Review Summary: A vastly underrated gem from Whitesnake, Slip of the Tongue may be slightly past their prime, but it is a grand swansong before the band's temporary 90's breakup.
Whitesnake, much like fellow hard rock band Tesla, were a bit of an oddity in the 80's glam scene, creating edgy rockers and power ballads that were sandwiched between the Sunset Strip and the Scorpions in terms of style. Even then, Whitesnake's records still went on to sell like hot cakes and their bluesy edge spiced up their style instead of being the focal point in their music. One could listen to their music for any mood; you get those edgy, dirty tracks, laced in with a hint of serious subject matter and the obligatory dose of love balladry (who didn't have that back then?).
By the time 1989's Slip of the Tongue came around, Whitesnake were on top of the world, embarking on their largest concert tour at the time and performing all over the globe. The reception of the album itself, unfortunately, wasn't all too great, the record being heavily criticized for its general departure from the normal Whitesnake sound. Listening to it retrospectively, however, I'd say it deserves another chance.
First off, one of the biggest differences is in the guitar work, handled here by Steve Vai instead of Adrian Vandenberg, who suffered a wrist injury before getting anything done in the recording process. With Vai at the helm of the guitar work, the album gives off more of a "shredder" vibe, with solos flying in every direction while the vocal work by David Coverdale cuts a path of its own. Meanwhile, the rhythm section are definitely above average, but take the back seat most of the time as Coverdale and Vai battle each other on the frontlines of the production.
What ensues is a swirling storm of stylistic diversity, thunderous choruses, more metal-oriented guitar work, and those occasional sentimental moments to create a nice break from the action. Tunes like the title track and "Wings of the Storm" blow away the listener with swift drum work and punchy guitar work, while "Kitten's Got Claws" and "Cheap and Nasty" bring back the 80's sleaze in full form, with lyrics a band like Motley Crue could have certainly created in their heyday. The album continues in this way, of course making a few pitstops with the sweeter side of Whitesnake, like in songs such as the melancholic build-up (a la "One" by Metallica) ballad "Sailing Ships" and the moody "The Deeper the Love." Everything feels balanced stylistically, and no style overstays its welcome.
The production is crisp and clear, everything sounding retro yet very refined. This especially helps with songs like "Cheap and Nasty" with its multi-layered vocal arrangements during the chorus. The guitar work also benefits from this, having just enough crunch to reach a more metallic tone, yet having enough clarity to retain its appeal to a casual listener. The mix also captures many little subtle nuances for a more serious listener, such as the backing synthesizers illustrating the aural backdrop of "Fool For Your Loving."
Few albums are perfect, however, and Slip of the Tongue is certainly not perfect. Some people might not be able to handle the cheese, and, as stated above, the departure in style from previous Whitesnake albums (particularly becoming more serious) might turn fans off. Plus, the fact that Vai and Coverdale take over practically 90% of this record is pretty overbearing. However, this thing is still highly recommended in the long run, as it captures a different side of a band whose works have been consistently solid but not always too risk-taking.
Bottom line: When this album works, it's absolutely amazing. And guess what? There are quite a few of those very moments. Pick this up, and you could be very pleasantly surprised.