Whitesnake - The Purple Album
Anthony Firmin sees Purple whilst reviewing the new Whitesnake album
A lot has already been written about the new Whitesnake album before I or many others had even heard it, and that included my ranty piece a while back. I made a large number of assumptions based solely on the first single, Stormbringer. The album has already had a massive slating in Classic Rock Magazine and has polarised fans, but advanced orders are higher than any album Whitesnake has released for many, many years. It's been a commercial success too , reaching #18 in the British Album Charts as well as ranking as high as #9 in Sweden, Finland and the States.
Starting off life as a bridge builder to Ritchie Blackmore, the project gained new legs as a Whitesnake album after things didn’t work out with ‘the man in black’. And David Coverdale defends the project as “a tribute. A homage. It’s a huge thank you from me to Deep Purple for the opportunity I was given over 40 years ago.”
So on that basis (and setting aside my previous thoughts) lets go through the album which Coverdale describes as “reimagined”.
The song choices for the album are interesting with six of them having been performed in the earlier days of Whitesnake, those being Might Just Take Your Life, Mistreated, Soldier Of Fortune, Lady Double Dealer, Lady Luck and in recent years Burn, albeit not in this reimagined format.
Burn, the opening number is performed at a blistering pace, with a renewed intensity. Keyboards were an important part of the original version of this song and as per modern Whitesnake, keyboards are there albeit in the background and there is an organ solo but it is somewhat muted. Blackmore’s guitar solo on the original is so iconic that it is impossible to replicate or improve upon, as hard as they try.
By way of diversity You Fool No One has an interesting harmonica intro but sounds like an outtake from 1987 loosing the funkiness of the original but adding drama.
The first major sea-change comes with Sail Away. Gone are Jon Lords funky clavinet and synthesizer sounds and instead we have a lush and sumptuous acoustic ballad. The first song that could really be described as reimagined and probably the best track on the album.
Back to rocking out and The Gypsy is just a heavier version of the original adding little and losing quite a lot. But with Lady Double Dealer I always found the original lacking on Stormbringer but here it takes on another life much like it did back in the early days of Whitesnake, only more so, and now sounds like a Whitesnake song.
Mistreated was a staple of the Whitesnake set up to 1984 (as well as part of Rainbow’s early sets too) and was different enough to be interesting at the time and I have to admit I was expecting that version here. This version is not dissimilar to the original but with the guitars turned up to 11. The subtlety of Blackmore’s playing along with Coverdale’s soulful vocals was the key to the original whereas here the guitars sadly trample all over it unnecessarily. Coverdale’s voice has also come in for criticism in recent years but I have to say that onMistreated it is in the best form it has been for a long time.
The original version of Holy Man is just too AOR, even a bit country like, for its own good on Stormbringer and sounds more like The Eagles than Deep Purple. Interestingly although Coverdale was a co-writer of the song Glenn Hughes originally sang lead vocals so ‘Cov must have been itching to get to grips with it and his vocals are excellent again. This version is superb, the country and AOR vibes disposed of and are replaced with a slower more powerful rocker.
As part of the Whitesnake set in the late 70’s, Might Just Take Your Life had an edge over the original with Jon Lord playing an important part in both the original and the version on Live…In The Heart Of The City. The new version is just a heavy rock version of the original, likeable but lacking something. Something which You Keep On Moving has, the original is an amazing song and this is a great reworking of it. Not too heavy, not too much guitar, it is just right – a difficult task to achieve considering.
Coverdale has sung a verse or two of Soldier Of Fortune in concert many times. Correction, the Whitesnake Choir sings it, the Cov usually shuts up and applauds at the end. On here, along with Sail Away, it is the highlight of the album. A beautiful reworking, tender and soulful, Coverdales voice is stunning. Singing the lyrics to the song may now be more prophetic for him, almost like his epitaph, which this album may well end up being:
“Now I feel I'm growing older And the songs that I have sung Echo in the distance Like the sound of a windmill goin' 'round I guess I'll always be A soldier of fortune”
Lay Down Stay Down is not that different to the original, just updated and doesn’t really offer us anything new which leads us to the last track on the album - Stormbringer. This is just…awful. What on earth was he thinking? Personally I believe he was binging on his old faithful Yorkshire tea making him hyper and resulting in adding more and more layers, more and more compression which delivered an overproduced track. I know there are others who agree with me that is awful and there are just as many who absolutely love Stormbringer. C’est la vie.
And that is your lot. Unless of course you have the extra songs on the expanded super deluxe edition which are Lady Luck and Comin’ Home. The version of Lady Luck that Whitesnake performed in ’78 was much heavier and faster than the original. This doesn’t quite come up to the same level of intensity and excitement as that, it just sounds like a Whitesnake song. As for Comin’ Home, this was undoubtedly a blueprint for what was to come in the early years of Whitesnake, on here it comes across like a typical modern day Whitesnake rock workout and has lost some of its personality.
Coverdale has said haters are wasting their breath. Do I hate this album? No. Overall it’s an okay album with some definite highlights, some good songs, some okay songs and one truly awful song.
However, I am looking forward to seeing and reviewing Whitesnake in December (assuming he lets me in after he reads this) and Coverdale has already stated that Mistreated is part of the set – here is hoping he drops more of 1987 for a change and slots in some of the best bits of The Purple Album – fingers crossed!
Words: Anthony Firmin