Uriah Heep

Essential Records, 1977

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In 1977, it wouldn't have surprised me if people had written off Uriah Heep as a band caught in a black hole. The British stalwarts of progressive-based rock had lost several key members, and both their music and sales were suffering. With the sacking of founding member/lead vocalist David Byron (and the subsequent departure of bassist John Wetton), some people might have been ready to pull the plug on Uriah Heep.

But something happened in 1977, with the release of Firefly. Uriah Heep, in effect, was reborn thanks to the addition of vocalist John Lawton and bassist Trevor Bolder. The music sounded fresher, and the end result showed a group still struggling with who they were, but suggesting they had gotten back on track.

Latwon sounds a lot like Byron, which helps the transition but doesn't make it sound like the band is trying to replace Byron with a carbon copy. What this does, in effect, is re-energizes the music, making these songs sound as if many of them came from Uriah Heep's glory period.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For well over half of Firefly, it's almost as if Uriah Heep can do no wrong. Tracks like "The Hanging Tree," "Who Needs Me" and "Wise Man" suggest that these tracks could have been as big of a hit as "Easy Livin'". Why some of these tracks weren't given a fighting chance, I just don't understand. (The only exception to the praise: I could have lived without the falsetto vocals on parts of "Been Away Too Long", but it's otherwise a very good song.)

One thing which helps Firefly is bringing Bolder's bass up to the forefront; it almost is as if more muscle has been added to the classic Uriah Heep sound, and it's a change which works well for the band.

The difficulty for Firefly is that the band soon dips back into the overblown style which nearly sunk the band before. Tracks like "Rollin' On" and "Firefly" are treated as if they are magnum opuses by the band; unfortunately, the songs turn out to be all glitz, little substance - and that's a bit disappointing, especially seeing how much progress the band had made.

However, when you take everything into account, Firefly is a better album than the statistics say it should have been. The progress that Uriah Heep made with this disc is astounding, especially when compared to Return To Fantasy and High And Mighty. Whether the band would be able to maintain this progress remains to be seen... and we're working our way to those albums as fast as we can.

Of the four bonus tracks included, "Crime Of Passion" is a pleasant surprise, and is a track which most definitely should have been included on Firefly in the first place. "A Far Better Way" is a decent enough track, but it doesn't really feel like it fit the general mold of the album. The two alternate versions of songs, "Do You Know" and "Wise Man," are pleasant enough, but they break no new ground.

Firefly is the kind of album that Uriah Heep should have been making all along, and even with its weaknesses, suggests that great things were to be expected again from one of Britain's most unsung bands of the '70s.

Rating: B-

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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 Essential Records, and is used for informational purposes only.