Review: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. – L.P. Hartley
Let’s get it out in the open from the outset, Whitesnake’s Flesh & Blood is a damn fine rock-n-roll record. From the always reliable Tommy Aldridge on drums to the dual-guitar work of Rob Beach and Joel Hoekstra, David Coverdale has assembled another strong version of Whitesnake. This sounds like the proper follow-up to 1989’s Slip of the Tongue just as 2008’s Good To Be Bad sounded like the ideal follow-up to the band’s eponymous blockbuster in 1987. There are a lot of missing years in there but Whitesnake sounds fresh in 2019 compared to a lot of the so-called “modern” rock on the radio.
There isn’t anything new to the Whitesnake formula. When they achieved global success in 1987, most of us wide-eyed teenagers didn’t know that Coverdale had over a decade in the business under his belt or that the giant hit single “Here I Go Again” was actually a newer version of a song they recorded in 1982. Whitesnake appeared on MTV, and while Coverdale did look a little older, the high-profile videos were impossible to deny. Their blues-rock sound owed more to Led Zeppelin than Aerosmith which gave them an edge on a lot of the Sunset Strip bands the labels were pushing out in a race to cash in.
“Good To See You Again” kicks off the album with a warm welcome to anyone who may have stopped listening back in 1989. The band sounds live with a thundering outro anchored by the massive Aldridge who always sounds like he plays with hundred-pound sticks. Lead single “Shut Up and Kiss Me” hits the accelerator hard and the video even brings back the infamous Jaguar that everyone remembers from “Here I Go Again”. The soaring guitar on “When I Think Of You (Color Me Blue)” captures the melodic talent of Coverdale that made songs like “The Deeper the Love” such memorable hits in the late 80s.
Appreciating Whitesnake in 2019 takes a little lyrical perspective. Their music remains grounded in a decade that is so far removed from today that it might as well be a different universe. It would be foolish to expect a band that put a model on top of a car to sell records to find a more enlightened outlook in their music. Coverdale’s sex-drive remains the narrative thrust of most songs and it borders on unsettling at times, like when he sings “I can’t keep my hands to myself” on “Shut Up and Kiss Me”. Women are all angels in black with hearts of stone and trouble is their middle name if the songs on Flesh & Blood are taken at face value.
On the title song, a relationship is boiled down to the male gaze – “I saw you standing on the corner, A brown-eyed beauty dressed in black, I couldn’t stop myself from wanting you, so bad”. The object of affection is cast as “flesh and blood, skin and bones” and the offer of a diamond ring is just an empty promise to get her to stay. Through the lens of Spinal Tap, it all feels a bit ridiculous, to be honest, but let’s not overthink a Whitesnake album. If you understand where the music comes from, Whitesnake remains fairly innocuous, a bit like Poison (who also has an album titled Flesh & Blood) with more intricate guitar solos. The guitars do sound fantastic, the drums pummel the speakers and Coverdale’s voice sounds like a well-aged whiskey. Flesh & Blood makes you realize how much the rock-n-roll of the late 80s still stirs our soul.