Philosophical Reflections on the Scorpions

Gregory Sadler, The Heavy Metal Philosopher, reflects on the career of the Scorpions and asks the Heraclitean question about whether the same band can exist twice. His conclusion? It makes a key metaphysical distinction about privation:

I’ll say this much though — perhaps we can speak of two overlapping musical periods after the Scorpions really got their sound together and coalesced in the mid-70s:  a serious and formative early metal period from Fly to the Rainbow (1974) to Taken By Force (1978), capped by their first live album (Tokyo Tapes) and the first Best of The Scorpions compilation — then a simply meteoric period from Lovedrive (1979) to Love at First Sting (1984), also capped by a live album (World Wide Livein 1985).  And then, for years, more and more touring.

Even though one can hear a difference between what let’s anachronistically call the 1970s Scorpions and the 1980s Scorpions — and one can hear analogous differences between earlier and later Judas Priest (compare, e.g. Sin After Sin with Defenders of the Faith), and despite a key lineup change on lead guitar from Uli Roth to Matthias Jabs,  there’s still a really vital and robust continuity, an ongoing incorporative development one can hear across this body of work.

Savage Amusement marked a shift of sound and ethos whose radicality wasn’t entirely apparent at the time — it needed additional albums to come along and confirm that something was really different.  Even though it came out — after a lot of anticipation on the part of their fans — in 1988, I’d say it’s already the 1990s Scorpions composing and producing it (key word there for that time — producing, not playing, not building, not hammering it out).

I remember listening to it at the time, and having to make a kind of emotional effort to find the new songs as exciting, as well-crafted — really simply put, as captivatingly interesting as those from the earlier albums.  It was competent, to be sure.  It rocked. . .  more or less.  Crazy World — and particularly the ballad “Winds of Change” — confirmed that something had indeed happened.  Something had gotten lost, was going missing — metaphysically, we’re not just talking about alteration, breakdown, movement from one thing to another, but rather that difficult to conceptualize reality of privation.

So, although we could certainly buy tickets and show up at the venue, and see at least some of the guys — Klaus Meine, Rudolph Schencker, Matthias Jabs — who carved out such new sonic spaces in the 1980s, compositions that retain their freshness and complexity decades later, in several important but difficult-to-clarify senses, it would no longer be the same band that created and played those songs who we’d get to witness covering them on stage.

We can, however, continue to enjoy those great albums from the 1970s and 1980s — there is a kind of complex continuity preserved partly in the past, but reenactable in the present, continuing even for generations yet to come in the future.