Return To Fantasy

Uriah Heep

Castle Communications, 1975

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In the liner notes for Return To Fantasy, the remastered 1975 release from British sci-fi hard rockers Uriah Heep, Ken Hensley writes, "It's actually not a bad record, there are a couple of good tunes and solid performances throughout, but we rushed into it and it doesn't have any cohesiveness to it. Nor does it contain a hit single!" Yeah, there's a quote for the ad copy on this one.

And while my knowledge of Uriah Heep's backcatalog is regrettably brief (though I'm working on it - I've only got 24 hours and one turntable), Hensley seems to be right on the money with his description of this album. It's not a bad effort, but one would be hard-pressed to call it anything special.

Internally, the band was struggling. Out was bassist Gary Thain, in was John Wetton, who would last two albums. (Thain died shortly after this album's release, another casualty of substance abuse.) While the band was being lauded for a return to form, they were inching towards a serious blowout that would come within two years.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But most telling was that Return To Fantasy had no real stand-out tracks nor the magic like their classic albums The Magician's Birthday or Demons And Wizards had. It was, for all practical purposes, just another Uriah Heep album. Nothing more, nothing less. And it doesn't sound like the most comfortable musical coat the band could have worn at the time.

This is not to say that there are no highlights on this album. Tracks like "Devil's Daughter" and "A Year Or A Day" do feature some great musical performances as well as fluid songwriting. But on others, it sounds like the Heep are stretching things. On more than one occasion, vocalist David Byron (whose own days in the band were numbered) sounds like he's trying to do his best Ian Gillan impression.- and it's a bit painful on tracks like "Beautiful Dream". (The demo version of this track, included as one of four bonus songs, is no improvement.) And "Prima Donna" - which, God help us, was released as a single - sounds like a bad '50s band trying to sound hip 20 years later. Big mistake.

A bit harsh? Maybe I am being that way. After all, fans of Uriah Heep took this album to the top 10 in the UK charts, becoming their best-selling album to that point. And fans of the band will most certainly find a lot to enjoy about Return To Fantasy, especially with the addition of four tracks. (Interestingly, the edited version of the title track is a little better than the full-length one, and the two b-sides, "Shout It Out" and "The Time Will Come," make for stronger material than, say, "Prima Donna" or "Why Did You Go".)

What worries me is that some kid, wanting to learn about Uriah Heep, might choose this album to start his or her education, listen to it, and write off the rest of the band's history, thinking all their albums sound like Return To Fantasy. An album that will have the most appeal for the die-hard fans is just not the ideal place to pick a band like Uriah Heep's history up from.

Rating: C

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Castle Communications, and is used for informational purposes only.