Monday, April 4, 2011

Forevermore - Whitesnake - 2011

I have had Whitesnake’s newest release, Forevermore, in heavy rotation since I picked it up last Tuesday. I was thoroughly impressed with their last studio album, Good to be Bad, and it had set my expectations high for what I consider the Whitesnake renaissance. Sure, Whitesnake has never gone away, but, let’s face it, it was a long stretch since Restless Heart (if you even consider that an "official band" album).

Forevermore charges out of the gate with a stomping, sliding, harmonica-drenched blues rager, “Steal Your Heart Away.”  This reminded me a lot, in tone and overall intensity, of the Coverdale·Page opener, “Shake My Tree” (and don’t get me started on how desperately I wish for a sequel to that LP, still a favorite of mine since its release). “All Out of Luck” follows in a very similar vein with guitar pyrotechnics from Reb Beach and Doug Aldrich cementing their status as, in this listener’s opinion, an axe-wielding duo worthy of mention alongside multi-lead peers such as Priest and Maiden.
“Love Will Set You Free” is apparently the album’s first single, which I find regrettable. It has a nice hook and is a solid song, to be sure, but screams “’87!” to me. Now, I would never poormouth the ’87 record – it was my first Whitesnake purchase and remains a high-quality LP. That said, it defines the band and their image for so many, and, doing so, unfairly colors the average listener’s opinion. “Easier Said Than Done,” a mid-tempo ballad, does nothing to help the cause here and, while providing some nice vocals, is immediately forgettable and brings what was some incredible momentum to a grinding halt.
“Tell Me How” picks up the pace again and is a certified riff monster. The variations in tempo bridging verse and chorus keep this one moving with some stellar solos preceding wails as only Coverdale can bellow them. “I Need You (Shine a Light)” is another bluesy rocker that, frankly, would sound right at home on a Black Crowes album. I am well aware of Whitesnake’s backcatalogue and blues pedigree and, personally, really like this number. That said, it feels out of place in the flow of the album and while I don’t want to pigeonhole Whitesnake in the manner I complained about only one paragraph ago, this is missing the metallic edge that, to me, defines the finest of modern-era Whitesnake. It comes as a real shock, then, when this is followed by an acoustic-dominated “One of These Days” on which Coverdale gets to showcase a different side of his vocals but at the cost of sounding way more at home on Neil Young’s Harvest Moon (in fact, didn’t that have a “One of These Days,” too?). But don’t hit the stop button yet…
“Love & Treat Me Right” charges back into classic territory with some fuzzed-out Knopfler-esque riffs propelling an emotionally charged vocal. An insane solo nails it and the volume is cranked up again as the listener decides this one may be all right, after all. “Dogs in the Street” finds Coverdale snarling his lines like a dog himself and he comes across as downright sinister. This is a high-energy, fast-paced number that, along with the preceding track is not necessarily memorable single material, makes for the meat (I cannot bring myself to call it “filler”) I consider necessary for a Whitesnake album’s success.
“Fare Thee Well” is another ballad and, if ballads are necessary on a Whitesnake album, they should at least sound more like this. Coverdale’s rasp approaches Rod Stewart territory and the lyric is a simple “let’s have one last drink before we pack it in” but it works. I can definitely picture this as a show closer. And if this would be the final number, “Whipping Boy Blues” would be one hell of an encore. Without a doubt the album’s highlight, it is at the same time a shame and a treat that it is buried eleven tracks in. The dedicated listener will get there, no doubt, and what a payoff it is. This is Whitesnake. Slides, moans, riffs, whammies, a roaring chorus and searing solos.

This needs to be a single. 
This needs to be heard far and wide.
We all need to fall on our knees and thank Heaven that this kind of rock and roll still exists in 2011.
I will go out on a limb and proclaim “Whipping Boy Blues” the best song Whitesnake has recorded since anything on Ready an’ Willing and its most intense ever.
“My Evil Ways” has tremendous shoes to fill as a follower and, while nowhere near “Whipping Boy…”’s equal, it is another high-tempo guitar-shredding workout and maintains the momentum closing out Forevermore. And that leads us directly to the album’s namesake and closer, “Forevermore,” which is another ballad, sequenced a little too closely to “Fare Thee Well,” but again appropriate in tone for this band at this time and goes out with guitar fireworks sufficient to satisfy this listener.
Forevermore is a great album. It’s an exceptional rock and roll album. But from a band known for exceptional rock and roll, it’s simply a good Whitesnake album that, with a little editing, could be a great Whitesnake album. As it’s a long album, I would relegate “I Need You (Shine a Light),” “Easier Said Than Done” and “One of These Days” to either B-Side purgatory or pile them aside for an eventual box set/relics collection (and that’s overdue, isn’t it?). I’d move “Forevermore” to mid-album and close instead with “Fare Thee Well.” Thanks to the era of CDRs and iTunes, I can do exactly that and, that done, Forevermore is as solid gold as its excellent cover art.

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