Hidden In Plain Sight: Slip Of The Tongue

“Any time, any place, I’m just the fool who puts a smile on your face…”

It’s 1989 and David Coverdale is putting on the moves like never before. The previous Whitesnake album, 1987, went mega-plat, MTV rolled over, and David (never Dave) even got his new “excellent piece of ass”, as he described her to me, in all the videos, helping him have even more hits.

Two years on what could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about everything. Except the music, which was glorious in that shamelessly, brilliantly, look-at-me Coverdale-way. And that voice, of course. Which after ‘Mistreated’ on Burn could never be thought of in any other way than utterly superb.

But no one was paying attention to that. They were too busy whispering to each other about how Steve Vai had – literally – been bought-in to bolster the line-up after Adrian Vandenberg had already co-written all the songs with David. Publicly, this was because Adrian had damaged his wrist and couldn’t play for a while. In reality, Vandenberg’s guitar parts were already recorded. But Vai refused to come onboard unless they stripped Adrian’s existing guitar parts from the tapes – and allowed Steve to re-record them, plus add his own ‘sonic tapestries’ on top.

Then came the videos. Where the videos for 1987 had all featured Tawnee Kitaen and had all been deliciously sexy and fun, the first for the new Vai-ramped ‘Fool For Your Loving’ was so dark you could hardly see the band, then had to do with just quick glimpses of Tawnee in drive-by silhouette. Instead it was now down to Steve Vai to do the slut writhing on the floor bit. I feel a little bit of sick in my mouth when I see the video even now.

And the song. ‘Here I Go Again’, upgraded from its 1982 Marsden-swagger into a John Sykes propelled MTV firework had worked brilliantly two years before. Attempting the same with the even older Marsden-Moody classic had the opposite effect. Swapping heartfelt shimmy for wank-off homo-erotica. The single was not a hit.

And nor was the next one, ‘The Deeper The Love’, but at least they brought Tawnee into the video within the first 10 seconds – only blonde, instead of the tawny (geddit) brown she had been before. And she was in a long black dress. With frills. Like a younger Stevie Nicks. Without the witchy-power. It didn’t work. Everyone just looked too smug.

By the time ‘Now You’re Gone’ was released as the third single, no one cared anymore. Same same same, only not as good.

And yet the album… I travelled with the band on some of their US tour that year and they were still awe-inspiring. The new material fit like a velvet glove (wrapped around a dildo, natch) and tracks like ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ and ‘Judgement Day’ were positively titanic. Vai was brilliant, the addition to the show of his extended solo spot adding thick icing to a very hot cake – the best two tracks from his also new then solo album, ‘The Audience Is Listening’ – action learned at the knee of his previous boss, David Lee Roth – and ‘For The Love Of God’ – celestial brain-quake learned at the knee of actual God.

And all the good stuff from before – ‘Slide It In’, ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’, ‘Still Of The Night’, ‘Here I Go Again’. In those days of Bon Jovi for breakfast and Motley Crue for tea, this was the real fucking deal. But the weird vibes surrounding the Vai appointment, the lack of one decent video and hit, the mistaken grasping for same-again likeness to 1987, it left the album stranded.

And that’s a shame. Listen to it now and hear how 1980s big-hair rock ruled the world, baby, when done right the way the ‘American’ Whitesnake could it. Hairy balls guitar. Hairy chest vocals. Hammer to head drums. Private jet sex and cocaine stained $100 bills.

‘Kittens Got Claws’? Oh yeah. And doncha wish your favourite band was hot like that?

2 thoughts on “Hidden In Plain Sight: Slip Of The Tongue

  1. I always felt the problem was that Vandenberg wasn’t as good a writer as Sykes. That Vai was a genius player but an awful fit, didn’t help matters either.

    I love Coverdale, but why he didn’t revert back to the bluesy early 80s sound in the mid 90’s is a question that haunts me…wait for it…. in the still of the night…..

    • The Restless Heart album he did in 97 is way more blues based then the late 80’s stuff. Plus the acoustic Starkers In Toyko album with Adrian Vandenberg is a gem.

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