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Monday, April 07, 2008

CD Review: Whitesnake - Good to Be Bad

Whitesnake - Good to Be Bad
2008 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Part of the misnomer about getting older in what is generally considered a young man's game is that age robs you of vitality and credibility. Well, it depends on your reason for being when the core chapters of your career's book are hypothetically written. Nobody expected Rocky Balboa to be worth a hoot, but Stallone's revival of his most famous role turned out to be a sensitive and humanistic reprise of the original Rocky story and despite the preposterous plot, who cared about the actual fight? The story itself was worth the ticket.

Look at Iron Maiden and Judas Priest; it seems the older they get, the smarter they get and there's still that young lion's fire raging inside them so much that they deliver the goods (pun intended) particularly onstage where a true performer's mettle is tested.

By no means did anyone expect David Coverdale and Whitesnake 2008 bring much to the table considering the self-titled 1987 album was the last time this band has truly matched the thunder of its titanic reputation as one of The Big 80s hugest success stories, Slip of the Tongue notwithstanding. The problem with Slip of the Tongue was that Whitesnake had in its possession a force so awesome in the form of Steve Vai that the virtuoso's presence was perhaps too big for a riff-oriented straight-up rock 'n roll band to properly corral to their purposes. In turn, Slip of the Tongue was filled with too-safe tunes that held the proverbial thumb on the trigger as only "Fool For Your Love," "Wings of the Storm" and the "Kashmir"-flirting "Judgment Day" lived up to the hype.

Though Whitesnake burrowed itself into the ground during the great metal kill-off in the early nineties, David Coverdale did take another shot in 1998 with Restless Heart before vanishing from the scene again, save to promote live albums and deliver a few personality testimonials. Now, a decade later, someone must've put some piss and vinegar (the true rocker's elixir) into Coverdale's wine glass because Good to Be Bad far supersedes expectation.

Honestly, this is an album that reaches with the same claws and hooks of Coverdale's past, namely the triumvirate of Saints and Sinners, Slide it In and Whitesnake. It possesses inspired armfuls of affection from a guy most people forgot once fronted Deep Purple and someone who knows how to write memorable, catchy tunes that might be a harder sell to a jaded domestic North American audience in today's fickle market; of course, that seems to have no deterrence upon David Coverdale whatsoever.

Wrangling in veteran axe slinger Doug Aldrich (who co-wrote and co-produced this album) plus Winger guitarist Reb Beach, Coverdale brings in just enough superstar firepower to aid his personal rescue mission along with seasoned musicians Uriah Huffy (bass), Timothy Drury (keys) and Chris Frazier (drums), obviously learning from the past that having an A-list stable of names in your arsenal isn't full guarantee of success. It's the quality of the performers themelves, not necessarily the notes or beats per minute they can expunge. The ensemble has Coverdale has selected for Good to Be Bad is well up to the task and the methodoloy on this album is to get to the meat and bones of what made Whitesnake an exciting rock band in its prime.

The Rockin' Romeo literally sounds like he's in a playground of his past on cuts like the title track, "All For Love," "Can You Hear the Wind Blow," "Lay Down Your Love" and "Call On Me" while his rockin' crew does nothing overt or extreme as would've been called upon them in the past. Coverdale smartly trusts the inherent capacity of his band to stick to script and they execute with taste, temperence and flair, so that the core existence of the songs are what's most important instead of the flailing fingers and the throat-wrenching vocals.

Yes, it appears as if David Coverdale has exhausted a large chunk of his octaves over time (while his former Deep Purple running mate Glenn Hughes only seems to grow in intensity year after year), but by no means is Coverdale a slouch and frankly, his sometimes gravelly pipes on this album gives him far more empathy in what he professes on the opening track "Best Years" are some of the most important of his life.

Of course, no Whitesnake album would be remiss of ballads and they're gladly welcome on Good to Be Bad in the form of the working class-entreated "Summer Rain" and the grossly addictive "All I Want All I Need." Seriously, the latter song imprints itself to the point you'll be singing it silently for days. One thing about Coverdale and Whitesnake; being such a romantic at heart has always given the group's ballads that extra surge, which most of Whitesnake's peers failed to grasp, the fact that you need a little soul if you're going to strip yourself and your music down before your audience.

