Graded on a Curve: Blackmore’s Night,
Shadow of the Moon

What does it feel like to be a voluntary atavism? I can understand those contemporary rockers who fall prey to an irresistible urge to retreat to the days of rockabilly; life nowadays is so complicated and scary and it’s hard to fight the longing for a return to some mythical, “simpler” time.

But there’s looking backwards and then there’s really looking backwards and it took the unadulterated genius of Ritchie Blackmore—of Deep Purple and Blackmore’s Rainbow fame—to slither his way backwards in time the whole way to the Renaissance.

The Renaissance! Oh wondrous age! When the men wore codpieces and the women wore merkins and people got smarter! And folks wiped their greasy hands on the olde pub dog and suffered from black bile and lived to the ripe old age of 35! Those were great times if you were a fan of the Great Plague, and Blackmore—along with wife Candice Night, who does the singing—unwittingly provide an appropriately pestilential soundtrack for the Age of the Black Death.

The songs on 1997’s Shadow of the Moon would sound just right coming from the stage of your local Renaissance Faire. The problem is I hate Renaissance Faires. I was strong-armed into attending one once and it was all I could do not to beat the closest wandering minstrel to death with an oversized turkey leg. If there’s one thing in this world I cannot abide it’s a wandering minstrel. And lest you think Blackmore and Night would be offended by comparisons with Renaissance Faires please allow me to point out that they’ve seen fit to equip Shadow of the Moon with a song called “Renaissance Faire.” About the best I can say for it is that it’s every bit as vapidly pleasant as most of the other songs on this benighted LP.

The song titles tell you the whole story; you don’t even need to hear the songs. “Minstrel Hall.” “Magical World.” “Possum’s Last Dance.” “Play Minstrel Play.” Throw in the recorder and viola and the occasional French horn and the only question left to be asked is, “Where’s the goddamn lute?” The songs vary from instrumental showcases of Blackmore’s guitar prowess to folksy turns to moody Sword and Sorcery Prog to what I can only call examples of Renaissance pop. Why, they even serve up a really gruesome dance track in “Writing on the Wall.” The tunes go from moody to spritely to flat-out overblown (they sure do love their pomp and circumstance) but the song remains the same and the song can only be described as pretentious. Or perhaps I should say precious. Or perhaps I should say both.

Candice Night has a mellifluous if undistinguished voice, and she shows it off on such mellifluous and undistinguished tunes as “Be Mine Tonight,” “Magical World” (the crystal she holds is like an old friend!), and “Renaissance Faire.” And Ritchie the reformed metalhead has a lock on ye olde Renaissance guitar sound for sure. But the results are atavistic schlock, mood music for people who long for a return to a perceived simpler time when folks couldn’t vote, the streets and rivers ran rancid with raw sewage, and those few women who could afford it saw fit to slather their faces with lethal lead makeup to achieve that cool Goth deathly pale look.

I’m not one of these people and as a result I find Shadow of the Moon tremendously annoying. I don’t want to hear a soft rock version of “Greensleeves” and I don’t want to hear Ian Anderson’s flute turn on “Play Minstrel Play” and I can’t help but think this “post-Medieval concept” might work if Blackmore and Night possessed the sense of humor and unmitigated cheek to set their sights on covers of songs like “Long, Tall Sally” and “Disco Inferno.” But if there’s one thing these two aren’t guilty of it’s a sense of humor. So they aim for fey and fall short.

If I had two copies of this baby and two turntables I might try playing both sides simultaneously in the spirit of Renaissance scientific exploration. The results would be clamorous but at least they’d be interesting. Because Shadow of the Moon is more than just an abomination; it’s a bore. And if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s one man’s Blackmore’s Night is another man’s Blackmore’s Nightmare.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
E

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