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Uriah Heep: The Best Of - The Millennium Collection

Scott Hudson

Uriah Heep

The Best of - the Millennium Collection

Label: Mercury
US Release Date: 2001-08-21

In rock's long and illustrious history, there has never been a band greeted with more critical hostility than the UK progressive rock act, Uriah Heep. Queen and Kansas immediately come to mind as talented, totally original groups that were treated most unfavorably by their critics, even at their collective peaks. But their detractors pale in comparison to the rabid and often venomous disdain shown towards Uriah Heep. The often antagonistic written criticisms and the perpetual viciousness of their slams are a thing of legend, with one critic even proclaiming that, "If this band makes it, I'll commit suicide".

So it's perhaps poetic justice that the music of Uriah Heep has been included with the endless onslaught of Millennial Collections. Their inclusion comes much to the chagrin of those early critics who are still alive and kicking, while RPM meters are appropriately being installed on the boxes of their deceased detractors, who are undoubtedly spinning in their graves at breakneck speed.

With the release of their lackluster debut, Very 'eavy...Very 'umble (1970), most critics were unanimous in their assessment that Uriah Heep were just another in a succession of UK acts shamelessly plagiarizing the heavy, riff-laden rock formula established by Led Zeppelin. But in retrospect, Uriah Heep's smoky, keyboard-driven sound had much more in common with Deep Purple. The release of their follow-up, Salisbury (1971), coupled with the band's inability to maintain a stable lineup, only served to fan the flames of critical disdain.

Between 1970 and 1976, no less than nine musicians walked in and out of the band, most notably Nigel Olsson (Elton John) and John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia). Though Uriah Heep would start to gain momentum stateside with the release of Look at Yourself (1971), it wouldn't be until 1972 that the band could finally claim to have a stable lineup, one that included David Byron (vocals), Mick Box (guitar), Ken Hensley (keyboards), Lee Kerslake (drums) and Gary Thain (bass). It was with this lineup that Uriah Heep recorded their next five albums including what could arguably be hailed as their two finest works in Demons and Wizards and The Magician's Birthday.

With successful headlining tours of Europe and North America in 1972 and 1973, and their popularity at its zenith, the band released Uriah Heep Live (1973), which immediately went gold. Ultimately, internal problems proved the band's undoing. Gary Thain was politely asked to leave in late '75, followed by Byron a year later. Although Uriah Heep still record and tour heavily, they would never again revive their innate creativity, nor their international popularity.

With no less than five Greatest Hits records and several live albums to boot, did we really need The Best of Uriah Heep: The Millennium Collection? Probably not. It doesn't offer any more than any other Heep compilation. But the uninitiated could do far worse in bypassing the music of Uriah Heep altogether. After all, the disc does contain the band's signature numbers like "Easy Livin'", "Look at Yourself", "Sweet Lorraine" and "The Wizard". But also featured are priceless, timeless gems such as "Gypsy", "Circle of Hands", "Lady in Black" and the band's progressive epic, "July Morning". Underrated, unfairly maligned and grossly underappreciated, Uriah Heep were absolute originals, despite the mean-spirited efforts of their critics to persuade otherwise.

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