Album: Whitesnake ‘Flesh & Blood’ (Frontiers)

Cover art for Whitesnake 'Flesh & Blood'

Cover art for Whitesnake ‘Flesh & Blood’

Released 12 months later than scheduled, Whitesnake have finally issued their 13th studio album, Flesh & Blood. Available in multiple formats: as a straightforward CD,  a deluxe CD/DVD edition with bonus material (including two tracks not featured on the standard edition), digital download or for vinyl revivalists, you have a choice of red, silver or gold for your honest twelve inches of Whitesnake, or you can just have plain old black vinyl.  The first album of original material to feature the current line-up, it marks the first time mainman David Coverdale has written alongside long-serving guitarist Reb Beach, as well as with relative newcomer Joel Hoekstra.

Even the most ardent Whitesnake fan will accept now that Coverdale isn’t the singer he once was, that ‘lung-busting roar’ of yesteryear is now supplanted by a vocal blend, with Coverdale heavily backed on stage by every other member bar drummer Tommy Aldridge. For a guy who will be 68 this year though, he nevertheless must feel that he has something left to give since he still wants to produce new music, not just trot out the hits of three decades ago.

There are few surprises here, despite the new blood, though one does manifest itself in the very first number ‘Good To See You’. Coverdale has dropped an F-bomb on record for what I am sure is the first time (he’s notorious for using that word practically as punctuation when on stage), as he urges us all to ‘make some f- noise’.  All the usual tropes are present and correct, fun songs made for the stage (‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’; ‘Trouble Is Your Middle Name’) ones that promise he’ll be around ‘Always & Forever’, or those that show his sensitive side (‘When I Think of You’). That also means he’s used just about every one of his lyrical cliches at his disposal on this album; when not rhyming ‘fire’ with ‘desire’ he’s ‘tongue-tied’ with his ‘temperature rising’ or someone is making him ‘beg and plead’ yet again.  You could play lyric bingo with this album and get a full house of all his favourite phrases, which you’ve heard many times before on just about any previous Whitesnake record.

I did note that this line-up has managed to emulate successfully several different past eras, for instance second track in ‘Gonna Be Alright’ is reminiscent of Coverdale/Page with those brooding, menacing guitars hanging over proceedings. ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’ meanwhile, could have come off ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ – perhaps that’s Reb Beach’s influence, he can do a pretty good Vai when required. The poppier ‘Always and Forever’, with its Lizzy-esque twin guitar will make you think of ‘Guilty of Love’, while closing number ‘Sands of Time’ is another attempt by Coverdale to recreate the epic magic of  Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’.  Even here though, he’s peppered the song with hackneyed clichés like ‘winds of change’, and ‘eye of the storm’.

Realistically, this late in the day Coverdale isn’t going to come out with a complete change of image and direction, you know what you’re getting with him by now. However I cannot be the only one who was tempted to throttle the speakers (or stomp on my earbuds, listening to it on Spotify for review purposes) when he came out with yet another promise to ‘set the night on fire’!

Even the cover art, another variation on the ‘amulet’ theme used for every album since 1987 is starting to look a bit hackneyed now. I’m all for brand identity and all that, but Whitesnake once used to give us fun, if sometimes risqué covers for their albums, not just the same old ‘Serpens Albus’ thing in a different colour and a slightly different pattern in the background for each record. So, a bit of a mixed bag; some good stuff (‘Heart of Stone’ is the highpoint of this whole record, that shows the man still has a good tune in him), some fine playing from the guys backing him and also a lot of recycling of old ideas and lyrical phrases we’ve heard many times before. If you’re a fan you’ve probably bought this album already; if you’re wavering then I’d give it a cautious ‘yes’ – but do get the deluxe edition, since the bonus tracks are (in my view) good enough to have been included on the album proper in place of at least two others which did make the cut. ‘Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong’ is a slow-burner with some tasty guitar licks, while ‘If I Can’t Have You’ does have a surprise in it, with a Queen-style harmony vocal intro before the main riff smashes in.  These, plus ‘Heart of Stone’ means this offering squeaks four inflatable guitars.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

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Whitesnake release first new, original song since 2011

‘Flesh & Blood’, the new album from Whitesnake has been much-delayed, but is finally set for release later this year through Frontiers Records. Preceding this is their new single and video ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’, appropriately released on St Valentines Day. This is the first offering of new material from the current line-up, although the band has been in its present form for several years now. Their last album, 2015’s ‘The Purple Album’ saw the band rework a selection of tracks from frontman David Coverdale’s days with Deep Purple, with a subsequent tour spawning a live album/DVD released early last year.

