There has been a noticeable renaissance from the classic rock acts of yesteryear; many came out of retirement or emerged from extended hiatuses (hiati?) to tour once again for their still devoted but greying fans, alongside some younger faces keen to see some of the greats while they still could.
Some of those classic acts have also returned to the studio and produced acclaimed albums, once again proving they still 'have it'. AC/DC garnered much praise for 'Black Ice' as did Heaven and Hell (the Dio line-up of Black Sabbath) with 'The Devil You Know'. Sadly, for obvious reasons there won't be a follow-up to that record, but Whitesnake have returned with their second studio album since vocalist David Coverdale reactivated the band (and eleventh in total), 'Forevermore'.
The last album 'Good To Be Bad' was broadly welcomed by the band's long-term fans; although it featured a completely new line-up (save for Coverdale, of course) from the band's late 80s heyday, it nonetheless managed to recapture their signature sound. The veteran vocalist has once again rang the changes to his band; despite proclaiming the post-2003 line-up to be the most stable yet, he has changed not one, not two, but THREE musicians from the last tour. He has retained the two guitarists Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach, but bassist Uriah Duffy and drummer Chris Frazier have been benched in favour of Michael Devin and Brian Tichy, respectively. Tichy in particular comes with a glowing reputation as one of the most dynamic sticksmen in rock today, whereas Devin is his regular partner on the four-string. Keyboard player Timothy Drury also quit the band in September 2010, but has still played on this new album. Has the old stager pulled it off again? Time to press the play button and settle back...
From the opening strains of the first track it seems like he has indeed nailed it. 'Steal Your Heart Away' is a storming rocker to open the album, guitars slashing away and big drums pounding in old-school style. Things get heavier with the next track, 'All Out Of Luck' with meaty riffing from Messrs Aldrich and Beach. 'Love Will Set You Free' follows, another rocker in much the same vein and one which many listeners will already be familiar with, as it was released as a preview track on the band's website some weeks ago. The engines are not cooled until the fourth track 'Easier Said Than Done'; a song written with one ear tuned to the radio and featuring a catchy, singalong chorus.
It is a characteristic of a classic rock band that there is a mixture of light and shade, something that tends to be lacking in newer bands. There is so much emphasis on strictly-defined sub genres of Metal that a band that is pigeonholed into one of those genres faces harsh criticism for trying anything that deviates from the accepted norm. No such problems with the Snakes, and after a couple more rockers we get 'One Of These Days', a much mellower track that would not have been out of place on the early Snake albums. Again, this is a natural for radio and a possible summer single. The other mellower track, 'Fare Thee Well' would sit well as a concert ending song, with its wistful lyric reminiscent of 'We Wish You Well' from more than 30 years ago. The majority of the rest of the album is hard-hitting, hard rock performed with power and panache, although I confess I'm not tremendously taken by 'Dogs In The Street'. Most of the songs on this album deal with Coverdale's favourite lyrical theme of love and relationships, but this is more of a throwback to when it was all 'Spit it Out' or 'Slide it In'. He has also overlooked the other thing that 'Dogs in the Street' are notorious for, and who'd want to clean that up (!)
The title track comes last of all, and is probably the best song on the whole album. A seven-minute plus epic in the style of, but not a direct copy of, 'Sailing Ships' from 'Slip Of The Tongue' and featuring some stellar guitar playing, this is one that is sure to be a concert highlight if done live.
While listening to this album two things caught my ear: firstly this album sounds BIG. It was, like the last album, produced by Coverdale, Aldrich and Michael McIntryre but this time around they have managed to make everything sound so much bigger, much grander, than previously (and that was not exactly a sombre record). It may benefit from the fact they went into the studio with both guitarists available this time (Reb Beach was touring with Winger last time out and 'phoned in' his guitar parts; Doug Aldrich played most of the rhythm tracks), or it may be the new drummer and bassist have kicked things up a notch. It could be that the multi-layered vocals on many choruses are adding to the big sound too, reminiscent of Queen's trademark harmonies in some places. Whatever the magic ingredient is, 'Forevermore' sounds more like a proper band than any Whitesnake album since 'Come an' Get It'. Whereas before, Coverdale and maybe one other has dominated proceedings, here it is much more a team effort. The other thing that struck me was that although this album is instantly recognisable as Whitesnake, the band have pulled off the difficult trick of making it sound new, yet familiar. In short, you're not hearing five bars of a song and shouting 'Hey, that riff sounds just like...'. The input of Doug Aldrich may have a lot to do with that, there's a definite freshness to this new set of songs.
All in all then, a stormer of an album. Coverdale is 60 this year and has a fantastic career behind him, but he's delivered an album that will stand up well in ten or twenty years' time. Whether the rest of us will still be standing is another matter, but even if I am being pushed around in my wheelchair sporting my Whitesnake T-shirt, I think I'll still enjoy this album.