Hot off the Press

Scorpions | MTV Unplugged: In Athens

by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist —

Scorpions TV Unplugged In AthensIn spite of their almost 50-year existence as a band (launched by the guitarist Rudolf Schenker as early as in 1965) and 40 years of recognition as a hard rock giant, the German group Scorpions somehow escaped the early/middle-‘90s MTV Unplugged craze. For having a chance to experience the band’s repertoire presented acoustically, the Scorpions avid fans had to wait until the 2001, when a live album (and a DVD) Acoustica was released. And yet, 2013 brought another acoustic release from Scorpions – this time, a full-length MTV Unplugged album containing two CDs. Recorded in the ancient Lycabettus Theatre in Athens, Greece – the first open-air performance ever in the history of MTV Unplugged – the album was among the most anticipated, not only by Scorpions aficionados.

First of all, the Unplugged album – both being a double one and similarly to Acoustica – is representative to the band’s overall output. It therefore presents a cross-section of the Scorpions’ discography from 1974 song “Speedy’s Coming” off their second album to 2010 Sting In The Tail album’s highlights. Also, there is something interesting in the sequence of the subsequent tracks – the first CD comprises mostly obscure or rare tracks, a few of them from the 1970’s albums, and – surprise! – the four of the five previously unreleased songs. The second, on the other hand, mostly features the expected set of hits. There is a certain diversity to this album, making the solid and representative “greatest hits” compilation (with some fresh breeze here and there) out of it – so that everyone should find something for themselves.

The undisputed highlights of the first CD are the two great ballads – “Born To Touch Your Feelings” and “The Best Is Yet To Come” – the former from 1977 Taken By Force and the latter from 2010 Sting In The Tail. The acoustic format didn’t deprive any of them of their power and sublimity, the impression strengthened by the solid performance of the musicians, whose abilities still remain untouched by time (especially Klaus Meine’s characteristic manner and powerful vocals). There are some weak moments to the first part of the album, however. For example, the opening “Sting In The Tail” sounds slightly odd in the acoustic version and so does “In Trance,” plus an unconvincing guest appearance by a Hamburg-based singer Cäthe in the latter track. As for the new material, “Dancing In The Moonlight” surely doesn’t break new ground, but this fast-paced, catchy tune very much in the Scorpions’ trademark style. The following track “Delicate Dance” is Matthias Jabbs’ bluesy instrumental piece with a surprisingly monumental coda, a nice acoustic interlude which precedes “Love Is The Answer”. In this, it’s Rudolf Schenker who takes over the microphone – certainly not for the first time in the band’s history, but still with moderate result, as the Scorpions axeman never really had a powerful voice at his disposal (let alone the tough German accent here and there). The last song of the CD is again a new track, a well-crafted ballad “Follow Your Heart” sung by Klaus Meine and undoubtedly a decent song altogether.

Because of the selection of songs, the second CD is mostly 1980’s/early 1990’s Scorpions-revisited. The audience’s familiarity with the songs is obvious and understandable here, hence the crowd’s enthusiastic singing in “Send Me An Angel”. But again, there are song versions more interesting than their respective original incarnations (a good example of which is “Where The River Flows” enriched with harmonica) and there are those the acoustic versions of which end up boring and deprived of their “edge” (“Passion Rules The Game” or “Big City Nights”). Fan favorites “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “Blackout”, however, certainly don’t belong to the latter category and remain the highlights of the whole show – even if the vocal duo with German singer/songwriter Johannes Strate in the former of the two is not entirely convincing. Speaking of duos, there is also “Wind of Change” in which Meine shares a microphone with A-ha’s Morten Harket and this one sounds slightly odd too (in spite of Harket being one of the best singers known to the world of popular music). Apart from this, the best-known Scorpions song in the set is supported with an outstanding instrumental background, proving there is still magic to the worn-out 1991 classic. Yet, this one soon gets effaced by its followers – a stellar performance of the final songs “No One Like You” and “When The Smoke Is Going Down” which, with no bizarre elements or surprising new arrangements, still sounds as strong and moving as ever. And as for the expected icing on the cake – that is, the fifth of the new songs on the album – a dynamic “Rock’n’Roll Band” blends nicely with the classics in the track list, again close to the group’s trademark style. An interesting addition to the cross-section of the most popular songs of the German band the second CD ultimately stands for.

Overall, there are always great expectations and some criticism afterwards, when a legendary band decides to go for a potentially glorious, but demanding format of MTV Unplugged (a good example of this can be Bon Jovi’s 2007 infamous Unplugged performance). As for the Scorpions MTV Unplugged: In Athens, the album portrays the German hard rock giants (with their usual Polish/American rhythm section, supported by the additional Swedish musicians) giving an interesting and solid performance altogether. There are numerous flaws to this, of course, but the strength of the album lies predominantly in the great form of both the band’s instrumentalists and its lead singer. Plus, there is a couple of new tracks, a fact pretty much unusual in relation to the standard MTV Unplugged performance, but promising anyway (especially in the case of the stellar “Dancing In The Moonlight”). MTV Unplugged: In Athens is, all in all, clear proof Scorpions are not to retire anytime soon – and that most probably we are going to enjoy their prolonged farewell.

Genre: Hard Rock

Klaus Meine – vocals and guitar
Rudolf Schenker – guitar and vocals
Matthias Jabs – guitar
Pawel Maciwoda – bass
James Kottak – drums

Additional Musicians:
Mikael Nord Andersson – guitar, mandolin, lap steel and vocals
Martin Hansen – guitar, harmonica and vocals
Ola Hjelm – guitar and vocals
Hans Gardemar – keyboards, harmonica and vocals
Pitti Hecht – percussion
Cathe – guest vocals (8)
Johannes Strate – guest vocals (16)
Morten Harket – guest vocals (23)

Track List:
01. Sting In The Tail
02. Can’t Live Without You
03. Pictured Life
04. Speedy’s Coming
05. Born To Touch Your Feelings
06. The Best Is Yet To Come
07. Dancing With The Moonlight
08. In Trance
09. When You Came Into My Life
10. Delicate Dance
11. Love Is The Answer
12. Follow Your Heart
13. Send Me An Angel
14. Where The River Flows
15. Passion Rules The Game
16. Rock You Like A Hurricane
17. Hit Between The Eyes
18. Drum-Athenica
19. Rock ‘N’ Roll Band
20. Blackout
21. Still Loving You
22. Big City Nights
23. Wind Of Change
24. No One Like You
25. When The Smoke Is Going Down

Label: Sony Music


Hardrock Haven Rating: 8/10