The track itself is an uptempo hard rocker, one Coverdale himself might have described as the sort of song ‘that walks off the disc and into the concert hall’. You won’t find a profound lyric here, it’s exactly what you’d expect from the man who encouraged us to ‘Come An’ Get It’ and to ‘Slide It In’ all those years ago, after all. Guitar-wise, the sound is reminiscent to these ears of the ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ era, which may please Messrs Hoekstra and Beach, since it was one Steve Vai who performed on that 1989 album.  It is not one that’s going to rank alongside their classics, but will almost certainly go down well with a crowd. Vocally, you can tell Coverdale isn’t what he once was, he’s rationed that former ‘lung-busting roar’ now, providing a more measured delivery.

The video clip is a clear homage to his 1987 glory days; Coverdale has not only got the blue jacket from the ‘Here I Go Again’ video out of mothballs but also THAT white Jaguar car! Unsurprisingly, somebody from those days who was heavily featured in those glossy videos is not present now, but there are appearances from Coverdale’s wife Cindy and son Jasper (as well as his girlfriend), with presumably other family friends having fun climbing over the Jaguar. With the full album release still several weeks away, long-term fans of this band will have to wait a little longer to hear what they’ve been cooking up over the past year or so.

Whitesnake ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’ (Frontiers)

 

3gtrs

3 – Decent

CD/DVD: Whitesnake ‘The Purple Tour – Live’ (Rhino Entertainment)


Sourced from a performance at the Genting Arena, Birmingham in December 2015 (a show which your correspondent attended), this live album and video captures the current incarnation of Whitesnake during their tour supporting ‘The Purple Album’, vocalist David Coverdale’s celebration of his time fronting Deep Purple.

The release is available in several formats, as is so often the case these days. Most will plump for either the CD/DVD or CD/Blu-Ray package (yours truly opted for the former), but for those who just want an audio memento of this concert it is available either as a standalone CD or on double vinyl LP.

Utilising a similar artwork theme as used on ‘The Purple Album’, the presentation here is beautiful. The familiar Whitesnake ‘amulet’ surrounded by that distinctive lettering is present and correct, only with the band members now depicted around that amulet. The purple marble effect on the cover is seductive, and will make a nice companion for the 2015 album, the tour programme (if you have it) or even the recent coffee-table book, if you had pockets deep enough to stretch to either edition!

David Coverdale acts as much as master of ceremonies as lead vocalist on this DVD, the video presentation makes sure it is as much about the players currently surrounding him as it is about himself; every member is given a good amount of screen time with individual camera shots for each. The cuts are rapid, similar to how it was done for the earlier ‘Live In The Still Of The Night’ DVD, and there are black and white shots frequently interspersed like in that production. That’s something I am not a massive fan of, but these are a little less jarring with the shots being not quite so ‘grainy’ this time. The director for this footage is Canadian Tyler Bourns, who also worked on the bonus promo video for ‘Burn’, released to YouTube at Christmas and included on this disc. The DVD picture is mostly crisp, but the sharp-eyed will notice some ‘artifacts’ in the picture which may or may not be down to visual effects used in post-production. For fans of a certain age, who remember watching bootleg VHS tapes of this band back in the 80s, it’s not a show-stopper compared to the tape dropouts we had to put up with in those days!

