WHITESNAKE: ‘The Purple Album’

Whitesnake’s ‘The Purple Album’ is a solid, solid sender. It should be taken at face value and accepted for exactly what it is – this is David Coverdale revisiting his past, and in light of the fact that it looks like there is to be no reunification of that old troupe, he’s chosen to put up the best front possible and to simply play and sing the living hell out of these old chestnuts, and he’s succeeded mightily.

Release Date: May 15th 2015
Words: Tony Conley

Let’s take a few minutes and deal with naysayers, critics, and those who will reflect negatively upon this album – some may think it best to dance around this 800 pound gorilla in the corner, but that’s just not my style.

First, there is the matter of David Coverdale and his voice. I’m continually amazed that fans seem to think that a man is going to sound the same at the age of 63 that he did at the age of 22; that’s unrealistic and somewhat foolish. There’s no question that the man has used his voice over the years in much the same manner as an athlete and there have been injuries, there has been wear and tear and there is the matter of simply the ravages of time.

However, on the flip side of that is the depth, dynamics, and phrasing that a singer learns and implements in a forty year career that can’t be denied or discounted. Sure, there are places on this record in which studio technology is used to sweeten up certain spots, but there is less of this than many would assume.

To my thinking and to my ears, this is a wonderful representation of what a hard rock vocalist can accomplish late in the game. David Coverdale has spent great time and effort to make the very best product he possibly can, sparing no expense, and he’s done a fantastic job.

Next we’ll look at the notion of why a former member of a great band would choose to revisit a past that already exists as a monument to all that’s great about rock music. Well, there are many reasons, and while I can’t claim to speak for Mr Coverdale, I don’t mind espousing some theories of my own.

The portion of the Deep Purple catalog that involves David Coverdale came pretty early in his career as a professional entertainer – much of this material was written in the eye of a hurricane called Deep Purple, a stormy situation at certain points and even in the best of times a serious challenge. Who wouldn’t want to take another crack at the material further down the road, and see what you’d change or where else you could possibly take it?

A chance to recreate the past in a more peaceful circumstance, and in a manner in which you have more control would definitely be an enticement.

Then there’s the matter of replacing five of the most distinctive musicians who ever graced a recording – Ritchie Blackmore is still the musician most people think of first when they think of Deep Purple. His style and tone have never been replicated, and no one is going to outdo the man. Jon Lord is no longer with us, and it’s been many years since Whitesnake has had a keyboardist in the band.

Ian Paice is another unique voice that simply can’t be matched or cloned – he’s a southpaw swinger who may just be rock’s most overlooked and underrated drummer. Glenn Hughes is a force of nature who sings as well as anyone on the planet and he played some stupendous bass on those later classic era Purple albums. Tommy Bolin came in for ‘Come Taste The Band’, and again, his is a sound that just cannot be duplicated.

So, when faced with the issue of how to approach things and not attempt to simply recreate the earlier material, (a foible that has trapped many an artist who has attempted similar ventures), Coverdale has taken the high road, a path that positions him right where he should be for this project.

He can’t replace the musicians from the source because they all loom larger than life and anyone who would be foolish enough to try would fail miserably, so he has opted to record with absolutely top shelf, A-list musicians and he’s given them license to a very large degree to approach this classic material with their personalities and the tools that can be found in their respective toolkits. Thankfully this album is not a note for note cloning, but rather it is a new twist on an old tale.

Guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra are in the spotlight and for me they kind of make the album. Their approach is a much more contemporary hard rock path than the the very different dynamic of the team of Lord and Blackmore. Deep Purple of that era was as close to jazz as hard rock gets, especially when you look at the instrumental interplay and the way they swing and it’s to this band’s credit that they didn’t try to copy that.

Instead, you’ve got a guitar team that may be closer to what you’d find in a Judas Priest or Thin Lizzy – Beach (who stepped up to co-producer on this album) and Hoekstra toss incendiary solos back and forth to ever spiraling heights and they pull off some fantastic harmony sections as well.

