BLACKMORE'S NIGHT: SECRET VOYAGE (2008)
1) God Save The Keg; 2) Locked Within The Crystal Ball; 3) Gilded Cage; 4) Toast To Tomorrow; 5) Prince Waldeck's Galliard; 6) Rainbow Eyes; 7) The Circle; 8) Sister Gypsy; 9) Can't Help Falling In Love; 10) Peasant's Promise; 11) Far Far Away; 12) Empty Words.
The only principal difference here stands out in the credits: where in the past we had at least half or more of the songs starkly credited to «Blackmore, Night», here the same convention is observed only on a small handful of tracks. The rest are either listed as straightahead covers, or preceded with a «traditional» disclaimer, as if, after all these years, conscience had finally caught up with Ritchie and he decided to openly admit that he did not, in fact, write all these melodies. Most people knew that already, of course — that he is much more of an arranger and «adapter» than an independent composer in his own rights — but it is nice to see him coming out with this newfound humility as the years go by. Now how about going all the way and including Vince Wallace in the author list for ʽChild In Timeʼ?..
Alas, humility and entertainment do not always go hand in hand, and at this juncture, Blackmore's Night seems to be running out of the last puffs of steam. The best song on the album, and the only one fit for repeated listening, as far as I am concerned, is ʽLocked Within The Crystal Ballʼ, a modernized take on the old medieval song ʽStella Splendensʼ from the 14th century «Libre Vermelle de Montserrat», one of the earliest surviving manuscripts of folk-styled hymns. Yes, people could really write awesome songs back then, and Ritchie and Candice are quite inspired by the experience of re-inventing this golden oldie for modern times — giving it a stern galloping tempo and extra vocal hooks: Candice's "...locked within the crystal ball" is a fine case of matching the «doom» of the lyrics with the «doom» of the vocal melody (although the «doom» is anything but tragic — serious, inescapable, but not catastrophic), and Ritchie's extended guitar duet with Candice has an honestly hypnotic quality to it. I only wish they'd left the song keyboard-free, because all this synthesizer crap only enhances the cheese effect — why not a good old Hammond organ instead, at the very least?
Nothing else on the record even comes close in terms of power. The straightforward covers are rotten — the old Rainbow ballad ʽRainbow Eyesʼ is grossly overproduced, and hardly works at all, devoid of the intimate setting of the original; and they do yet another gallop-tempo rendition, this time of ʽCan't Help Falling In Loveʼ — inventive, for sure, but there is a goddamn reason why this song used to be slow: the rushed tempo and bombastic onslaught of the melody make it look like a case of «love on saddleback». What's up with all the hurry? Courting is supposed to be a delicate process, and here all that's missing is the crack of the whip.
Except for another fast-paced Russian folk dance (ʽToast To Tomorrowʼ) that really does not fit in with Candice's vocal style, the rest of the songs just sort of diffuse in one another — ballad upon ballad, atmosphere over hooks without any unpredictable twists. This is a background against which even a corny mutilation of ʽCan't Help Falling In Loveʼ will begin to look attractive, and a clear sign that the dynamic duo finally ran out of dynamics. Only the staunchest fans, seduced to the death by Candice's faux-medieval sexiness and/or willing to waste a lifetime dissecting every Blackmore lick ever played, will embrace Secret Voyage as thoroughly as the duo's first three or four albums — the rest really need not bother beyond a brief acquaintance with ʽCrystal Ballʼ. There is almost nothing here but self-repetition and atmospherics, and I do not understand why in the world I would need to listen to Ritchie repeating himself, or to praise a record for the kind of atmosphere that I «tolerate» rather than «enjoy». Sure, they may have produced enough tracks to supply the complete alternative soundtrack to Game Of Thrones, but in the end, quantity decisively won over quality, so a thumbs down it is.