I was at this concert and reviewed it at the time for this blog, so I shan’t go into detail once again about the actual show. The band (guitarists Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach, bassist Michael Devin, keyboardist Michele Luppi and veteran drummer Tommy Aldridge) gave a splendid performance, allowing Coverdale to ham it up in front of this huge crowd as only he can. He sounds in good voice on this presentation, although even his most ardent fans will now concede he isn’t what he once was. He has chosen these players for their vocal as well as instrumental abilities; you see all of them providing strong vocal backing for the main man throughout, in particular Reb Beach and Michele Luppi.

Overall, it is a good value package, including a complete concert performance plus extras, in the form of the ‘Burn’ promo video, a short interview segment where Michael Devin quizzes Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach (with generous portions of humour), and some bonus audio, presented on the DVD or Blu-ray in stereo or 5.1.  When this tour came to the UK the band had limited time, as it was a co-headline tour with Def Leppard and so some of the songs performed in other countries were left out of the UK shows. That was a little disappointing I thought, as this was a unique tour in which Purple classics from Coverdale’s old days were revived, possibly for the only time. He has rectified that, at least in part with three songs not done on the UK tour included here (‘You Keep On Moving’, Lay Down Stay Down’, and ‘Stormbringer’ with the other track ‘Lotsanotes’ being a guitar duel between the two axemen). It isn’t made clear when these tracks were recorded, but I’d guess it came early on in the tour as ‘Lay Down Stay Down’ was only in the set for a few shows.  This is a carefully produced and lavishly presented set, and will no doubt prove popular with Coverdale’s loyal fans.

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4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

 

Whitesnake release video for ‘Burn’ from ‘The Purple Tour – Live’

Whitesnake gave their fans a little Christmas gift this week with the release of a specially-shot promo video for ‘Burn’, one of several Deep Purple songs revisited by singer David Coverdale for 2015’s ‘The Purple Album’ and the subsequent tour. This video is set to a live performance of the song, taken from the upcoming ‘The Purple Tour – Live’ CD and DVD package. The release of this set has been delayed but is now slated to come out on January 19th. There will be a choice of either a CD/DVD or CD/Blu-Ray set, as well as audio-only versions available on LP, CD or digitally.

The video (directed by Tyler Bourns; described by Coverdale as a ‘young, hip gunslinger’) features all of the current band members (guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra, bassist Michael Devin, keyboardist Michele Luppi and drummer Tommy Aldridge) intercut with numerous special effects and introduces Tiffany Atkinson (Coverdale’s ‘Executive Personal Assistant’) as the ‘fire’ woman depicted in the song lyric.

The track listing for the CD/DVD, CD/Blu-Ray and audio CD is as follows:

  1. Burn
  2. Bad Boys
  3. Love Ain’t No Stranger
  4. The Gypsy
  5. Give Me All Your Love
  6. Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City
  7. Mistreated
  8. You Fool No One
  9. Soldier Of Fortune
  10. Is This Love
  11. Fool For Your Loving
  12. Here I Go Again
  13. Still Of The Night

The CD/DVD or CD/Blu-Ray sets will also feature the music video as shown above plus interviews with the band members, as well as bonus live audio in high-resolution 5.1 of the following tracks:

  • You Keep On Moving
  • Lay Down Stay Down
  • Lotsanotes
  • Stormbringer

The vinyl version of the album will include all of the main set plus ‘You Keep On Moving’.

Whitesnake recently released their first book (‘The Purple Tour – A Photographic Journey’) in strictly limited quantities, and have been working on an album of new material for a 2018 release. They also recently announced that they are to tour the US as special guests to Foreigner in summer 2018; at the time of writing they are yet to announce any dates for UK or Europe.

The band have also released an audio taster of the upcoming album, a live rendition of ‘Fool For Your Loving’:

A review of this CD/DVD will appear on the blog once I get my copy!

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Whitesnake to release tour book. Dig deep!

Forty years after founding the band, David Coverdale announced this week that Whitesnake are to issue a book chronicling ‘The Purple Tour’ of 2015, in which Coverdale celebrated his days as singer of Deep Purple. The band had released an album of reworked classics from the Mk III and Mk IV versions of Purple, and revived several of those songs for Whitesnake’s live set. It was a surprising move for long-term fans of that band, since Coverdale had stated consistently in many interviews that he much preferred to look forward rather than back. However, the release of a covers album did help take some of the pressure off incoming guitarist Joel Hoekstra, who had at that time just taken over from Doug Aldrich, Coverdale’s long-serving co-writer, co-producer and guitarist.

