Yeah, like KISS, the SCORPIONS said they were hanging it up. That was apparently until they realized they could hit the fifty-year mark by clinging on a bit longer. For their eighteenth album, “Return to Forever”, the SCORPIONS access their archives for previously shelved tunes from the “Blackout”, “Love at First Sting”, “Savage Amusement” and “Crazy World” sessions, though the songs on “Return to Forever” span the band’s musical journey through 2014. The SCORPIONS added new arrangements and lyrics, with the word “rock” appearing to the point of gross misconduct, to these tracks and laid down a couple of newbies including “Going Out With a Bang” and “We Built This House”. All tracks are recorded by the current lineup: Klaus Meine, Matthias Jabs, Rudolf Schenker, James Kottak and Paweł Mąciwoda. “Return to Forever” is a novelty record with a few quirks, made excusable by the band’s lust to keep, er, rocking.
“Going Out With a Bang” leads instead of finishes “Return to Forever”, and there’s plenty of oomph and optimism to make this renovation endeavor inviting. Next up is the pop-heavy “We Built This House”, which is nowhere near as maddening as STARSHIP’s soft soap “We Built This City”, but the SCORPIONS drop their cut with a likewise lean and uber-melodic swing, complete with Meine’s sugary “whoa-oh-oh” choruses. A nostalgic waxing of the band’s career, “We Built This House” is played safe and sanitized instead of balls-out, as if 1989 was here again and “Savage Amusement 2” was a drop-in record between the original and “Crazy World”.
“Catch Your Luck and Play”, later on this album, was actually written for “Savage Amusement”. Though the verses and bridges have extra girth than “We Built This House”, it’s another pop-heavy rock number with a giddy hook. Not as effective is a saccharine by-product of the late 1980s, “Rollin’ Home”. With a goofy chorus ringing to the tune of “This rock is rollin’ home,” take it for what it is or not at all. Ditto for “Hard Rockin’ the Place”, which at least has hefty strumming and a pulsing rhythm going for it.
“Rock My Car”, a rowdy jam about burning down the Autobahn, is one of the album’s meatiest tracks. This one was designed to blow speakers, and the SCORPIONS make the most of its revival. Whereas the “Winds of Change” mirrored ballad following it, “House of Cards”, deals with the ugly side of relationships. As masters of the ballad, “House of Cards” is charming if melancholic, given a modest nudge by Matthias Jabs’s elevating guitar solo. The final stanza of the song hits a nice crescendo with vibrating bass strings dirtying things a bit. A wistful second ballad “Eye of the Storm”, written later in the band’s careers for the “Humanity: Hour I” album, follows “House of Cards” later in the album, and is powerfully written if a bit freewheeling. It certainly would’ve struck gold back in the day. Yet another ballad emerges later (originally intended for 2001’s “Acoustica” album), delving into the SCORPIONS’s extensive touring cycles titled “Gypsy Life”.
“All for One” has a sharp set of riffs and a clubbing rhythm from James Kottak. Even when threatening to teeter into schmaltz, it maintains a throbbing blare. “Rock n’ Roll Band” is a thumping goodie, written in the mid-‘80s while Klaus Meine was reportedly hanging about The Sunset Strip during its glory years. “Rock n’ Roll Band” is a near-classic song and should’ve made the cut on “Love at First Sting”. Then again, the 2015 SCORPIONS have better technology and 31 years have passed to make “Rock n’ Roll Band” sound as massive and buoyant as it was intended. The jump and jive of “The Scratch”, later in the album, is a clever number that could have fit on any SCORPIONS album.
You have the option of grabbing the special edition of “Return to Forever” with seven bonus tracks (one more than the heavily packed Japanese version), the best being the peppy rockers “Dancing With the Moonlight” and “One and One is Three”. If “Going Out With a Bang” is truthfully an announcement of the SCORPIONS’s final hurrah, then let it ring as frequently on FM as “No One Like You” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane”. The SCORPIONS do their damnedest here, like they did on “Sting of the Tail” prior, to make believe they’re living in a “World Wide Live” once again.