Whitesnake – Forevermore (2011) – an album review

When is a comeback album not a comeback album? When a band’s previous comeback album slipped a little below the radar, it seems. That said, Whitesnake have had their ups and downs (and ins and outs), but they’ve cemented their lineup with a couple of great guitarists, including Winger’s Reb Beach, and there is a certain epic feel to the new album that just feels like classic Whitesnake. Love ‘em or leave ‘em, you can’t deny, they’re back.

tl;dr Version: New Formula Whitesnake will run faster and leaner than your old Whitesnake, but still sounds great.

‘Splain, Lucy Version: I didn’t realize that David Coverdale had reconvened Whitesnake until just last year, and so had missed their 2008 album, Good To Be Bad. It charted at #5 in the UK album charts, so something happened that I missed. I don’t know if that was precisely my fault, or if the album was under-promoted in North America, but then, I didn’t know the new album was coming either, and yet I discovered it quite easily on Amazon, and while it didn’t do as well on the UK charts (#33), it charted at #49 on the US charts, which is the best they’ve done over here since the 80s, so they must be doing something right this time around.

Boring Version: If you’re not a fan of Whitesnake, nothing I say in this article will change your mind about them. Truth to tell, I haven’t been a fan in a long time myself. I wasn’t a fan during the early years, but I loved their albums at the height of their popularity in the late 80s and early 90s, during the John Sykes/Adrian Vandenberg/Vivian Campbell/Steve Vai years. After that, Daid Coverdale folded the band and went to work with Jimmy Page on what can only be considered a dry run for Page’s reunion with Robert Plant a couple of years later. Coverdale and Page’s eponymous album was quite good, but it’s sort of been forgotten outside of classic hard rock circles.

This isn’t the first regrouping of Whitesnake Coverdale has staged since parting ways with Jimmy Page, but it’s safe to say he hasn’t quite recaptured the magic of the 87-90 incarnation. Let’s see if this album changes that.

THE REVIEW
Steal Your Heart Away opens with a wall of blues rock guitars and massive drums, shortly joined by Coverdale, whose voice has hardened a bit, sounding perhaps a bit strained in places, but still sounds good over all. The chorus sounds like Whitesnake well enough, but so far, he hasn’t thrown any curve balls. This is clearly meant to reassure fans that they have bought a Whitesnake album and nothing less, if nothing more. The instrumental section is also classic hard rock guitar playing of the late 80s mold, but the groove never loses its bluesy roots, and there is even a little bit of Hammond playing in the mix, if a bit too muddy to really appreciate. The song ends in classic rock fashion, rocking out on the chorus, and a fairly big blues rock finish. No serious surprises, but then, that’s not what was called for here.

All Out of Luck continues right on from the previous track, and the hard rock meter goes up a notch, with choppier drums and guitars, hitting much closer to the hit-making Whitesnake formula, though the chorus is in a lower register. Coverdale’s voice sounds much more familiar here, and the guitars in the first part of the instrumental are understated but perfect. There is some serious guitar wankery in the second pass, but you can’t fault them for knowing how to play a guitar solo, any more than you can fault them for not knowing how to resist, or, you know, how to play a guitar solo at all. The sound production on this track is the star. The track really stands out as something that could easily have gotten radio play in another era. Sadly, I don’t know what station would give this playing time today. Nothing local, I fear.

Love Will Set You Free opens with a riff straight out of John Sykes’ toolbox. It’s got a nice epic scope to it, and the classic harmonies are right where you expect them to be. This sounds like a perfectly preserved throwback to that era, and it’s comforting to know David can still pull one of these numbers off. The chorus hook is perfect hard rock excess. It would sound great with an audience singing along. Real arena rock anthem. The instrumental has a Steve Vai feel to it, which I have to confess that I’m probably one of only seven people who welcomes this. I’ve heard this song a few times now, and I have to say, I can see how this track would invite fans to reappraise the band and welcome them back. It’s made to order.

Easier Said Than Done opens with something much closer to the Steve Vai sound, a mid-tempo ballad featuring Hammond organ and restrained playing, plus a bridge and chorus that deliver the classic hooks that you don’t hear anywhere anymore. This would have been a top ten hit in 1988, and if you’ve been waiting that long for another shot, you don’t mind so much that it’s twenty years overdue. The instrumental is short and restrained and warm and nice and all the things you might expect from an arena rock ballad, except that it’s probably a little too restrained for a Whitesnake ballad. Very pretty, though. Lovely harmonies. The outro allows for a bit more guitar work, but though it scales the heights a bit, it never jumps too far out of line.

Tell Me How kicks off like a funny car, all muscle and noise and power, but it settles quickly into a upper-mid tempo riff rock number, but the hooks and the wall of chorus are thoroughly in place, big ballsy guitars rolling all over the bridge. It’s definitely nice to see by this point in the album that they haven’t lost steam yet. Still not making with the big surprises, but still not falling over wheezing, either. The instrumental section has some meaty guitar and some medium high shred, plus an effected bridge that sounds pretty fresh for a Whitesnake track.