Another wise thing they’ve done is to re-write some of the solo sections, intros and endings to allow for more of their own voices in the instrumental passages and they’ve both made perhaps their finest statements as instrumentalists on this record. They go for the throat on every track, they hit a few of Blackmore’s signature passages with great success, but they carve out a tremendous amount of their own territory.

The band’s rhythm section features the ever dependable Tommy Aldridge on the skins and long serving bassist Michael Devin and they are an awesome pair – their approach to the material is in league with the guitars and they bring a freshness and aggression to the material that invigorates it tremendously. Aldridge offers a tremendous amount of creativity to his parts, but he never crosses swords with the might Ian Paice; there is just no point in that, and he’s a big part of what I love about this album.

There’s nothing like stepping right off into the deep end of the pool and Coverdale does just that by placing ‘Burn’, the most covered and revered song of the period in which the singer served with Purple, as opening track. This version is heavier, it rocks a little harder and Coverdale sounds much more mature in his approach to the lyric, as opposed to the near feral wildness found on the original.

When you consider that over 40 years have passed since the original recording, I can’t see clearly how someone would not be pleased by any part of this performance. My biggest complaint is that they didn’t get Glenn in to re-sing his original part for the song – that would have been astounding, but as it is it’s fine, just different.

The song’s instrumental solo section is so iconic that the guitarists can’t disregard them, but both Beach and Hoekstra throw much of themselves into the mix – when Hoekstra goes into his amazingly smooth two handed tapping it fits perfectly, taking the song to a new and wonderful place it’s never been before, and then Beach comes in with some of the nastiest snarling wah sounds that I’ve heard since Beck’s ‘Truth’. This is a perfect start, and it somewhat develops the theme that Coverdale and band follow for the album.

Next it’s ‘You Fool No One’ and the band wisely avoids the idiosyncratic funk of the original by using a saturated, distorted harmonica to announce the song’s introduction. Then they brilliantly manage to sound very much like what we would have hoped the band would have sounded like had John Sykes not found his way out of the band and we get a very original reworking that suggests a hard rock rendition of a funk classic.

Coverdale sounds great on this and the guitars take me closer to The Amboy Dukes’ ‘Journey To The Center Of Your Mind’ than to Rainbow and I like that – I like it a lot – it fits and makes me smile. The solo section gets down into Viking territory and there are some amazing harmonies being played. This might be the best guitar interplay that’s ever found its way onto a Whitesnake project and Beach and Hoekstra are a great team. Style-wise, they seem much more at home together than did the band’s previous lineup, and I don’t mean in any way to denigrate the musicianship of the departed Doug Aldrich, but just one listen to his brilliant performance on the Revolution Saints’ debut album shows that he’s more at home as a band’s sole guitarist. Listen to that and then tell me you disagree. You won’t. This is Whitesnake’s best guitar team yet.

‘Love Child’ is another number that trades finesse for ferocity, and I actually think Coverdale’s voice is much better suited for this song 40 years on. His dark baritone goes to some wonderfully smokey places, and has none of the coke knife’s edge of the original. This sounds like classic Whitesnake interpreting Purple, and that’s just what it is, and what it is supposed to be. The solo sections are another place in which to my ears this leaves the original behind. This is all subjective, and we’re talking about some moments that are considered sacrosanct, but to my ears, when I want to hear ‘Love Child’ this is the version to which I will return.

The band completely turns ‘Sail Away’ on its ear, exchanging the heavy funk of the original for some majestic acoustic guitars – here we find a sound very close to Coverdale/Page, and maybe closer to the vision Coverdale originally had for the song. His voice sounds fucking great and if judged on its own merits, this is a great track on its own merit. Great stuff here.

