It should be noted that ‘The Purple Album’ is not a typical Whitesnake album, per se. It is a powerful David Coverdale vehicle, no doubt, but the record consists solely of re-recorded tracks from Coverdale’s tenure as Deep Purple vocalist from 1973-76.
Representing the Purple albums ‘Burn,’ ‘Stormbringer,’ and ‘Come Taste The Band,’ Whitesnake’s 12th overall studio album has proven a bit divisive thus far since its release, for perhaps two glaringly obvious reasons.
One, is that this collection is not the melodic, sexy hard rock plate fans would have normally been served from the post-1984 Whitesnake.
Radio-ready anthems and full-thrust power chords sent rippling through Snake lore ever since the heyday of one John Sykes are replaced with the nuanced, bluesy meat-and-potatoes, single-string riffing originally laid down by Ritchie Blackmore and Tommy Bolin.
Two, is that current Whitesnake guitarists Reb Beach and newcomer to the camp, Joel Hoekstra of Night Ranger, sound nothing like the iconic Blackmore or Bolin. Purple purists may argue against the existence of an album such as this simply because of this fact. Beach and Hoekstra, while maintaining a respectful 70’s-era tone, take massive creative liberties within their own styles – which does prevent the album from falling into the rather vanilla trappings of straight-up covers record.
The Purple years did see Coverdale really come into his own as a vocalist, directly leading to his post-Purple solo efforts, ‘White Snake’ and ‘Northwinds,’ which were essentially the blueprints for Whitesnake. Listening to the tracks here, it’s clear Coverdale “Snakes” up the songs with his best 80’s-era bravado, again, making for an anything but bland covers affair.
In the end, Coverdale did have a hand in writing, and of course, singing these tracks back in the 70’s, so he’s a part of the music itself. He also is forever linked to the character of hard rock romantic – a role he plays to his full potential on this set. In the end, this record proves to be a “David Coverdale” album more than a “Whitesnake” record.
Or, can the two entities even be separated? Ultimately, that’s for the listener to decide. What’s clear is that ‘The Purple Album’ is most enjoyable as simply a great throwback blues-based rock record.
Coverdale’s vocals may have diminished in range over time, but he doesn’t lack in intensity. The fiery rendition of “Burn” may be tuned down now, but the song rocks hard with a sinister Coverdale snarl and well-executed fifths from Beach and Hoekstra.
Longtime Whitesnake drummer Tommy Aldridge slams as hard as he ever has, while bassist since 2010, Michael Devin, fully fills out the sound. New keyboardist Michele Luppi even gets a piece of the action with an organ solo late in the track – a perfect way to kick off the album.
Cuts like “You Fool No One” contain more firepower than the originals. The harmony guitar leads go off on dizzying, squealing tangents; for example, and the “metal” factor of the newly recorded version can’t be denied by the machine gun-like syncopation near the 4:50 mark.
“Love Child” is also of added metallic weight, yet maintaining the hammer-strike groove of the original. Coverdale belts out a few blood-curdling screams in this one post-verse, proving he hasn’t lost all of his legendary Robert Plant-like caterwaul.
Acoustic numbers like “Sail Away” manage a darkly ethereal quality, and similarly nimble softer track “Holy Man” shines with an almost Americana soul – it’s easy to imagine the Robinson brothers in the Black Crowes as youngsters being influenced by the original version.
Such tracks showing the evolution Purple would take as far as a relaxed, funkier vibe near the end of Blackmore’s initial run. “Might Just Take Your Life” takes this idea a step further with glistening slide guitar and sheer boogie goodness. Coverdale’s vocals here recalling his own Motown-inspired roots with a faux gospel chorus that’s absolute joy.
Essential to the Coverdale/Purple canon is “Mistreated,” a sure highlight of this set. The track’s main riff, consisting of just four notes stretched to the very limits of sun-scorched Delta blues burn, augment the anguish expressed in the vocals as genuine. By track’s end, we have a new appreciation for Coverdale’s newly semi-guttural rasp, and perhaps even more so, this crafty new Whitesnake lineup that never seems to disappoint.
While it would have been preferred, at least in this writer’s opinion, to get a new batch of studio originals to showcase the 2015 Whitesnake, this trip back in time to plunder the vaults is a worthy display of chops from one of the most professional, musically traveled units in the business. A perfect piece to introduce anyone to the very foundations of Whitesnake, ‘The Purple Album’ is whiskey-dust cool at every turn.