Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Album Review: Whitesnake - Flesh & Blood

This is the first set of original Whitesnake material since 2011's Forevermore and only the third one since David Coverdale reactivated the band for the new century. If 2015's The Purple Album was a pleasant re-imagining of David Coverdale's tenure with the classic British outfit, it did little to quench the fans' thirst for blues-based hard rock and sleazy double entendres.

And this is exactly what Flesh & Blood delivers. Whitesnake, through all of its ups and downs, has always been dependable. Some vintages have been better than others, but at least you always know what you got: a competent Led Zeppelin ersatz featuring hot shot guitarists and the eminently recognisable vocal stylings of one of the last true rock stars of the past fifty years.

Sure, it can get a little derivative at times. Some riffs, some melodies can be somewhat generic, but that's the price of reliability. Hearing this familiar voice singing those ribald lyrics against a hard rocking backdrop of bluesy guitars and pounding rhythms is always a treat. And if the voice is slightly less supple than it used to be, the guitars are still as athletic as ever: Reb Beach (formerly of Winger) and Joel Hoekstra are incendiary throughout all of Flesh & Blood.

The whole record is a throwback to Whitesnake's glory mid-to-late eighties heyday, which means that the blues-rock sound of the late seventies is mostly absent: expect more synthesisers than Hammond organs and more two-handed tapping pyrotechnics than discreet pentatonic licks. That's not a complaint, that's just a fact. And no one in 2019 does this better than Coverdale and his gang.

The production is pretty straightforward, even if the album sounds a bit compressed. No big deal: the real stars here are the tunes. Don't expect protest songs or jazz-rock fusion: this is pure unadulterated Whitesnake. They're not here to reinvent the wheel, they're here to sing about love and sex.

First single Shut Up And Kiss Me is the obvious standout of the set: killer riffs, a relentless groove and lyrics that, in 2019, dare to rhyme "fire" with "burning desire" without a hint of self-consciousness. Some critics may call it cliché, some may think it verges on self-parody. But these critics are wrong: this is an exercise in style, much like AC/DC.

The other centrepiece of the record is the title track: propelled by Tommy Aldridge's precise, powerful drums, it's the kind of hard rocking anthem that would be the perfect opener at a Whitesnake concert.

Each song is full of great, clever hooks, whether it be the slide guitar work on Good To See You Again and the cool handclaps at the end, the fist-pumping vocal chorus of Hey You (You Make Me Rock), the harmonised guitars and vocal delivery of Always & Forever that are very reminiscent of classic-era Thin Lizzy... Trouble Is Your Middle Name boasts the kind of mind melting guitar solo that makes every kid want to feather their hair, get a smoke machine and practice air guitar in front of a mirror in the hope that they'll get to play a real one in a video while surrounded by scantily-clad supermodels.

But this reviewer's favorite song is probably the album closer: Sands Of Time is an almost prog number with a middle-eastern feel which harkens back to Coverdale's collaboration with Ritchie Blackmore. It's an ambitious piece with complex vocal layers and intricate guitar parts that end the album in epic fashion.

The obligatory "power ballad" doesn't come in until track number six: When I Think Of You (Color Me Blue) sounds like a thirty year-old hit: the chord progression, the vocal melody and the guitar solo all would have fit on the 1987 self-titled album.

In fact, everything on Flesh & Blood would have been a hit thirty years ago. It's quite disheartening to think that such a quality collection of songs will most likely only appeal to ageing fans of the genre when the exact same set would have made the top of the charts at the end of the eighties.

Time changes, and it's a good thing. But Whitesnake doesn't change, and it's an even better thing.

Genre: Hard Rock
Release Date: May 10th, 2019
Label: Frontiers Records
Rating: 7/10

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