‘The Gypsy’ is a tough one. For me, in many ways it defines what I loved about the ‘Stormbringer’ album, and I’ll admit to missing Glenn Hughes’ beyond the stratosphere vocals of the original, but that’s not to say this doesn’t sound great – it does, and if I didn’t have the ghost of the original so carved into my mind, I’m sure I would find it superb. Again, the guitars tip their hats to Ritchie, and then they move on to their own territory. Aldridge and Devin are absolutely huge on this one, and this is going to be a monster onstage.

David Coverdale is singing his ass off on this album. I don’t care what additional magic has been applied to certain portions, I am here to tell you that he’s singing great.

‘Lady Double Dealer’ comes out of the gates like a slingshot, and it’s off to the races. When the guitar solos kick in, you’re going to smile – this is great hard rock being played with passion, excitement, and mind boggling chops. I’m so glad they don’t try to usurp Blackmore’s soul and style in any way. It’s a war no one wins, and they make this their own in a beautiful fashion.

I will say that I wish they had voiced the introduction of ‘Mistreated’ with a guitar with single coil pickups, but that’s me inserting my preference here and I do like the overall heaviness that the guitars bring to this classic. Coverdale? He sounds like a million damned dollars here – he’s got such tone when he does stay a bit lower in range that I believe I’d love to hear a straight blues album out of the man before he decides to finally close up shop. The band and their leader just clean house on this number – it’s as epic as ever and in a way that you’ve never heard it before. That’s what records like this should do, and this one does it in spades.

‘Holy Man’ is a tune that is completely connected with Glenn Hughes in my heart and soul, and I was frankly surprised to see it surface here, but this version is a completely different take and I’m not sure they they shouldn’t have led with this as the first single, if for no other reason than to show off what Coverdale can still accomplish with his voice.

Coverdale goes another direction again on ‘Might Just Take Your Life’, and he takes it in reverse – this sounds more like very early Whitesnake, especially with it’s acoustic slide guitar and distorted vocal intro. I love the way that he has chosen to reinterpret these classics, and there’s a freshness that I hope doesn’t get lost in the brouhaha of what should or shouldn’t be. They are his fucking songs as much as anyone’s, so what’s the argument, really? Great stuff.

‘You Keep On Moving’ loses its West Coast soul sound, traded across for a bluesier rock sound, and it works – this might be another number that I like better than the original. Coverdale sounds fabulous, I’ll be listening to this record for a long time. I have no idea who’s playing the organ here, but it sounds great. The guitars that come later are icing on the cake, but this should go down as one of the best rock guitar albums of the year if there is any justice.

If he couldn’t deliver the goods would David Coverdale even attempt ‘Soldier Of Fortune’? I think not, but this is a fabulous version – mind you, you don’t have the gypsy soul of Ritchie Blackmore, but the guitars on here are beautiful in their own way. The man just sings this so well, and I’d ask that you listen to the phrasing, the vibrato in the voice, and the wisdom of a singer who has sang all his life. Brilliant.

‘Lay Down, Stay Down’ gets the modern hard rock treatment, and this would work better if you’d not experienced the mastery of Lord and Paice, but if this was just another album track, you’d think it the bees knees.

They say that you should never let the third act be boring, and Coverdale has certainly absorbed this lesson. ‘Stormbringer’ wraps up the festivities, and while this might be the most doctored vocal on the album, I think it’s done as much for effect as anything. He’s riding one of the finest hard rock outfits on the planet, and they are hell bent for the finish line. Beach and Hoekstra take the ball and run with it as Devin and Aldridge chase them down the way. This is one of the finest reworked albums I’ve yet heard.

I was as shocked as anyone to see this as Whitesnake’s new record but I totally think it makes sense and it should make for an incredible summer touring season. This will give Joel Hoekstra the time and space to get completely immersed in his new band and this sets the stage quite properly for what comes next for the band without rushing into completely new territory. Brilliant strategy, and brilliant execution. Really, I can’t see how anyone would not be over the moon with this one.

Sleeve Notes

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