In the late eighties, Good to Be Bad would be considered bank; there's no way this would've missed. Not that Slip of the Tongue wasn't a commercial success upon its immediate launch, but Good to Be Bad has staying power and while "Lay Down Your Love" is written in the mindframe of "Still of the Night" on its verses, it's a momentary endearment that switches to a slightly gospel-oriented chorus structure that is the mark of maturity, even on a sexual-toned honeydripper like this.

As Coverdale himself describes Good to Be Bad as "very Butch," perhaps that's the best summation of an album filled with all the necessary attitude and strutting to make this one of Coverdale's coolest efforts. No doubt he's feeling like it's 1987 again as this writer assuredly is...

Rating: ****1/2


bob_vinyl said...

I listened to it last week and all I can say is that it is dull. There is no reason other than nostalgia for this to be released. It has no heart, just a formula. Coverdale proves that he's one of the top generic singers out there. Terrible. You gave it three stars too many.

bob_vinyl said...

Gospel-oriented?!?!? Gospel has soul. Of course blues should have feeling and this would be labeled blues rock despite having no feeling. Whitesnake should play Rocklahoma with all the other nostalgia-only acts. Blech!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Wow, who sent you this promo? I would've cut them off at the pass and told them they'd get a bad review from you just by attrition.

bob_vinyl said...

You would have done me that favor?

taotechuck said...

"Coverdale smartly trusts the inherent capacity of his band to stick to script..."

You nailed it there, Ray. The album sounds as if it were performed from a script.

There's a talent to following the script. Personally, though, I prefer musicians who possess enough soul and creativity to tell a story without reading it off a damned piece of paper.

Hard Rock Hideout said...

I have heard the album. While I don't think it surpasses the 87 album. It is maybe a little closer to the Slide It In album. Unlike Bob Vinyl, I love this disc. I haven't reviewed it yet, as I just wanted to enjoy this one a while.

This album will be on a lot of Top 10 lists at the end of the year, just not Bob Vinyl's.

bob_vinyl said...

Rob, thanks for singling me out as one of the people with enough sense not to put this on my top ten list.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I'd say "Butch" applies to other things than this album, HRH excluded, of course

bob_vinyl said...

I didn't know that "butch" meant "good taste." Or does it mean "good sense?" Either way, thanks for the compliment.

Seriously, you didn't expect to get away with praising an album that's nothing more than planned nostalgia and come out unscathed, did you? You know I can't resist beating up on anything that tries to revive the dark ages of rock music.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

"Butch" as in curmudgeony cooler-than-thou rock snob. And you didn't expect me to always let you have your way, did you, Statler? Looks like you have a new Waldorf this week. :)

bob_vinyl said...

Now wait just a minute. I may be a rock snob, but that doesn't change the fact that you just heaped praise upon an album that a) offers nothing new and b) is nostalgic for something that wasn't very good the first time around. Someone, rock snob or not, had to speak the truth here. You have to agree that you can't give a Whitesnake album 4.5/5 with impunity. They were what, a 3/5 band in their prime? This restatement of their commercial and decidedly non-rocking purpose can't be 50% better than their best work when it merely tries to relive those lame days.

David Amulet said...

Sounds to me like reasonable tastes--which both of you have, based on our shared views of many things--can differ.

There are some things each of you and I are spot on in assessing, and other where we couldn't be farther apart. But I respect you both, just as I respect differing tastes--even those I disagree with vehemently.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Well, there's the point, David, that I'm trying to relay to Bob; one of my closest friends he may be, he is a notorious instigator and a bully when it comes to his opinions on music, so this time I'm punishing him, lol...

The point is Bob, I'm not going to justify myself to you or anyone for the reasons I like something. Considering my tastes are about 80% underground, I have no concerns about whether I'm cool or hip or if something outside of what we normally listen to and geek out over just so happens to resonate with me.

