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Music

'Coverdale–Page': In defence of the David Coverdale and Jimmy Page collaboration

Even though Coverdale–Page didn’t make the leap forward into superstardom, it was a strong effort, combining the best efforts of its two writers and performers. The album was also a sizeable hit, making an impression on the American and Japanese charts, proving that the 1990s were more open to blues-rock stylings than audiences in the 1980s were. 

Indeed, it’s possible to compare Coverdale-Page to Whitesnake and Led Zeppelin, the progressive rock acts that paved the way for 1980s hair-metal, but performers David Coverdale and Jimmy Page were savvy enough to produce their songs in a way that was more startling, sophisticated and stylish. Not only was the album an impressive return to form for Page, but it’s also the best album in his post-Zeppelin canon. 

Everything about the album feels rooted in the blues genre (indeed, the songs demonstrate a nifty concoction of harmonica and guitar), but the production is airier than the design Page used in the 1970s, allowing the instruments to breathe through the mix. The album is refreshingly shorn of the instrumental flourishes of the latter-day Zeppelin albums, but Coverdale found himself defending his role as anything bigger than a Robert Plant fill-in. 

“Comparisons are inevitable,” the singer noted. “You have David Coverdale and Jimmy Page working together; then there are bound to be similarities to former works because that’s who we are.” You’d never know it from the lyrics, as virtually everything on Coverdale-Page deals with the passing of time, abandoning the youthful feverishness of their hard rock bands for something more sombre and cerebral sounding. 

Awash in sadness and purposelessness, Coverdale sings ‘Take Me for a Little While’ like he wishes the days away, straining from the bottom of his gut to the billowing high notes that expose his tremendous ambition. Sometimes the songs are about disengaged agency, sometimes the tunes centre around the prospect of fading ideologies, but mostly the compositions revolve around urbane, penillion fables where suns and moons compensate for the lack of earthly riches. 

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Yet by bookending the album with two helpings of infectious pop, the album doesn’t plunge into the realms of the forlorn, making it an interesting bridge between the harder edges of the grunge movement and the jauntier, more playful output issued by Blur, Oasis and Pulp. The album isn’t Britpop, which is fine because Coverdale’s influences were predominantly American, and neither were they grunge-influenced, which was even more appropriate, as Page’s guitar playing was rooted in soul, not anger. 

Indeed, if the album boasts a grimy riff, it comes from Coverdale, who plays the on the striking ‘Easy Does It’. He wasn’t known for guitar prowess, nor was Page renowned for harmonica-playing, but it didn’t stop the Zeppelin songwriter from playing the exhilarating line on ‘Pride and Joy’. Clearly, the men felt comfortable in each other’s company, pushing one another for their collective art. However, it must have been a little alarming for Page to hear ‘Over Now’, knowing that they reflected Coverdale’s divorce from American-born model Tawny Kitaen. 

The performances are tight and lean, and the vocals are fluid enough to generate enough interest for the album’s 61-minute runtime. Page uses an acoustic guitar on ‘Shake My Tree’, a barrelling rock number that pivots from pastoral folk to no-holds-barred rock with giddy, carefree abandon. The guitars buzz sharply on ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, as Coverdale punches through harmony melodies, shifting time changes and masked webs of piercing instrumental passages, delving in and out of the work as he best sees fits. There’s never a sense of work or labour heard here, but it’s the sound of artists writing and recording for the sheer fun of it. 

Coverdale acquitted himself well to the numbers, as he did to the Zeppelin rockers he sang on the duo’s tour of Japan. Coverdale loved the process and was buoyed by the sales and eager to record a follow-up. “I was very excited,” he said. “Jimmy and I worked very well creatively, as you can hear, and we had another four or five songs which were unmixed. And I said, ‘Jimmy, I’ve got all these other ideas. Let’s just do a ‘Coverdale Page 2 or ‘let’s make a double album.'” 

Rather than press forward, the guitarist opted for a step backwards and reunited with Robert Plant for a stroll through their shared catalogue. It was followed by Walking into Clarksdale, a negligible album that was as derivative as Coverdale-Page was refreshingly free from cliche. 

And maybe it’s for the best because Coverdale and Page could very well have sunk into the trappings and tricks they had issued to the world as younger, more extroverted men. Instead, this is the perfect portal into the realm of blues-rock, fashioned by two songwriters interested in keeping to the essence of the genre. And readers: it’s essential listening!