There are some moments on Whitesnake’s new album, Flesh & Blood, that will have the hairs on all your appendages standing priapically to attention if you are a Coverdale connoisseur of long standing. The superbly-executed backing vocals on Get Up, for instance, are so well constructed you know you’re in the presence of master songbuilders. David Coverdale, fully cognisant of the fact that his voice is not what it once was, has surrounded himself with a band full of great singers and you can really hear it on this track. Similarly, the whole of Hey You (You Make Me Rock) is fit to rub shoulders with the classics of the Whitesnake canon, too, a rip-roaring Stadium-stomping maniac of a song that could easily have found it’s way onto the band’s epoch-making 1987 record. But after that things are a little patchy.
Acoustic ballad After All is superb, a gentle paean to love that Coverdale delivers with tenderness and skill – an album full of this kind of material might not be worthy of the Whitesnake name but would certainly have been preferable to the strained good-time barrelhousing of Shut Up & Kiss Me. Throughout the album, the tracks where Coverdale plays to his diminishing strengths are always the most effective.
And of course this wouldn’t be a post-blues rock Whitesnake album without some cod-Zeppelin; that function is performed here by album closer Sands of Time, which actually isn’t too bad at all – it’s just the formulaic nature of such a track that raises the hackles. Still, it is a good vehicle for reminding the listener of the skills of Cov’s latest guitar duo, Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach. I wasn’t a fan of Hoekstra in Night Ranger, but here his fleet-fingered variations on the John Sykes playbook work well, complementing Beach’s more traditional style. The pair work excellently as a unit.
The overwheening feeling the listener gets after a few exposures to Flesh & Blood is that the band are trying too hard. On the 2011 album Forevermore Coverdale’s partnership with guitarist Doug Aldrich bore real fruit because the pair targeted Coverdales’s true strength – bluesy, earthy, heavy rock and roll with grandiose pretensions – and the pair wrote a set of classy tracks to highlight same. Here, the band try and cover too many hair metal bases for a singer that just doesn’t sing well in that style any more.
After that there’s really not too much to say. Tommy Aldridge is dependable as ever behind the kit, but for much of the time he’s drumming on material that isn’t really going to move many mountains for fully paid up members of the Whitesnake choir. As an exercise in providing material for Coverdale to get out and tour behind again, Flesh & Blood works well – the songs which will make it into the band’s live set do so just about on merit; for all other purposes you’re probably best served going back to one of the many classic albums David Coverdale was associated with in his prime.
Flesh & Blood is out now.