Before the coats got long and flouncy, the hair got big and bouncy and the videos became littered with a gyrating Kitaen, Whitesnake were simple, no-frills, bluesy hard rock and they were untouchable. Whilst I don’t dislike their late ’80s/early ’90s shiny metal anthems and the hard rock meets hair-rock thrusting, there was something really special about the ’70s and early ’80s material.
This uncovered gem from the vaults is a snapshot of the band in a period when they were in transition. The catalogue of material is the aformentioned bluesier period but Thin Lizzy alumnus John Sykes had recently joined and was intent on bringing a sharper edge to the band’s sound.
“Slide It In” was of course re-recorded with him replacing the original guitar parts primarily at the behest of Whitesnake‘s US label and although this garnered them many new fans, it alienated some of the old guard.
This recording features Coverdale at the height of his powers vocally, but he hadn’t yet hit the stride he did on “1987” and so our David and the dearly departed Cozy Powell sound like they’re playing catch-up with the fret wankery at times. The passion, feeling and groove that’s always been synonymous with The Cov was coming adrift a little and it wasn’t until the band mutated into the behemoth in the aforementioned videos that the sound had evolved to a point where it fully gelled.
As much as I love every era of Whitesnake this is a band halfway through the mutation. Not the handsome young lad in the moonlight, not the snarling ferocious werewolf bounding through the fields, but the awkward shapeshift in between.
I wanted to love this album, hoping it would be a selection of their finest early stuff given a new lease of life and a semi-metallic sheen, but in fact it feels like someone has put a Japanese supercar engine into a Triumph Stag and made it sound a bit rattly and uncertain.
The keyboards are deliberately buried low in the mix and in fact they didn’t have a proper keyboardist as such at this stage, but a touring player who was concealed offstage like a dirty secret. The melody really suffers at times and makes me yearn for another listen to “Live… In The Heart Of The City”.
John Sykes is a phenomenal guitarist but he murders some wonderful songs here. I mean, how can you be as talented as he is, have The Cov singing next to you and still fuck up a song as sublime as ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’?!
There is, however, one saving grace: the medley featuring the band’s last ever performance with the legendary Jon Lord. Magnificent in every way and a reminder of why they were foolish to hide the keyboards and bury the bass low in the mix. The throbbing soul of Whitesnake is glaringly absent from most of the tracks on the album and he leaves a huge hole in the music world itself since he left us two years ago.
As a zealous fanboy I would endorse owning this album for curiosity’s sake and for the astonishing medley, but to the casual fan this is perhaps best ignored in favour of “Live… In The Still Of the Night” or the aforementioned 1980 release.
I will always be a hobo rather than a drifter, but this is the mad hitch-hiker you need to drive past.