Rock 'n roll triggers emotion, whether you constitute it as nostalgic or in the moment; who gives a fuck in either case? If you feel it, you feel it. If you don't, you don't. That's simple enough, right? In your case, I feel you came to this topic with a pre-conceived hatred, so why bother with it, huh? I know you're a busy man, so why act like you've got nothing better to do than scrum with folks on their pages? For a guy I've credited as one of my music gurus, I'd ask you to check yourself.

Normally I just leave Bob alone and let him make a goof of himself but the routine negativity and tendency towards disrespect is what I have to flag here. You want to make your point positive or not, go for it, but show some integrity and respect as David has done here.

And Chuck, do understand I'm just giving it back instead of taking it from Bob and none of this is personal whatsoever, but since you added your thoughts, I would add that your primary interest in electronic and techno, which I've always had a strong interest in, wouldn't you agree that said medium follows a lot of scripts including loops, samples, singular beat patterns and paper? Maybe to write certain basic melodies from which to sculpt a track, but you and I know a large portion of it is tweaked and generated through a computer and keys/synths and their internal computers. I don't scoff at this way of creating since there's a lot of great electronic music out there, but seriously, man, think before you fire, eh?

Do we all feel better now? I'd say this was pretty lame, cheers...

bob_vinyl said...

Hey, there's nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure, but you can't go and give something like that a 4.5/5. It's not objective. If anything drives me crazy, it's someone brushing off criticism by saying it's "my opinion" (or in your case, "It resonates with me"). I didn't expect the album to be good, but I didn't come here with some "pre-conceived hatred." I hate the record, because it is soulless, nostalgic and dull. I know this, because I've heard it, not because I hated their music 20 years ago. I might be a goof, but I write the things I write, because I do care about music and I hate to see bad music get praise. Sure I like to cause trouble, but only when I see something that needs its pot stirred. You might not have to justify yourself to me, but I certainly don't have to check my opinion. We all write in a public forum. If you want people to check themselves, start moderating comments and don't allow the negatives. Otherwise, you gotta live with me.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

final word and I'm done with this thereafter; you are free to disagree and have a negative opinion and I won't censor you; the name is Van Horn not Stalin. I would say just be a little classier in your approach instead of needling for a fight which you do not just here, but in many other misplace passion with a lust for opinionated argumentation; that's the difference

bob_vinyl said...

I'm not going to candy coat my opinion just to be "classy." If you don't like my approach, delete my comments.

taotechuck said...

Oh my goodness, these comments have gotten rather fiery!

Nearly all music follows variations on a script. What bothers me is musicians who sound as if they walk in the room, do a quick read-through of the script, and then perform it.

I want to believe the stories that my favorite bands tell. I'm not a Tool fan, but when I hear Maynard, I believe that he believes what he's doing. That goes a long way in my book.

I'll address your point about dance music by looking at a DJ you saw last year, Felix Da Housecat. When I hear much of Felix's music, I believe that he's someone who truly understands and loves house music. But when I listen to albums like 2007's Virgo Blaktro & the Movie Disco (an excellent album by many reviewers' standards), I hear a guy who's watering down his own musical essence with mediocre R&B. It has nothing to do with scripts; it has to do with passion and excitement and creativity and... well, and art.

I liked a couple of the early- to mid-'80s Whitesnake albums. David Coverdale is good at what he does, but what he does was never particularly innovative. When he goes back 20 years after the fact and makes music that sounds exactly like what he was doing two decades ago, I can't call it great.

One final comment, that is directed at all of us here who fancy themselves to be reviewers. It is the reviewer's job to be objective. It doesn't matter whether or not you liked an album; it matters whether the album objectively measures up to whatever definition of "good" you've established. (Of course, "good" is subjective, which is why there is no such thing as truly objective record reviews.)

I never get the sense that you tried to listen to Good to be Bad objectively. It sounds like you listened as a fan, of both the genre and the band. That makes it a great review for other fans, but for people like me -- people who don't travel in the metal circles but are always looking for innovative and exciting music from any genre -- reviews like this are useless.

