Universal (9LP box set) [Release date 24.11.14]
With the rejuvenation of both vinyl and classic rock, Universal have collated all 8 of the classic Rainbow albums in original packaging. Extravagant? Yes, resoundingly. But it’s lovely too. While a couple have appeared a couple of years ago, this complete set brings all eight albums together.
The band’s debut was originally released on the Oyster imprint, and recording started while Blackmore was still in Deep Purple; initially the cover of Quatermass’ ‘Black Sheep Of The Family’, who Deep Purple didn’t want to cover, was intended as a solo project. In fact there’s many a nod to this album in Blackmore’s noodling on the Deep Purple Live In Graz 75 set.
The rest of the band, famously, is comprised of Elf, who had previously toured with Deep Purple. With vocalist Ronnie James Dio, pianist Mickey Lee Soule, bassist Craig Gruber and drummer Gary Driscoll. Aside the aforementioned Quatermass track, there’s also an instrumental cover of the Yardbirds’ ‘Still I’m Sad’, while ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’, ‘Catch The Rainbow’ and ‘Sixteenth Century Greensleeves’ have all had lengthy live workouts.
The album is a classic, but effectively a solo album that was a far cry from the blistering hard rock Dio and Blackmore were known for.
All change for the second outing, quite literally, in every sense. Keeping vocalist Dio on board, in came drummer Cozy Powell, pianist Tony Carey and bassist Jimmy Bain. Rainbow Rising, the second album, was the benchmark, the classic rock album that set the bar for everyone, not just Rainbow, ever since its release in 1976.
Despite some of Carey’s keyboards and much of Bain’s bass far too (criminally) low in the mix, this was blistering. It was an organic process and, well, who cannot consider side 2 of this album the best rock music ever? ‘Stargazer’ (with the Munich Philharmonic) and ‘A Light In The Black’ (with its blistering keyboard/guitar solo interplays) are not only classics but improve with the warmth of the vinyl.
The subsequent live album, On Stage, was a good mix of material and extended workouts. The highlight of the set, by absolute a mile, is the opening track Kill The King, Cozy Powell’s drumming driving a fast energetic rocker and the arrangement with Carey’s keyboards high in the mix is more than memorable. Sadly, the rest of the album suffers from the edit and mix of tracks from across several shows, resulting in a lack of atmosphere.
It was then change again for Long Live Rock’n’Roll, with bassist Bob Daisley and pianist David Stone coming in. Due to changes occurring during the recording process, some of the bass was recorded by Blackmore and is low in the mix, as are the keyboards (and some guitar overdubs playing lines that you could imagine Carey playing in rehearsals). That said the title track is a real thumper and the studio version of’ Kill The King’, although a slightly weaker arrangement, still a standout.
All change again for Down To Earth, seeing Blackmore’s more commercial direction. Out were the Castles and Mythology and in with love and more melodic rock epics. With singer Graham Bonnet, bassist Roger Glover and pianist Don Airey on board, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ and All Night Long both made the charts and ensured radio airplay.
The commercial direction (well, Americanisation) continued with 1981’s Difficult To Cure. Now with drummer Bobby Rondinelli and singer Joe Lyn Turner. Can’t Happen Here and the Russ Ballard penned ‘I Surrender’ were both hits, and the title track is a Blackmore/Airey oriented work out on ‘Beethoven’s Ninth’ and the album’s highlight.
1982’s Straight Between The Eyes is, in my view, Rainbow’s weakest album. Now with pianist David Rosenthal on board, there’s still many a good track. ‘Death Alley Driver’ is a rocking opener, as is ‘Power’. ‘Stone Cold’ is more melodic number that did better in the USA than here.
Rainbow’s final Polydor album (compilations and retrospective releases aside), was 1983’s Bent Out Of Shape. Now with Chuck Burgi on drums, it cemented the more commercial direction of Blackmore of the time, and also ironically was probably the most consistent studio album (beginning to end, given the intended direction) under the Rainbow banner.
There is some fantastic and very polished music here, guitar and keyboards working well together. ‘Can’t Let You Go’ and ‘Street Of Dreams’ were singles and very US oriented, while ‘Stranded’ and ‘Desperate Heart stand out. There’s also a cover of the theme tune to ‘The Snowman’ (yes, really).
Between classic British hard rock and more polished rock, there’s some of the best hard rock here that you’ll find by anyone, ever, although some moments are much stronger than others.
The set itself, the ultimate in extravagance, is niche but lovely. One for the audiophile. ****
Review by Joe Geesin
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