Squire Victor of Valdivia doth ask, prithee sweet lass, mightst I trouble thee with a slow dance to "Smoke on the Water"?
"This band has the ability to play very organically with the authentic instruments, and on the other hand, we can play the rock side with all the glossy instruments, the guitars and the keyboards, and make it more of a glossy production. And I sometimes wonder which way we should go. And consequently, in the end, I fall down the middle."—Ritchie Blackmore on Blackmore's Night
Blackmore's Night: Paris Moon is the latest release by ex-Deep Purple ("Smoke on the Water") guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and his renaissance-rock combo. While the DVD accurately captures the show, Blackmore's Night is hardly the best vehicle to really showcase Blackmore's abilities.
Facts of the Case
Former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore formed Blackmore's Night in 1997 with singer Candice Night. The two envisioned a band dedicated to mixing renaissance and medieval instruments with rock songwriting. Here, they perform at Paris' Olympia Hall in early 2007, playing songs from all throughout the band's career. The songs they perform are:
Blackmore's Night is the textbook example of what happens when a talented but contentious artist gets to indulge a whim with a group of lesser accompanists, none of whom are strong or talented enough to challenge him. Ritchie Blackmore is an enormous talent, but he only works well with artists who can push him to greater heights. Here, with a band of supporting players rather than equals, he takes a fairly unoriginal idea and adds nothing new or remarkable to it.
The central conceit of Blackmore's Night is to blend instruments and songs from medieval times with modern rock songwriting and instruments. So to maintain the illusion that audiences are watching a concert by a band of merrie minstrels in Ye Olden Times, the band members wear such attire as puffy shirts, patched trousers, suede boots, and corsets, set to a stage backdrop of a large castle with torches. Blackmore generally plays acoustic guitars, lutes, and even a hurdy-gurdy. The backup musicians are introduced with such names as "Bard David of Larchmont" and "Squire Malcolm of Lumley". There are, however, more modern touches. There are drums, electric bass and keyboards to fill out the sound. There are also more modern acoustic ballads and covers, including a version of Deep Purple's "Soldier of Fortune," which Blackmore co-wrote. There's even some modern humor to balance the stuffiness: a roadie in a bunny suit hops out during "Minstrel Hall," and Night lets slip a sly joke at Blackmore's expense in introducing a song when she refers to Blackmore as "moody" and "difficult." Although said in good humor, it's an unsettling reminder that Blackmore would apparently rather play in such a contrived setting than face dissension by equally skilled musicians.
In fact, while no one disputes Blackmore's talent as a guitarist, he has always had a reputation as a moody and demanding prima donna. No less an authority than the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, which refrained from commenting on the sex and drug excesses of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, took pains to specify that Blackmore is "arrogant" and "belligerent." Blackmore's stormy tenure in Deep Purple resulted in constant lineup changes and interrupted tours and recording sessions. In Purple, Blackmore had to contend with no less than three successive singers, each of whom he constantly butted heads with. Rod Evans (who sang Purple's first big hit "Hush"), Ian Gillan (who sang Purple's most famous song, "Smoke on the Water") and David Coverdale (who rivaled Blackmore as Purple's biggest star) were each strong, willful talents who challenged Blackmore (and the other band members) to perform exceptionally. But it's worth noting that Blackmore's most influential and enduring work was done during this period, as unpleasant as it was for him personally. When Blackmore quit Deep Purple for good in 1992, he decided once and for all to start a solo project in which his leadership would be unchallenged. In Blackmore's Night he calls the shots and co-writes all the songs with singer Candice Night (who's also his fiancée).
Sad to say, none of Blackmore's Night's music is anywhere near as memorable as his best work with Purple. The above quote by Blackmore indicates that he has been stung by criticism that Blackmore's Night is not pure enough for either rock fans or classicists. But the problem isn't that he blends medieval instruments with rock. That idea has been around since Jethro Tull emerged in the early '70s about the same time as Purple. (Blackmore's Night even covers Tull's "Play Minstrel Play" on this DVD). The problem is that the songs are bland and lacking in originality. Naturally, they're competently played; Blackmore can do this sort of thing in his sleep. They're just dull and formulaic, and utterly forgettable. There are no memorable melodies, hooks, or even lyrics. All the songs fall into one of three rigidly defined styles. There are the fast singalongs, which all sound like beer-soaked anthems sung in an ancient castle after a joust. Then there are the instrumentals, which sound like museum-piece imitations of old music. Finally, there are the slow ballads, which are so slight and wispy that they evaporate immediately after the band finishes playing them. On "Ariel" and "Loreley," Blackmore straps on an electric guitar and plays a few power chords and solos, but the songs are only slight variations on his past hard rock work. The only truly memorable moment is during the opening of "The Clock Ticks On," when Blackmore cranks out some eerie and haunting notes from a hurdy-gurdy. At that moment, it's possible to understand the kind of timeless beauty that he sees in old instruments. Unfortunately, he hasn't done a good job of translating that appeal into interesting music.
If Blackmore was supported here by forceful and charismatic musicians as he was in Deep Purple, there would at least be something notable about Blackmore's Night. Unfortunately, none of the other band members are anywhere near as exceptional as he is. Night has a lovely voice, but her singing style is not really distinctive. Sometimes she sounds like Sarah McLachlan, sometimes like Sarah Brightman, and even, on occasion, like Celine Dion. While she can be charming onstage, her attire and demeanor are far too derivative of Stevie Nicks and her lyrics are frequently trite or silly. The other musicians are competent but essentially faceless. Unfortunately, Blackmore attempts to remedy that facelessness by giving each of them interminable solo turns. This kills whatever 15th century atmosphere he was attempting to build. Medieval audiences may have suffered from disease, hunger, and oppression, but at least they never had to endure that most heinous of offenses, the bass solo.
Ultimately, Blackmore's Night: Paris Moon is unsatisfying because Blackmore simply can't seem to transform his ideas about mixing renaissance music and rock into something truly original. For all his talent, he needs dynamic collaborators to really push him and make him focus his ideas into great songs. None of the band members here do that, and what results is simply pedestrian. It's a shame that he has decided to pass up on building on his past triumphs in favor of essentially doodling and indulging in affectation. While he may not be the first extraordinarily skilled artist to do that, it's still a considerable disappointment.
At least the disc is technically superior. The video and audio are both impressive. Shot in video, the widescreen transfer is pristine, with no grain or fuzziness at all. The 5.1 mixes are loud and clear, even during the acoustic parts. There's also a stereo mix. For extras, there's a documentary (8:57), which is really just an EPK with Blackmore and Night chatting. It's nothing revelatory. The disc is rounded out by a photo gallery. Also included in the package is a bonus CD, containing 9 songs from the concert and two new studio recordings in the same vein as the others.
It's hard to say exactly who Blackmore's Night: Paris Moon is made for. Renaissance Faire purists will be put off by the modern instruments and rock covers. Deep Purple fans will be alienated by the medieval pretensions and laid-back atmosphere. The lack of memorable songs or melodies will push away most anyone else. It might be best to give this a viewing before deciding whether or not to buy it. For anyone who's curious about Blackmore's talents, it would be better to start with the volume of the Classic Albums series dedicated to the making of Deep Purple's Machine Head album.
Blackmore's Night: Paris Moon is guilty of wasting the skills of Ritchie Blackmore in a project that's both mediocre and self-indulgent. The court urges Squire Blackmore to find better collaborators who will push him into making the great music he has shown himself capable of.
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