Now, the band are gearing up for a busy 2018 with a new studio album on the way, a live document of The Purple Tour to be released on CD and DVD/Blu-Ray, as well as the book, titled ‘The Purple Tour – A Photographic Journey’. It is their first ever officially-sanctioned book and will run to 300 pages, which they promise will be “…packed with exclusive behind the scenes photos, notes from the band and a song by song breakdown of the tour’s epic setlist.” They’ve really gone to town on the presentation too; even the standard edition (yep, there’s a regular and deluxe edition) is LP-sized, and comes in its own slipcase. The signed, deluxe edition will be hardcover, signed by each member of the band and in a slipcase incorporating a lenticular design. Coverdale described it (in his typically brusque fashion) as a “f**king huge coffee table book, about the size of a f**king huge encyclopaedia, a historical photographic journey from the beginning of ‘The Purple Album’ to the end of the last show in the U.K. in Sheffield. The book’s f**king beautiful to have.”
If all of that isn’t enough for you, if you get your pre-order in before 9th November 2017 you can get your name in to the book.  Reaching for the piggybank now? Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute there…

Click image to order from Rufus Publications

All this lavishness won’t come cheap. For the standard edition, prepare to fork out the best part of a ton (it will sell for £95) and make sure you have somewhere to keep it safe and nice, printed on what they proclaim is ‘170gsm artpaper’ (so, fancy then) you’ll probably want to handle it wearing cotton gloves. That’s before we get on to the deluxe edition! This one will sell for a staggering £250; that’s right – TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY POUNDS, and if you’re so much of a fan of the ‘Snakes to consider either of these editions, they’re presumably thinking you’ll want that edition and are prepared to dig deep indeed for it. This edition will be limited to 300 copies worldwide (the standard edition is limited to 500 copies) so it will be exclusive alright, as well as expensive. As a long-term Whitesnake fan myself, this is something I’ll be passing up. I could see a few gigs for that, or even in this age of high-priced vinyl revival have several LPs to listen to. I could even have a reasonably-specified turntable on which to play them!

It is, to me a case of the band as a brand; Whitesnake as a brand has other products out such as wine, there is ‘Whitesnake Workout’ gymwear available if that is your thing as well as a lavish reissue of the 1987 album, plus the usual array of t-shirts in different designs. They clearly feel their brand is strong enough to attract interest in a book like this and, if you have the house room and pockets deep enough, why not?

For me though, I’ll settle for the accompanying live album/DVD and await their next tour of the UK. There’s a limit to how much ‘stuff’ you can accumulate even as a long-time fan of a band, after all and I think I have reached mine! Besides, as someone who tries to support up-and-coming bands too, it would be difficult to justify laying out that kind of money for a product from a long-established act, however beautifully presented. It would need to be kept in a case anyway, so neither of these editions will be winging its way to my home!

Those who feel that they simply must have this tome whatever the cost, can click here to go to Rufus Publications and place their pre-order.

Caught Live: Def Leppard/Whitesnake, NEC Arena Birmingham 12 December 2015

Almost 32 years ago, I visited this venue for the first time to see a band called Whitesnake. I’ve seen a couple of incarnations of that band since then at the same place, most recently in 2008 when they toured alongside Def Leppard, which is the case once again in 2015 for this tour, dubbed ‘Let’s Get Rocked – In The Still Of The Night II’. Unlike the Leppards, Whitesnake have once again rung the changes in personnel; only guitarist Reb Beach remains from the 2008 line-up alongside mainman David Coverdale. That said, drummer Tommy Aldridge is a survivor from when I saw the first ‘hair metal’ incarnation here in 1988, and that line-up also featured guitarist Vivian Campbell – who has spent the last two decades as a member of Def Leppard!

