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Blackmore had invented heavy, power and speed metal during the 70’s with Deep Purple and Rainbow with monumental, pioneer anthems like “Fireball”, “Burn” and “A Light In The Black”, yet by the end of the decade he decided to play more accessible music. Albums like Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll and Machine Head had influenced heavily the new generation of 80’s British metal with their aggression and speed but as usual, the Man In Black unashamedly, nearly arrogantly ignored the changes in the scene and trends to do what he wanted. Down To Earth was unexpectedly successful, while most 70’s rock dinosaurs succumbed to the energy and enthusiasm of the NWOBHM – Rainbow effortlessly prevailed and reached bigger fame and popularity than ever before, despite following an alternative musical path to all those young groups. Straight Between The Eyes still obeys a mainstream direction, including more hits but songs with heavier edge as well.
The opening track is spectacular and unique, “Death Alley Driver” should be thought of as Rainbow’s answer to Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” as it matches its accelerated pulse, vicious riffage and dexterous progression – once again, the band is offering highly-competent speed/power metal, increasing the dynamism of rhythms with Rondinelli’s frantic double-bass, Blackmore’s substantially loose lines and those superb, extended instrumental passages of explicit classical music reminiscence. Both Ritchie and Airey are shredding and challenging each other on that mid-section duel solo on an extraordinary exhibition of musicianship and technical ability, supported by that truly solid rhythm basis and those heterogeneous structures (just think of “Spotlight Kid” but way faster and more sophisticated). Although the album generally consists on less ferocious, straighter cuts like the horny “Tit Squeeze” or the vital “Rock Fever”, including cool bluesy riffs and persistent verses, mostly vocal-based and denying impossible complexity but not pushing away versatility of song-bodies and elaborated solos completely. So melody increases along with the emphasis the group is putting on vocals, as well on the emotive “Stone Cold” and “Miss Mistreated” which expose Turner’s most dramatic performance and melancholy lyrics – adding some of Blackmore’s most exquisite lyrical licks and solos. But the most emotive moment on the album is that brilliant ballad “Tearin’ Out My Heart”, alternating vigorous sections with quieter verses, sweet arpeggios and power choruses that create a cathartic climax. Yet it’s not all tenderness here, “Bring On The Night (Dream Chaser)” delivers quicker refined heavy metal with looser lines, while “Power” presents the coolest riffs, combined with that imaginative beat, those harmony vocals and cheerful soul choir. Song-list is completed with another unique piece: “Eyes Of Fire” reveals exotic, Arabic riffs and vivid orchestral arrangements, creating another unforgettable atmosphere of pure magic with Joe particularly inspired.
Certainly, it’s a more melodic approach, highly-refined, yet not totally cheesy or inoffensive. There are still some fierce tunes here (apart from the stunning opening speed metal track) and actually some cuts go quite fast and loose, avoiding the weighty conventional classic rock tempos. Although the quiet, gentle moments on the album are a majority – Blackmore ain’t afraid to show his sensitive side and predilection for strong harmonies, delicate arrangements and lyrics about feelings and love. The music has become more polite than ever before but not as obnoxiously mellow and soft – actually, production is pretty minimalist and avoids emphasizing the presence of choruses and verses excessively, neither denying the devastating tone of Ritchie’s lines. Undoubtedly, in contrast with what soon the infamous Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Poison would do, this stuff is still pretty aggressive and honest, not intending to be catchy, easily-listenable or compatible with the requirements of some major label of popular radio station. And you can find in fact notable roughness and difficulty – a few instrumental sequences are quite challenging and lengthy, other times concise and complementing the numerous verses instead, yet despite being a more simplistic attempt, this material occasionally introduces really proficient, skilled arrangements. There weren’t many groups that could beat the intensity, discipline and velocity of “Death Alley Driver” by that time or the excellence of Blackmore’s playing – supported by that astonishing Glover-Rondinelli rhythm section I insist, the always competent keyboard lines of Mr. Airey and Turner’s sweet vocals. A line-up of such potential and capability could’ve displayed bigger virtuosism and designed much more ambitious patterns but the Man In Black knew what he wanted and each band member passionately contributed to accomplish his plans – the chemistry and good feeling between them is reflected on the grace and fluidity on the song’s execution.
Slightly heavier and undeniably better produced than Difficult To Cure, Straight Between The Eyes might not be Rainbow’s most pretentious, cohesive work but includes some of the most remarkable tunes of the group. Other veteran 70’s acts languished in obscurity due to their incapability to adapt and reinvent their sound according to the changes and demands of the 80’s scene but these guys kept the freshness and inspiration on their music, without selling out totally or trying to emulate the NWOBHM’s principles predictably. Blackmore never lacked determination, attitude or vision, neither honesty and talent so, despite not being particularly fashionable, the Turner years sound satisfied the fans and actually achieved considerable success and hit the charts. And once again, the band chose a terrific Hipgnosis cover artwork for the album.
After a very commercial and mixed release of "Difficult to Cure", Ritchie and co. came back one year later with "Straight Between the Eyes." There was another switch at keyboard as Dave Rosenthal stepped in to replace Don Airey. With the band coming back to the studio just a year later, it is amazing how Turner finally feels at place with the band and his voice shines on this record and Ritchie incorporating more guitar into the songs strengthens this release as well.
