There is very little AOR/hard rock from today that can stand against a true and tested classic, Rainbow's "Bent Out of Shape". That's right. Early 80s Rainbow. The band gets plenty of acclaim for the Ronnie James Dio trilogy mid to late 70s outings, but when Ritchie turned his Rainbow from a hard hitting metal band to a slick pop friendly rock band, many turned their backs and covered their ears, declared blasphemy and stubbornly decided not to even give the new incarnation the time of day. Oh but what music they missed!
"Straight Between the Eyes" may be the cream of the crop of this era but "Bent Out of Shape" is just a half step behind, and still manages to crush contemporary hard rock with ease. Blackmore showed his songwriting side here, fiercely tuned to song structure and never overdoing it with the solos, every guitar piece and keyboard flurry was placed with great care and enhanced the moments instead of trying to steal the spotlight. The focus was on the song itself and blending the elements together to create something that was out of the ordinary, special. Which was not hard to do when he had the fortune of Joe Lynn Turner on the mic in his prime. Pure vocals, not a single blemish to be found, and overflowing with soul and emotion, he could stir the dirt encrusted skeletons right out of their graves and make them feel life again with just a few passionately sung notes. This duo of Turner and Blackmore should have made the industry quake in fear, because they were such a formidable pair, and offered their all for this final fling in this incarnation's history before Blackmore ceased chasing rainbows and found himself deep in purple again.
So the results are obvious, there are timeless classics abound here, including the magnificent "Street of Dreams"
with its dreamy atmosphere and lush vocals, formed from the purest of emotion and presented cleanly along with the crisp, mystically mellow guitar that echoes of things lost and never meant to be found. "Desperate Heart"
is a sing-along anthem all about just what the title suggests. The rhythm is fantastic, and utterly addictive, the studio tricks employed are just genius, especially the cracking sound like that of a whip, ironic and catchy, Turner's voice again just drips with passion all over the song, from the velvety "you keep on talking your words are sounding so smooth"
to the distraught howling under the pressure of realization "Oh don't say that you love me"
"Can't Let You Go"
wraps up the trilogy of love songs with a breathless unforgettable opening that sounds like a mad organist has hijacked the instrument from a local cathedral and filled the air with its unsettling sound, courtesy of ivory tickler David Rosenthal. Vocals and guitars that entwine into a searing sizzle of pain pushing heartbreak, holding on to that one desire despite the fact the "love is growing colder."
Turner puts the emphasis on his lyrics with lovely twists, and Ritchie follows along with bittersweet guitars, lost in their loneliness and unwilling to let go themselves.
And of course there are harder rockers too like the opening track "Stranded"
with its haunting chorus and terribly catchy verses. This is to "Bent Out of Shape" what the hard-hitting ballsy rocker "Death Alley Driver" was to "Straight Between the Eyes" - a rough and tumble rocker with its own unique edge. JLT's stretched and over emotive "nooos" and "ohhhhs" punctuate the curtain of riffs that hang down heavily. "Fool For the Night"
is a little more simplistic but nonetheless a nifty piece of work itself that is a crisp take on something quite close to AOR with a dash of grit splashed in for good measure. And of course "Fire Dance"
with its mesmerizing lyrics conjuring almost gothic/fantasy type imagery, a sparkling rhythm and swirls of guitar from Blackmore.
The other two rockers are less Rainbow and more Purple-ish in nature, "Drinking With the Devil"
and "Make Your Move"
. I always felt these two could have benefited from a more AOR direction instead of the straight up hard rock approach as they were represented but with the sheer quality surrounding them, they are easily lost in the shuffle.
The last two pieces to the puzzle are both instrumentals, the melting soul of "Anybody There"
which is one of the saddest, most break your heart in two tunes that I have ever heard. Blackmore's guitar sounds so hurt, you can feel it bleeding and pulsing as if it was a fluttering heart in the palm of your hand, overwrought and distraught from the weight of eternal sadness. The tone is to die for, luscious and rounded, like a perfect sculpture that's as smooth as ice. "Snowman"
is more synthesizer oriented and is also so quick you just might miss it, but its unearthly, frosty beauty is worth beholding even for its short time on the airwaves. It is as if the song just gives up and turns from fluffy snowflakes to puddles of dripping water towards the end that runs trickling into the fading flurry of winter snowfall.
A lot of things have been said about this album in the past, many of which are absolutely ridiculous, from ignorant people (yes I said ignorant) comparing this carefully refined artistic AOR vision to the slapstick antics of glam-act Poison, to simply writing it off as utter garbage. How many of these naysayers actually took the time to sit with the music and soak it in for what it is - (high class melodic rock), instead of damning it for what it is not - (another Dio-esque recording)? It was a new decade, a new era and a completely different singer and direction, one that Ritchie chose perhaps from listening to too much ABBA on the road while touring, but whatever caused him to drive to create music such as this, I bless it, for he managed to conquer yet another rock subgenre with the kind of style and grace that wannabes from the early 80s craved to accomplish but never quite measured up to. "Bent Out of Shape" is not the overall best offering from this fruitful collaboration of Turner/Blackmore, but yet holds its own with some truly magnificent songs that are absolutely timeless. It should be a purchasing requirement for anyone that holds all things masterfully melodic, dear to their heart.Rating: 8/10
Written by Alanna
Monday, November 08, 2004