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Forty Years Later: Rainbow – Down To Earth

Realistically speaking, it’s safe to assume that those savvy to Rainbow’s work are familiar with what Down To Earth is all about. They are also likely familiar with how Ronnie James Dio and Ritchie Blackmore didn’t see eye-to-eye due to creative differences. Ya know, the old story of how Blackmore wanted to go into a more pop metal-oriented direction, while Mr. Dio wasn’t having any of that (even though most of his ‘80s solo career did exactly that). So ultimately by now, said Rainbow fans know that this is far more accessible than the previous records, and a bit of a sell-out effort….

Vocalist Graham Bonnet from the “Since You’ve Been Gone” music video

Except it’s not. Down To Earth came out forty years ago, and I see no better time to address my thoughts on this disc than now. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, I hardly think this is much different than the previous three records at all, save for Graham Bonnet taking over vocal duties, and some small changes in the overall formula. But, that doesn’t make much of a difference, seeing how each Ronnie-fronted record also had their own stand-out details. So how is Down To Earth any different? For this edition of an anniversary, I’m going to revisit the entire disc carefully, all eight tracks with comparisons to show exactly what I’m talking about. A bit unconventional, but if you walk alongside me here, it should make some sense.

First things first, we’ll get the elephants out of the room. Yes, the wildly famous cover of Russ Ballard’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” has a totally different energy than what the band previously released. This is a radio-rock pop hit at its best; but regardless of what you want to call it, it’s still an incredibly fun tune that’s idea isn’t any different than Blackmore’s initial idea to cover “Black Sheep Of The Family” which caused Rainbow to form in the first place. So let’s shelve that one awhile. I’ll also lump the first track “All Night Long” in with this, as it’s also injected with lots of pretty colors and bubble-gum vibes. It’s not as direct with that, and it’s an original, but we’ll go ahead and play devil’s advocate here and say that it also fits this typical “sellout” claim (despite it also being a great song). But what does that leave us with? Oh yeah, six other tracks!

The rest of this album doesn’t stray from Rainbow’s core ideas in the slightest. Just like every Dio-fronted album, those songs were a small part of the big picture to help it stand apart. Let’s look at “Eyes Of The World,” the second song on side A. This track is mystical, it’s complex, it’s loaded with life, and it greatly reflects previous classics like “Gates Of Babylon” with its magical aura. Not convinced? Try “Makin’ Love.” Sounds like an easy one to peg as another shot at radio glory, but the licks on this contain bouncy rhythmic patterns that are more reminiscent of the medieval tactics that Rainbow were known for. The drum crashes that lead up to a powerful chorus seal this entire point completely.

Amazingly “Love’s No Friend” does something very similar with a softer approach, and it takes the bluesier path, much like the works of later MKIII Deep Purple or early Whitesnake (gee, seeing a pattern here?). Nothing about this strikes me as accessible or easy to get into, frankly because I find this to be one of the weaker tracks. But whether you like it or not, it’s anything beyond being just shy of a similar number known as the beautifully crafted “Catch The Rainbow.” Soft and concise solos, mellow keys, and a smooth sailing voice are all there; I just don’t think the writing itself for this was as solid. The opposite end of this pole exists here too. Indeed, “No Time To Lose” is a faster and energetic track that would satisfy the stomach of one with a heavy metal appetite. Hell, “Danger Zone” is close to that with its fast-strumming guitar patterns that stack up perfectly with the mood established in “Do You Close Your Eyes?” This song is incredible just because of the wavy lead passages that introduce the solos, all backed by Roger Glover’s incredible bass-lines.

To close this work of art, we get “Lost In Hollywood,” which does nothing more than exaggerate Rainbow’s ability to combine keyboard leads and thumping bass-work to make something exponential. Does this truly sound like selling out to you? Is this really a pop-oriented record? The openers of each side “All Night Long” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” may do exactly this, but let’s not pretend that this hasn’t happened before. “L.A. Connections?” “Starstruck?” How about “If You Don’t Like Rock ‘N Roll?” There isn’t a bad tune that I mentioned there, and the same goes for what’s contained in Down To Earth. Some songs may be weaker than others (like with just about any album), but the way I’d describe this album isn’t at all what I’d call a departure from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Rising, or Long Live Rock ‘N Roll.

What it is, is an effort fronted by a different man that still contains beefy songwriting, which I should think I made very clear with my breakdown of all eight tracks. If you’re still not convinced, the best I can do is recommend that you listen to Down To Earth. It isn’t their best disc, and it surely isn’t better than anything they did up to this point; but it’s a fantastic listen in and of itself, and to call it a sellout is only gonna keep music seekers from hearing a great record before giving it a fair chance. Truly, I believe the next effort Difficult To Cure was the real shark-jumper, but we’ll save that for another time.

Down To Earth came out on July 28th, 1979 through Polydor. It can be picked up on vinyl, cassette, and CD formats. There are plenty of remasters that include 180-gram (Graham?) reissues, a blue pressing, two-disc CDs, and other fantastic options. As usual, all of these can be found via my favorite online music-purchasing center.

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