The best song is the opener "Death Alley Driver." The running and thumping bass line of Roger Glover and the dueling guitar and keyboard solo is specatcular and shows the musicianship of Ritchie and Rosenthal. This could be called Rainbow's version "Highway Star" as it is about driving fast. This is one of the best songs Ritchie has ever done.
What makes this album strong is the riffage. Some of the riffs displayed here carry a couple of the songs most notably "Power" and "Rock Fever." The latter is very fast and high octane and the former has a mid-paced rocking riff with a nice drum beat to carry the flow of the song. "Miss Mistreated" also has some good moments despite the terrible opening with Joe Lynn Turner whining that he never meant to hurt his baby. "Stone Cold" is also a highlight with a haunting keyboard intro and goes into a fierce pounding with the chorus. A great, melodic and emotional guitar solo comes and completes this tune.
A couple songs completely fail on here unfortunately. "Tite Squeeze" is a horrible, slow song with Turner begging his woman to bring him to his knees and give him that tight squeeze. This song literally made me sick. "Tearing Out My Heart" wins the award for another bad ballad about some girl who broke Turner's heart. Nothing interesting, just a typical ballad. "Eyes of Fire" closes the album and features some obsure arrangements like "Gates of Babylon," but the problem is this is a Dio song. Turner sings his heart out on this tune, but it just sounds wrong with Turner singing it and plus the song itself is nowhere near as good as "Gates of Babylon."
Joe Lynn Turner does give one hell of performance on this album though. The way he quickly, but soundly sings "Rock Fever" is impressive as his melodic and brooding vocal line in "Stone Cold." He doesn't seem to force or sound whiny on "Death Alley Driver" and articulates the vocals well. "Power" also demonstrates that he can deliver a fun, energetic rock song just about as good as anyone else.
This is the strongest album of the Joe Lynn Turner era of Rainbow. The guitar and keyboard performances of Rosenthal and Blackmore are supberb, and the vocals of Turner are impressive as well. "Death Alley Driver" and "Stone Cold" are the best on here and any fan will enjoy them. This is a straight-up, fun, energetic rock 'n' roll as it is very enjoyable for fans of Ritchie's work.
"Difficult To Cure" was definitely Rainbow's hand at radio-friendly pop rock, adding more fluff to the mix and also seeing crooner Joe Lynn Turner join the fold, to replace Graham Bonnett. This meant that the blazing guitar work of axe master Ritchie Blackmore would be shoved into the background. NEVER a good move, and it proved to be just that.
Enter "Straight Between The Eyes", a harder rocking, more guitar based album, just like the good ol' days. Yes, it still has some of those commercial elements, but it now has some extra kick to it, thanks to Ritchie's riffs. Joe Lynn Turner is still here, to keep the accessible edge, but he does a good enough job here, without sounding too out of place. Drummer Bobby Rondinelli shows off his skill quite well here, finding a balance between aggression and groove. Roger Glover shows once again that he's an awesome bassist that can hold down the rock solid foundation like very few can. Keyboardist David Rosenthal is kept in the background for most of this album, staying mostly with an atmospheric approach, which works quite well. And Ritchie Blackmore on guitars, well what else can i say?........It's Ritchie. Of course he rules!
The albums gets kickstarted with the damn near SPEED METAL of "Death Alley Driver". You can see this is as Rainbow's version of "Highway Star". It even has a similar structure, but nonetheless, it's still a very solid track. Fast riffs, fast solo, it's all good. "Stone Cold" is the commercial, radio-friendly ballad here, and it pays off, as this is one of the band's biggest hits and one of the better songs here. It's a pretty moody ballad, infectious and well-exacuted, nothing really more to say.
We then get into "Bring On The Night(Dream Chaser)". A hard rocker, with a catchy, poppy chorus. Nice guitar work, it's a typical commercial hard rocker, but it works. Now here's a song that kinda hit me out of left field, and it being an album cut, it's not very well known and therefore under-appreciated..."Tite Squeeze". It's kinda slow paced, got a cool groove throughout and the chorus and pre-chorus is just cool. Everything works well here. A highlight, for sure. "Tearin' Out My Heart" is another ballad, and not as interesting as "Stone Cold", kind of boring."Power" is another hard rocker, that also got some radioplay for the band, and rightfully so, it has enough kick for the hard rockers, yet accessible for others to get into it. "Miss Mistreated" to me at least, sounds like a lost Foreigner song! Not quite a bad thing, as this track isn't bad, but it's not the best. It kind of gets old after awhile, and eventually you'll find yourself skipping it, even though it's not that bad. And for the record...i kind of like Foreigner.
We get to the energetic "Rock Fever" now. A straight forward rocker, for the most part, that contains a chorus that'll stay with you for days, maybe weeks, depending on how much you listen to the song. And finally, we get to the heavily atmospheric "Eyes Of Fire". This song sounds like a Dio-era Rainbow epic, with Joe Lynn Turner on vocals. Not as interesting or exciting as, say, "Stargazer" or "Gates Of Babylon", but it's still worth a listen, and it's good to hear that style again.
So, we see Rainow flex their hard rock muscle again, without sacrificing too much of the accessibility of "Difficult To Cure", but it's definitely less fluffy and more exciting. This is the best album of the Joe Lynn Turner era, and is worth looking into.