The One after the Big One: Whitesnake, SLIP OF THE TONGUE

Thursday, July 12, 2018

In the ‘80s, David Coverdale seemed to have two overarching concerns — sex and the blues (and maybe Aquanet, which would make three). Whitesnake’s music had always had something of a blues base, though fed through large amplifiers and played in arenas. As the decade progressed, that particular obsession seemed to wane; the band neatly took over Europe and other areas that were not the United States, and the bent-note, gutbucket influences of yore faded as quickly as you could say “Slide it In.”  

That blues were absent on Whitesnake’s self-titled 1987 record, which abandoned any pretext of bluesiness in favor of big-haired, tight-pantsed arena rock. That’s when sex climbed to the top of the overarching concern list, from the band’s sultry videos (starring Coverdale’s wife, Tawny Kitaen), to Coverdale’s leering stage presence, including the gratuitous use of his microphone stand as phallic representation. Of course, he sold eight million copies of the album and had two chart-topping hits.

“Follow THAT,” the arena rock gods seemed to tell Coverdale. And so he did, packing as many references to tawdry acts as he could into a song called “Slip of the Tongue,” and being so … um … satisfied with his efforts, he made the song the title track to his next album.  SLIP OF THE TONGUE is just one lascivious paean to sex after another — having it, wanting it, having to live without it for ten minutes, expressing frustration when it is withheld, and then, at the very end of the record, a song (“Sailing Ships”) that has nothing to do with sex, unless there’s a metaphor we’re missing.

Such a towering tribute to all things carnal requires a masterful band, and if there’s one professional thing Coverdale has ALWAYS been great at, it’s finding great bands. The rhythm section of bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge is positively golden, real arena rock royalty. Add to that the otherworldly guitar of Steve Vai, brought in when Adrian Vandenberg took ill (Vandenberg is credited as playing on the album, but he did not). If there were a king of this kind of thing in 1989, Vai was it, and his razzle-dazzle is fantastic accompaniment to Coverdale’s songs.

Highlights on the record include “Now You’re Gone,” which shifts dynamics from soft and slow to loud and rocking, and which has a monster Vai solo, complete with a key modulation that’ll get your attention if you’re not ready for it. “Wings of the Storm” is a breakneck love-as-natural-phenomenon tune that reminds one of the wind-in-your-face studly pronouncements that Deep Purple put out when Coverdale fronted that band. And, of course, there’s “The Deeper the Love,” because there’s got to be a power ballad on the record, and the band delivers a good one.

SLIP OF THE TONGUE is a fine time capsule of arena-ready hard rock at the end of the ‘80s. It’s also a tasty reminder of David Coverdale’s sensual preoccupations at the time, and that’s just fine, too.

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