. But our main thing is, you know, you’re not going to replace Pete Way. He’s a pretty big part of UFO history, and you don’t go and find a guy out there to replace him. And that’s why on the record, we just got kind of a local guy from Germany to track with us. Then we’re going to use different guys, that’s our thinking, for the guy who’s going to fill Pete’s shoes…”

by Martin Popoff