The first surprise move in what turned out to be a few months of merry go round and rumour mill madness was the hiring of his former Deep Purple bandmate Roger Glover. This may not have been that surprising given that the bass player position had been a little shaky since the departure of Jimmy Bain were it not for the fact that: a) Glover was not hired as bass player but producer and songwriter and b) that it was on Blackmore’s insistance that Glover be fired from Deep Purple in 1973 …..”get a new bass player and I’ll stay” having been his retort when asked not to leave the band. Unsurprisingly Ronnie James Dio who had shared all the song writing with Blackmore was not too happy about this and decided to quit or was fired depending on whose version you believe. Needing to find a new singer sharpish Blackmore first turned to his old Deep Purple colleagues Ian Gillan and David Coverdale, both declined as their own bands were just taking off but in truth probably didn’t much fancy being under the control of Blackmore again. Trapeze singer Pete Goalby, who went on to join Uriah Heep, was tried and according to some reports was actually offered the gig at one point but then Blackmore changed his mind. Dio was then invited back on the proviso that he left his wife and manager Wendy at home ! He too declined and instead joined Black Sabbath. Eventually Blackmore decided he remembered an English singer he liked from a band called The Marbles. Graham Bonnet was tracked down, auditioned and given the gig despite having little or no experience in fronting rock bands and having a completely unsuitable look and image for that of a man fronting a hard rock band at the time. His look being that of a James Dean lookalike with swept back hair, sunglasses and white dinner jacket !! Cozy Powell agreed to stay on the drum kit, Roger Glover was persauded on the suggestion of Powell to take up bass playing duties too and Don Airey was recruited from Colliseum to play keyboards. So the new commercial Rainbow was born.
Say what you like about Blackmore but he must have had his finger on the pulse of what was happening as the ridiculously poppy ‘Since You Been Gone’ a track written and recorded by Russ Ballard soared into the higher echelons of the UK chart when released prior to the album. The follow up single a much harder more rock like track, the Blackmore/Glover penned ‘All Night Long’ did like wise. Blackmore quipped at the time “I write most of the song and then Roger just comes along and adds some lyrics and a little bit of his fairy dust magic’.
The rest of “Down To Earth” is no back up material to the two singles though. There are some great structured tracks and Blackmore lets rip with some fine guitar playing. Tracks like ‘Eyes of the World’, ‘Love’s No Friend’, and ‘Lost In Hollywood’ not being a million miles away from the sound of the reformed Deep Purple some five years or so later. Mind you any album with Cozy Powell on is going to be hard loud and heavy, so it really is no surprise that despite the commercial sound of the singles it still comes across as a heavy rock album. In fact Rainbow set something of a trend in reality as most successfull bands of the time started to follow a similar path with a couple of obvious radio friendly singles in amongst the heavier tracks. Think Whitesnake, Gillan, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Judas Priest …. they were all at it.
Sadly for Blackmore and possibly more so Bonnet the honeymoon period was a short one. Live audiences did not take to Bonnet. He didn’t look the part and made no effort to change his look. More importantly he struggled to sing the Dio material and live shows were pretty shambolic at times. Powell quit as he was not happy with the direction the band were going in. A version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ had been recorded for release as a single and had been included in the set at the inaugral Monsters of Rock at Donington that Rainbow headlined. Bonnet was sacked soon after for performing whilst drunk and that was that. Bonnet went on to Alcatraz, The Michael Schenker Group and a patchy solo career. Powell went to Whitesnake, Black Sabbath and a whole host of other outfits before being killed in a car accident. Airey and Glover stayed as Blackmore went even more wholeheartedly after the American market.
To conclude then “Down To Earth” is an excellent hard rock album with a couple of hit singles thrown in for good measure. Whilst it might not hit the heights of “Rising” or the first album it is still a classic rock album. Despite the fact that Bonnet turns in a decent performance one can’t help wondering though if it would have been even better had someone else been at the mike.
The album itself is far more lightweight and radio friendly than any of the previous Rainbow albums. Something that did not go down to well with long time Rainbow and Blackmore fans who wanted something more akin to the Dio led years or Deep Purple. That however didn’t stop a whole new younger genereration, their appetite whetted by NWOBHM, jumping aboard and propelling them towards the top end of both the album and singles charts in the UK.
Turner had come from almost rock cabaret stock in America. This reviewer even quipped once that one of his Fandango albums should have come with a free chicken in a basket such was its cabaret style. However this didn’t stop Turner grabbing his opportunity with both hands and he quickly became a good solid rock singer. It is clear that he listened to and studied a number of quality rock frontmen, most notably Paul Rodgers a singer Blackmore had always held in high regard.