I Need You (Shine a Light) is a fun bluesy rock riff number with a decidedly early 80s feel, like it’s a leftover from Slide It In, and while David’s voice sounds a little muted in the background chorus, it’s got all the stuff you’d have expected from a hard rock song in 1984, and the bridge to the instrumental, along with the instrumental itself sound like they were on back order and finally arrived. Nothing too flashy, but catchy as hell. REO Speedwagon and April Wine probably wish they had gotten their orders in on time now.

One of These Days has a decidedly un-Whitesnake sound to it, being as it’s an acoustic country rock ballad, with a verse and chorus that could have been lifted straight from a mid 70s Eagles album. It’s actually comforting to know that someone can still write one of those classic country rock songs without sounding tired or hopelessly eager to please. The instrumental doesn’t quite hit Felder/Walsh territory, being a little more something you’d hear on a Bon Jovi track, but it sounds fine, given that the slide guitar part puts me in mind of early 70s George Harrison. A nice track, and you can probably dance with your girl to it without feeling like a total arse.

Love and Treat Me Right kicks things back into the hard rock department, huge guitar sound with just the right amount of crunchy distortion on a great chicken-picking lick. The instrumental is slow to arrive, but when it does, it stays in mid-shred with lots of tone and bluesy attitude, more in the Jimmy Page end of the pool than the Steve Vai end. It’s a pretty affirmative chorus for a song ostensibly about a man taking his woman to task for fooling around anf lirting too much. Nice organ on the tail end.

Dogs In The Street comes up out of the alley with a wall of squalling distortion and one of those classic Whitesnake hard-rock-verging-on-metal riffs that a classic album has to have. The chorus is vintage Whitesnake too, even if the verse seems a bit generic and the bridge sounds like it could have come from a number of other bands in the 80s. That chorus brings it all together. The instrumental is a perfect centerpiece for Reb Beach’s guitar histrionics, but Doug Aldrich second pass keeps things in the bluesy end of the pool. I’ve been using a lot of swimming pool references  in this review. I think it’s because the album seems so fluid and immersive, even if it’s as predictable as your favourite movie.

Fare Thee Well is a straight acoustic ballad of the 80s variety, unmistakable in its slow tempo and its sad theme of lost love, but it sounds pretty classic. David’s voice sounds a little shredded here, like it was the last thing they recorded, though it’s not the last track. It’s a pretty good track, but I don’t know if it would have been a hit. Bit too slow and boozy for anything other than 1985 on the burgeoning classic rock charts. Q107 would have played it. Might have reached the top twenty, and maybe sired a few children in the bargain.

Whipping Boy Blues is classic blues rock made to order. Sliding guitars and an effected vocal intro lead to a nicely crunchy Zepplinesque blues riff. Upper mid tempo, sturdy, with the requisite Bonham drums and squalling guitar instrumental, a little added flash on the end of the instrumental, plus some harmonica, which kind of clinches it. This would probably be a fun number to perform on stage. Flashy outro guitar part over the chorus fadeout.

My Evil Ways blasts in with a wall of crashing drums, followed by a blues rock riff that sounds to my ears like an update of classic Yardbirds mixed with Steppenwolf or Golden Earring blues rock. This is the unapologetic bad boy declaration, and as bad boy anthems go, it’s not bad. The instrumental throws us a little something we haven’t heard so far on this album; a perfect melding of muted guitars in a blues rock framework. Then the guitars start trading off flashy riffs and wanking about gloriously, clearly trying to outplay each other. David calls the histrionics to an end with one of those high long screams we haven’t heard from him in over 25 years. Big rock n roll finish.

Forevermore opens with an acoustic guitar playing one of those priceless passages that you almost never hear anymore. David is clearly taking another stab at epic grandeur, and this time he might even make it, which would be nice after Sailing Ships somehow failed to make it into the pantheon of epic rock ballads. It has the right shape and the right slow build, plus some great background vocals in the bridge. Big Fat Moroccan Roll grandeur for the second half of the tune, so now you know exactly which band he’s aiming at, as if there could be any doubt. Stairway into Kashmir, pure and simple. If FM radio was anything like what it once was, this would have been picked up. Sadly, it’s too much of a throwback for internet radio to carry it. Great feel, though.

Whipping Boy Blues (Swamp Mix) is a little bonus they threw in that I’m not entirely sure needs to be here, particularly given the dramatic finish of the previous track. It’s an overproduced version of the album track, with an alternate percussion track and sounding ever so slightly more bayou bluesy, but that’s really just a gimmick intro. The rest of the track is just the album cut revisited. I liked it well enough the first time, but I’m not sure it warrants a second play, even if the guitars are a little more forward in the mix for the instrumental bridge. The percussion and swamp critter sounds return for the bridge back to the verse, with a deeply delta bluesy vocal delivery in the bridge. Then we’re back to the album track to the outro. Again, not sure we needed this track, but they do get to end it acapella on the chorus vocal, which does have a little impact and would probably sound great on the radio.

SUMMARY
Not sure this album rocks harder than the 2008 album, but it’s got all of the classic Whitesnake-isms old fans will doubtless have come along to hear. Again, if you were never a fan of Whitesnake, this album won’t change your mind. But if you’re a lapsed fan who has been waiting for an excuse to get back onboard, this album is probably tailor made for you. Enjoy.

© Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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