The arena in Solihull (one of the first large-scale indoor arenas in this country) has had an extensive refit, increasing the capacity and from what I could see, improving the seating greatly. It is almost unrecognisable inside to how it looked 30 years ago, and for sponsorship purposes it is now known as the Genting Arena. But not for the purposes of this blog! Having visited this place numerous times down the years as the ‘NEC Arena’, that’s how it’s going to stay for the duration of this post… 😉

Nowadays the arena uses automatic turnstiles as you enter the building, the stewards scan your ticket barcode and in you go. All a bit like a train trip for me, but it does work efficiently and I found myself in a short queue inside the building, waiting to be let through to the venue hall itself. In this corridor, we could hear Whitesnake doing their soundcheck, and we were treated to ‘The Gypsy’, ‘Burn’, and ‘Fool For Your Loving’ among others. What I hadn’t realised was that there was a split line, a handful of early punters were put in a separate queue. I found out later the show was going to be filmed, but it was a frustrating sight to see that line go through first while the rest of us were held behind that tensabarrier. Luckily I still got on to the barrier at the front more or less where I intended to be but the centre including the area around the ramp coming from the stage was already taken up.

At around 6:45 openers Black Star Riders came onto the stage. Now with two albums under their belts, their live set is no longer as dependent on the Thin Lizzy repertoire as it was previously. There were only two Lizzy classics in their short set (three, if you count ‘Whiskey In The Jar’!) and although their own material is definitely influenced heavily by Scott Gorham’s old band, they’re now finding their own feet. Frontman Ricky Warwick sounded in better voice tonight than he did when I saw this band in Liverpool a couple of years back, and this was an enjoyable set warming up the early attendees nicely.

Next up were Whitesnake, as was the case in 2008 Coverdale had given over the closing slot to the Leppards. This is the third time he and his band have played arenas as part of a co-headline tour, with the last time being a tour alongside US rockers Journey. That hasn’t gone down too well with all their fans, some of whom would definitely prefer a tour of smaller theatres under their own banner, but it cannot be denied that this co-headline setup has proven popular, with the NEC arena close to being sold out on the night. So it’s likely to be something Coverdale will continue with, for as long as he wishes to carry on touring.

Once again, he had a couple of new Snakes in tow, with the big change coming in the guitar department. After over a decade alongside Coverdale, co-writing material and acting as the band’s (musical) leader, guitarist Doug Aldrich unexpectedly announced his departure from Whitesnake in May 2014. The reason given was scheduling difficulties, as he had taken up a role with Las Vegas show ‘Raiding The Rock Vault’ while the band were off the road. Popular with fans for his willingness to connect with them and always having time for a picture or to sign stuff, his departure came as a disappointment to many. Nonetheless Coverdale barely skipped a beat, recruiting former Night Ranger six-stringer Joel Hoekstra almost immediately. He did have to keep the guitarist under wraps for some weeks however, since he had prior commitments to fulfil and it was only in August of that year that Coverdale could unveil his new axeman finally.

Also departing the ranks was keyboardist Brian Ruedy, with multi-talented Italian musician Michele Luppi taking over the ivories for the road. The revamped band’s latest recorded offering is an album of Deep Purple covers from Coverdale’s time with that group, which raised a few eyebrows since he had consistently said that he wanted to move forward with his music rather than look back. So this album of songs first written 40 years ago came as something of a surprise, but in the main worked very well, as the band arranged the material to suit the voice Coverdale has now, not the one he had in 1974.

That leads me to point out the elephant in the room where this band is concerned: David Coverdale does not sing the way he did 40 years ago, or even ten years ago. Having come back from a near career-ending throat problem a few years back, long-standing fans had noticed that the band had taken the songs down at least two steps for live performance since then. He does make good use of his band to back him up vocally, Luppi in particular was likely chosen since he is an accomplished singer in his own right. All the musicians bar drummer Tommy Aldridge contribute vocally, with guitarist Reb Beach often accompanying the frontman on verses. The fanbase is definitely now split over Coverdale’s live vocal; there’s no doubt he isn’t the singer he was in 1984 (when I first saw him here) but he is now 64 with a fantastic career behind him. He does still have a mighty roar, he still gives you all he has got every night, and the amount of punters who still come along to watch must tell him he is doing something right still. ‘Burn’ opened the set, one of only five Deep Purple numbers in this set. Personally I’d have liked one or two more from ‘The Purple Album’ (I especially would have loved to see them do ‘You Keep On Moving’ as they’ve been doing in Europe) but although the tour started with many Purple classics in the set, it’s gradually been scaled back in favour of Whitesnake’s own songs. One song I think could do with a rest is ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’ which I believe has featured on every tour since 1984, certainly on every one since Coverdale reactivated Whitesnake in 2003. A nice surprise was the restoration of ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ to the set, dedicated to those fans who have been with Coverdale since his early days with Whitesnake.

