Review Summary: Coverdale's best work and a revitalizing experience for Page.
“Robert Plant is going to be seriously pissed when he hears this.” – RIP Magazine, 1993
Although critically lauded at its inception and during the subsequent album release, the collaboration of David Coverdale and Jimmy Page is a largely forgotten one. There were several rumored motivations behind this project. Robert Plant had long carried a passionate loathing for Coverdale, going back to his days in Deep Purple and 80’s era Whitesnake. Jimmy Page had been trying for years to convince Plant to acquiesce to a Led Zeppelin re-union. Coverdale himself had always seemed to revel joyously in the contempt he spawned in Plant. The melding and both direct and indirect involvement of three massive egos made for an interesting sub plot and story line, and as it turned out, Page got his wish for a reunion.
Coverdale, or “Cover-version” as Plant called him, was one of the more respected and talented vocalists in the hair metal genre. Although some would argue that this is similar to winning a fist fight with a quadriplegic, Coverdale had been around the block and was as close to a “professional” vocalist as you would find in the genre, save Sebastian Bach.
In his prime Page was a master of mixing melody and power blues that is largely credited for helping launch a genre. After the demise of Zeppelin, he spent the better part of 13 years doing little besides pretending not to dabble in the occult and releasing the occasional uninspired solo album. He had a lot of time to work on this album, and upon listen, it shows.
Musically the album expectedly sounds like a mixture of Whitesnake and Led Zeppelin, minus the unforgettable power drumming of Bonham and the experimental sounds of Zeppelin’s prime. Page is on his game, blending strong riffs with slow burning blues and mixing in a final touch of infectious melody. Lyrically, it is different than one would expect. The absence of Plant means there are no Celtic-dragon slaying storylines. From Coverdale’s perspective and history, there are predictably pieces of hair metal inspired tomfoolery, but for the most part songs are centered towards mortality, loss, redemption, and fear.
Coverdale has always sounded his best when he was most blatantly trying to rip off Plant. There are times throughout the record where he goes to a raspier, deeper voice, but he is most effective in blending between soft, almost spoken tones with passionate screeches like his predecessor. There is no “Still of the Night” like performance, but the record is strongest when Coverdale is strongest, mostly because there are very few weak moments from Page.
The album opens with “Shake My Tree,” one of the more formulaic and straight forward rock songs present. “Waiting On You” follows the trend, and has a chorus that sounds exactly like something taken straight from Whitesnake’s 1987 self titled album. As far as straight forward rockers go, they mostly hit and briefly miss on occasion. “Feeling Hot” is the requisite hair metal inspired “we are going to go out and get wasted and laid” theme, although it contains a crunching riff from Page. “Pride and Joy” was the lead single, incorporating a Mandolin led intro into a song dripping with sexual innuendos, a specialty of Coverdale’s. “Absolution Blues” finds Coverdale channeling Plant more than anywhere else on the album, and carries a riff that sounds like “Heartbreaker” off Led Zeppelin 2 on a healthy dose of speed. Overall, the straightforward rock numbers do a fine job of complimenting the respective talents and ensure the record is considered “hard rock.” Ultimately however, it is not where the album shines.
There are three slow burning epics on this album that catapult it from merely good to stellar. The three are spread throughout the album, although it would have been wise to put them in order at the end, creating a three pronged epic closing. Regardless of the order, “Take Me For A Little While,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and “Whisper a Prayer for the Dying,” are easily as good as anything Coverdale has ever done, and shows off a different side to Page. Many of Page’s stronger ballads from the Zeppelin era relied heavily on jangly acoustics and had an upbeat tone. These songs are dark on the surface, and rely heavily on somber toned picking from Page. “Take Me” is the strongest song on the record and is carried by a memorable lead break that takes place during and right after the chorus. “Whisper a Prayer” and “Don’t Leave Me” are much more brooding, but have a passionate and yearning undertone to them that stick with the listener. In short, they outshine the “Slow and Easy’s” of the world.
There are moments of filler, most notably “Over Now” and “Easy Does It,” with a heavier emphasis on the latter. “Over Now” was a single and has a huge riff but never really takes off. “Easy Does It” should have been left off the album. The final mentioned track is “Take a Look at Yourself,” a direct rip off of the Temptations “Tracks of my Tears.” A fan of soaring Power Ballads would be right at home here, and that is probably the point.
The final verdict is aside from the drama, the motivations, and the egos, this is a damn strong hard rock/blues record. It melds elements of hair metal, blues, and mid-era Zeppelin influence to create a sound that would have laid waste to most of the material that came out in the 80’s in the same genre. It may have also been strong enough to piss off Robert Plant just enough to reunite with Page.