You've turned me on to some good bands in the past, Ray. But this time, I feel like you're giving me a turd and telling me it's treasure.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

After this, I'm declaring this closed on my end only to address you Chuck, because this time you put some thought into your comments, which deserves acknowledgement

There's going to be no breaking point on anyone's side, not that it's in my interest to sway anyone to my point-of-view. I say what I have to say, point-blank, and if someone gets turned onto it, that's wonderful. If they think I'm peddling "turds," there's not a thing I can do about it nor am I going to go the extra mile to convince them of my opinion. It's out there, and again, you dig it or you don't and I am totally cool with the people who don't like it, so long as there's a courteous and quasi-professional direction about it.

I have no interest in slagging people and their opinions and for those who do that, it's no different than the offending person trying to exercise mind control because they don't share the same opinion or feeling about something. I'm certainly not going to come out and say Felix da Housecat let me down because he was playing the exact same Depeche Mode samples every acid house DJ threads and tweaks (frankly, I CAN get enough) because I know you have your view on it, and I know the people in the rave were enjoying themselves. I know Felix is reputedly great on his recordings, thus I am interested in listening, but I'm certainly not going to say, "Hey, Chuck, Felix bit the big one at Virgin Fest, so don't give me that crap about him being an "artist." You understand?

As for your notes on objectivity, you don't have access to my private mind and thoughts so you're being presumptuous based on what you read and if that's the tone it gives off, so be it; I don't apologize.

I actually came to this disc (when the three song preview came first) with the same exact skepticism the rest of you guys did. I didn't expect anything from it whatsoever and unlike you guys, I was pleasantly surprised by it, because I spend so much time reviewing underground music that's challenging, avant garde, frequently noisome and on occasion a pain in the ass to deal with. Sue me if all of a sudden something simplistic that jives with my rocker's soul turned me on. It's a great deviation from my norm and it was welcome.

The real issue here is a bias from people who think old rockers should stay in their time and place and never try to have a career again.

So bottom line is, you guys hate it, I dig it, let it be.

bob_vinyl said...

Hold on, don't drop it yet. Operation:Bobcrime is just about to work.

bob_vinyl said...

I will soon have access to your private mind.

taotechuck said...

Bob, you're a jackass.

Ray, one last thought about your most recent comment, because you raised an interesting difference between us.

You wrote, "I'm certainly not going to come out and say Felix da Housecat let me down because he was playing the exact same Depeche Mode samples every acid house DJ threads and tweaks (frankly, I CAN get enough) because I know you have your view on it, and I know the people in the rave were enjoying themselves. I know Felix is reputedly great on his recordings, thus I am interested in listening, but I'm certainly not going to say, "Hey, Chuck, Felix bit the big one at Virgin Fest, so don't give me that crap about him being an "artist."

The thing is, I want you to tell me that Felix bit the big one at Virgin Fest. When you do that, there's a chance that one -- or both -- of us is going to learn something new. Maybe I'll learn to hear Felix through your ears, and realize that there's something awful about him that I'd never noticed before. Or maybe you'll hear Felix through my ears, and you'll hear something great that totally transcends what at first sounded like lame takes on Depeche Mode.

But if we don't have that difference of opinion, we never have the chance to learn.

Maybe you can take an artist I hate and make me see why I'm wrong. Or maybe I love an artist, and you can show me why I'm wrong. Maybe you can say, "Hey, Chuck, why the hell do you like Motley Crue when they're nothing but a warmed over mixture of Aerosmith and Hanoi Rocks?" And maybe my answer will simply be, "I like Motley Crue just because I like them, end of story," but it might be, "You know, I've never heard Hanoi Rocks. If you say Motley Crue ripped them off so badly, maybe you can tell me some Hanoi Rocks tracks I should check out." And maybe I'll see both Motley Crue and Hanoi Rocks in a new light, thanks to you.

I find when I'm forced to defend the music I love, I either learn new things about it and deepen my love for it, or I realize that it's not as great as I thought it was. I've learned to treat heated discussions over music as gifts that ultimately enrich my listening pleasure.

(For what it's worth, I never liked Felix Da Housecat until I stumbled on some of his old 12 inch singles at a Salvation Army recently. If it hadn't been for you and Bob seeing him at Virginfest, I probably wouldn't have picked them up. But thanks to you guys, I did. And now I've discovered some classic house that I missed back in the day.)