Blackmore himself is not so prominent on the ‘song’ tracks and saves his best work for the albums two instrumentals, which ended either side of the original vinyl issue. One of these was a working of Beethovens Ninth which became the title track ‘Difficult To Cure’ and ended the album before running into a never ending loop of Oliver Hardy laughing !! It was a track which incindentally became the only post purple track played by Deep Purple after they reformed. The instumental that ended side one was named ‘Veilleicht Das Nachster Zeit (Maybe Next Time) however it was discovered that this was an incorrect translation and on later issues it was changed to Vielleicht Das Nachste Mal. However, this is apparently still an incorrect translation.
The actual songs on the album are all fast paced tracks geared mainly towards the American market except perhaps for ‘No Release’ which nods ever so slightly toward the older style. The days of Dio and his sword and sorcery are long gone and the imagery is far more modern as Turner sings about contaminated fish and microchips. The rocking ‘Spotlight Kid’ opened the live shows and gave Blackmore the opportunity to prove he could play as fast as anyone else around.
After the release of the album the band recorded a Blackmore/Turner composition called ‘Jealous Lover’ which was released as the b-side to second single ‘Can’t Happen Here’. Had it been recorded in time for the album it would have been the highlight and is probably the best recorded track by the Turner version of the band
One curious little aside about “Difficult To Cure” is that the album art by Hipgnosis was originally offered to Black Sabbath for their 1978 album ‘Never Say Die’ but was rejected.
By now the sword and sorcery mysticism of Ronnie James Dio was long gone and Rainbow were firmly established as an AOR radio friendly outfit. Strangely then this album has a little more bite to it than its predecessor and in places can get quite heavy. Like on the opening grungy ‘Death Alley Driver’ which featured some tasty guitar from Blackmore. Second track ‘Stone Cold’ is almost certainly exactly the sound Blackmore had in mind when he decided to go down the commercial route. A million miles away from both the rock power of earlier hit ‘All Night Long’ and the Dio material it is a pure peice of balladic rock pop which the likes of Foreigner, REO Speedwagon et al would have killed for. It provided Rainbow with their only American hit.
‘Power’ is a solid fast paced rocker but a good one which came over well in a live setting and closer ‘Eyes of Fire’ was more of an old school Rainbow song. ‘Bring on the Night’, ‘Tite Squeeze’ and ‘Rock Fever’ are all pretty generic rock tracks from the era but still have their moments. ‘Tearing Out My Heart’ is a more bluesy balladic track which gives Turner a chance to shine but veers perilously close to Whitesnake territory as does ‘MISS Mistreated’ which Blackmore quipped at the time was spelt that way on the album cover to stop a certain somebody claiming they wrote it. The certain somebody of course being Whitesnake frontman and former Deep Purple colleague David Coverdale. The pair had written a track together for Deep Purple entitled ‘Mistreated’, were at the height of their feud at the time, and took any opportunity to have a dig at each other.
There might not be an abundance of long Blackmore solos on “Straight Between The Eyes” as most of the solos are on the short side and within the context of the song but Blackmore acheived exactly what he set out to do. Make a good solid commercial record that was fresh and relevant in 1982 and still sounds good today.
Those three are ‘Desperate Heart’ which is almost ‘Stone Cold’ revisited and extremely commercial although Blackmore puts in a rocky solo mid way through. ‘Street of Dreams’ which Blackmore later claimed was the most commercial song he ever wrote and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a massive hit and to a lesser extent ‘Can’t Let You Go’ despite the purplesque church organ intro.
The problem really lies in the rest of the material which is frankly just sub standard. Roger Glover wasn’t involved in much of the songwriting here and it is evident. Most of the tracks have no memorable hooks, no little bits of magic and subsequently they don’t stick in your head. At times the lyrics are just plain dopey ‘..drinking with the devil and he sticks me with the bill …’ now come on !! What does happen though is you just keep getting the odd burst of brilliant Blackmore guitar in the middle of a mediocre song. ‘Drinking With The Devil’ may be the biggest culprit and it is quite possibly the worst song Rainbow ever recorded although ‘Stranded’, ‘Make Your Move’ and ‘Fire Dance’ are no better. Blackmore throws in good solos which makes the songs listenable yet ultimately disappointing. Strangely the two instrumentals where you would expect Blackmore to let rip are pretty ordinary. One final plus point though was the addition of female backing vocalists Dee Beale and Lin Robinson even if they were so low in the mix you could almost miss them.
All in all then a sad end to a once great band ………… at least for a decade or so.