The stage ramp was used a lot by the frontman, meaning from my position on the barrier I could see only David’s back for much of this set! However, I was directly in front of Joel Hoekstra, who spent most of the gig throwing shapes and showing off his fancy custom guitars, all of which feature the ‘Whitesnake’ logo. Those who thought the band lost a lot of showmanship with the departure of Doug Aldrich need not have worried, Hoekstra brought plenty of showmanship of his own to the proceedings. He is also equally as adept on the six-string as his predecessor. Fellow guitarist Reb Beach is now the longest-serving member of the band except for Coverdale himself, and was described by the singer as the new ‘bandleader’ when introducing the players. The rhythm section remains bassist Michael Devin and drummer Tommy Aldridge, who have formed a formidable partnership, while over the other side of the stage Michele Luppi quietly got on with his task of adding keyboard colour and strong vocal backing.

This was a strong performance from Whitesnake as a whole unit; how much longer Coverdale will continue in this vein is still open to conjecture, but he’s been confounding speculation for several years now and with dates already being pencilled in for 2016, he’s not showing any inclination to stop yet. Perhaps the regular infusion of new Snake blood is keeping him going, so I would not be surprised to see a few more changes in the ranks before he finally hangs up that microphone.

From my position on the barrier I was directly in line with one of the floor PA cabinets, and although the sound I was getting was a little bassy as a result, I knew straight away when Leppard’s soundman had taken over from Whitesnake’s as the sound from the tape playing music between acts suddenly became far more bassy. There was a huge curtain over the stage with the ‘Def Leppard’ logo on it while they were setting up for the Lepps, which fell at around 9:30 when the show started. Opening with ‘Let’s Go’ from the new, self-titled album, my worries about the sound being swamped by bass were confirmed from the outset as the bass thudded from that cabinet right through me all night. I realise it’s a bit of a lottery when you opt to go on the front but the bass sound really was too much from that spot, it wasn’t like that for either of the other two bands so I couldn’t understand why it needed to be like that for the closing band. It absolutely ruined any hope I had of enjoying Def Leppard’s set, such was the relentless pummelling I was getting from that cabinet.

Vocalist Joe Elliott sounded in good form from what I could make out, and acknowledged the packed NEC arena; noticing the people right at the back and declared that ‘rock n’ roll is definitely not dead’. Credit where it’s due, he also remembered that not everyone present was actually from Birmingham, addressing the audience as ‘Birmingham, and wherever else you have travelled from tonight’.

The best sound I got all night was when Elliott performed ‘Two Steps Behind’ solo and acoustic mid-set. With no bass guitar or drum to judder me into a blancmange, it was consequently the high point of the set for me. The set was weighted towards the ‘Hysteria’ album; although Elliott had promised ‘a bit of everything’ this night, there were only two tracks from their breakthrough album ‘Pyromania’ (‘Photograph’ and ‘Rock of Ages’) played (and both came in the encore). Their pre-‘Pyromania’ era was acknowledged only with the instrumental ‘Switch 625’, those hoping for ‘Wasted’ to return to the set will have to wait a little longer.

Had I been further back in the NEC’s huge hall, I might have enjoyed this show far more as they made good use of the screens and video backdrop, and would probably have got a better perspective of the sound. As it was, I endured this set and that was a real shame, as many of their best-loved songs were played but I simply could not enjoy it such was the overwhelming sound of that bass.