By Robert J. Bayley
It’s more of a greatest hits cover and title isn’t it? Hold on David Coverdale, are you trying to trick us?
The album’s first track, Steal Your Heart Away, immediately extinguishes any doubts that this would be doddery dad rock by old men trying to relive their youth and make some money. Immediately the track kicks off with a southern, bluesy guitar and harmonica, leading straight into a truly thumping drum beat. Coverdale immediately shows he’s still got a charismatic voice as he snarls the incredibly catchy and driven chorus. It really makes you want to get up and barn dance with a women in pigtails. It swaggers with some kind of hard rock southern funk, a statement of intent and a mandate for the album to come, which it does so in cowboy boots.
All Out of Luck has a more modern, harder sound but carries itself in much the same way, with rougher guitars that wouldn’t be out of place on some of the more radio-friendly nu-metal of yore. Complementing and contrasting with this, the chorus really slides back into more 80’s inspired fare without feeling disjointed. While not having the same bravado as Steal Your Heart Away, it still maintains that same bounce and boasts some humourous lyrics that raise a smile (“Here I sit a broken man, making love to who’s in hand”).
Coverdale shows off a little more vocal range on Love Will Set You Free, occasionally similar to the high-pitch to salubrious mock growl of Dick Valentine. A slightly more laid back affair, Love Will Set You Free, as you can tell from the very title, is an unapologetic throw back with a chorus best summed up as a guilty pleasure. The chorus especially does go a bit Tina Turner, in a good way. Good fun, but definitely an album track.
Things slow further with the power ballad Easier Said Than Done, which is frankly, plodding. It’s not a bad track, it just doesn’t elicit any emotion and is the wrong side of overwrought. The guitars don’t really pack any punch on a track that sorely needs it. It’s almost a bit embarrassing after the previous tracks, coming off as a damp Meat Loaf track. You almost want to patronise it.
Tell Me How however puts a stop to this lull, from the opening riff and lyrics letting us know we’re back in gutsier territory. Again, it’s unashamed of its 80s roots, but there’s actually some real emotion in the music and lyrics, an admirable desperation and determination. The lyrics I’m sure, will be particularly resonant for some people, covering a state of mind not really given much attention in this genre. While we’re yet to get any standout solos yet, Tell Me How really feels like big stadium rock at its best and Coverdale puts in his performance of the album.
Unfortunately, after displaying such drive, I Need You (Shine A Light) attempts to repeat this trick but fails. Coming off as simpering where the last track was strong, perhaps its placement on the track list does it disservice; it’s a bit of a Men In Black II of a song really. The same parts are all there, but there’s just no spark this time around. It all seems a little Quo.
Then things get worse. One Of These Days, has an almost country pop/Countrypolitan (yes that’s a thing, I didn’t believe it either) sound. A track that seems to wade through porridge, it seems out of place just by how dull the music, vocals and lyrics are and proof that Coverdale and Doug Aldrich are generally better when dealing in the sleazier side of the retro-rock spectrum.
This is advice they may have taken with the next track, Love And Treat Me Right, with Coverdale doing all his thinking with his whitesnake. It’s an upbeat song that gets back in the ring and sounds very much like Sammy Hagar era Van Halen; a real party rock song and finally a really strong solo that works mainly because it A) fits perfectly in the context of the rest of the song and B) has been a long time coming. Again, like Tell Me How, its stand out stadium rock as well as a stand out track.
Dogs In The Street carries this on with a strong opening, throwback riff that permeates the track. However it suffers the same knock on effect that troubled I Need You (Shine A Light). This time the guitars do all the heavy lifting but it lacks notable drums and the lyrics and Coverdale just don’t seem to add much to the equation.
Coverdale presses his charisma button a little harder on the track Fare Thee Well thankfully, and really needs to on a ‘goodbye’ song such as this, where the delivery of the lyrics really need to work. It’s reminiscent of slower Thin Lizzy stuff and does come across as emotionally engaged, the simple, straight forward lyrics really resonating. There’s some nice guitar work in here too that makes its presence felt, but overpoweringly so.
Whipping Boy Blues returns to the dominating overtone of the album; stompy country/blues inflected hard rock, but lacks the quite the same stomp of Steal Your Heart Away. This will probably sound great live, but it doesn’t seem to be able to catch the barn storming atmosphere it wants to. Having said that, the solo is really standout for the album and the effects on Coverdale’s voice are a nice break from the album’s norm.
Then comes the best track on the album. A track that sounds like it has run out of damns to give and didn’t have that many to begin with. My Evil Ways, opens with a genuinely punishing drum intro (and the drums continue in this manner all the way through) and launches straight into the country hard rock with a strong emphasis on the hard rock. A real groove shoots through the track that wouldn’t be out of place in some of ZZ Top’s finest work. It really revels in debauchery and can’t fail to make you move with it. Possibly the stand out moment of the album occurs in this track, a brilliantly contrasting Deep Purple/Uriah Heap-esque guitar run followed by a blistering solo and a almighty scream from Coverdale.
Forevermore, then hits a brick wall after that race car of a number with its title track. Not in a bad way either, with a nicely serene melody that sees Whitesnake doing their best attempt to mash-up Led Zeppelin and Sting. Much like a Led Zeppelin track the song then roars into life three minutes in with a vaguely Arabic influence that seems to be doing the rounds in power metal at the moment. Forevermore feels like it’s reaching for and emulating epic, rather than simply achieving it. In fairness, it does so convincingly but just doesn’t demand to be turned up to ear bleeding levels.
It’s a good ending, if not totally convincing. The album is a fairy uneven affair at times, but rarely dips below being surprisingly fun, and I’ll say what I never thought I would; Whitesnake have produced a great summer record. This is one to bang on the portable speakers, fire up the BBQ and ale to. The sentence that echoed through my mind during the album and after sums it up; “well done gentlemen, well done.”