Saturday, April 30, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 861: Rainbow

This next review got delayed by a combination of me working late and over-filling my social dance card. I’m squeezing it in now before I go and play ulti.

Disc 861 is….Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll
Artist: Rainbow

Year of Release: 1978

What’s up with the Cover? There is a subset of ‘giant head’ album covers that can best be described as “head collage.” Other examples include Queen’s “The Miracle” and Kings of Leon’s “Youth & Young Manhood

This cover may be the best of them all: five heads bound together by the human hair of rock and roll.

How I Came To Know It: This was the final of three albums that Ronnie James Dio made as part of Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow and it took a while for me to find it. I eventually got it at Scrape, a record store in East Vancouver specializing in heavy metal and hard rock.

How It Stacks Up:  I have three Rainbow albums. Of the three, I must reluctantly put “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” in third spot. And as this is the final Rainbow album in my collection, here is the traditional recap:

  1. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow: 4 stars (reviewed back at Disc 743)
  2. Rising: 3 stars (reviewed back at Disc 625)
  3. Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
Ratings: 3 stars

“Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” is the most Dio-esque of the three Rainbow albums featuring him. I’m not sure if this is just a function of it being a later release, or if Ronnie James Dio just slowly takes over whatever band he’s in. I suspect the latter.

The album has a creative a tug-of-war common in bands where the two principals are about to part ways, with Blackmore’s seventies guitar rock dominating some tracks and Dio’s bombastic fantasy-driven proto-metal dominating others.

The opening (and title) track has a bit of both elements, and you can feel Blackmore and Dio trying to adapt to each other. Dio’s lyrics have a hint of his desire to sing about weird stuff, but the song is grounded in a bluesy riff that is all Blackmore. The song’s subject matter (rock and roll is cool) isn’t sufficiently weird to let Dio get too crazy. For the most part it works, but it isn’t the timeless anthem either artist probably hoped it would be.

Better is “Lady of the Lake” which descends more fully into Dio’s crazy-ass lyrics. The Blackmore riff still grounds this track, but the soaring Dio vocals are what bring it to life as he sings about Arthurian legends, taking plenty of liberties with the story:

“I know she waits below
Only to rise on command
When she comes for me
She’s got my life in her hands
Lady of the lake.”

Er…a bit of a strained metaphor, but what the hell. The album is fully infected with Dio’s awesome and over the top lyrics. Songs like “Gates of Babylon” and “Kill the King” dig even deeper. Neither song is as strong musically as “Lady of the Lake” and “Gates of Babylon” has a lot of questionable lyrics, including:

“The power of what has been before
Rises to trap you within
A magic carpet ride, a genie
Maybe more.”

Seriously, Dio? “Maybe more” is the best you could come up with? The specific is terrific, my friend. “Gates of Babylon” also tries way too hard to work in eastern rhythms, in draining the song of energy. “Kill the King” is better, with a driving energy but Blackmore’s guitar solo, usually a highlight of any Rainbow song, doesn’t take the song anywhere it hasn’t already gone.

Blackmore gets his moments of glory on the record, starting with “L.A. Connection.” “L.A. Connection” has an irresistible guitar lick, and Dio’s vocal falls into line to sing along and reinforce it, rather than trying to soar over the top. This song has a groove to it that is good for dancing, driving or head-banging in equal measure. Blackmore’s guitar solo is tasty and adds just a hint of prog-water amid the weeds of the beat.  

The record ends with “Rainbow Eyes” a soft ballad which showcases how talented Dio is as a vocalist. Here he sings what is almost a folk song, and Blackmore’s guitar picks along behind the scenes (along with a flute) giving an elfin quality to the song. At 7:31, “Rainbow Eyes” drags on a bit too long, but it is still a nice palate cleanser to end the record. Also, nice that Dio was able to work one his beloved rainbow metaphor into a song before the album closed.

The tension between the styles of Dio and Blackmore is clear, and while not as well blended as on Rainbow’s two previous albums, still melds together into a unique and interesting sound. The album has a solid energy to it, and at eight tracks and 40 minutes, benefits from the time-limiting quality of seventies vinyl.

Two giant egos like this couldn’t last, and Dio would go on from here to make the classic Black Sabbath album “Heaven and Hell” where he discovered a brand new stubborn guitar player to fight with (Tony Iommi).

Blackmore would make five more records with Rainbow that enjoyed comparably more commercial success. None of these included Dio, and as a result have failed to catch my interest. Never say never though.

Best tracks:  Lady of the Lake, L.A. Connection, 

No comments: