I present to you here, “Sailing Ships,” from Whitesnake’s 1990 album Slip Of The Tongue; an unrecognized milestone in the reviled arena of “hair” metal power ballads. Now, hear me out. Does the song have it’s moments of “cheese,” of “larger-than-life” songwriter’s egoistic hubris? Oh, assuredly. Yet it also, somehow, claims an earnest, down-to-earth appeal — despite the otherworldly use of Steve Vai’s opening neo-classical acoustic guitar wizardry that precedes his squealing shred guitar wizardry. There’s the medieval-lite sadness, the sense of airy longing and regretful rumination, the inevitable crescendo of driving sound. Ya know, stuff of all power ballads. The lyrics, as I’ve mentioned, consistently flirt with a high level of hoke but miraculously manage to maintain a decor of dignity within the context of the song.
At its simplest “Sailing Ships” is about dreaming big: bound for glory/on the seven seas of life. Losing hope but not giving up: you drift alone, if all your hope is gone/so find the strength and you will see.About facing down fears: On the horizon/dark clouds up ahead/for the storm has just begun. Hell, self-realization even: You control your destiny/after all is said and done.Normally, such platitudes disgust me but there’s just something about “Sailing Ships,” that sets it apart from almost any other “ballad” from the vast menagerie of 80s pop-metal bands. It’s one of the of few that sounds as if the writer, David Coverdale, truly feels what he’s singing. Admittedly, its tough to justify my defense or to explain clearly what I mean. It’s ephemeral, to say the least; a ghost shadow of something that’s hard to precisely grasp. If nothing else, it’s a chance to imagine what it would be like to finally embrace all those goofy, maddening bromides like “Life Is An Adventure” or “Reach For The Moon And You’ll Land Among The Stars.” Sure, “Sailing Ships” is, at its heart, another rehash of so many of banal sayings, but its possibly the only one that sets itself apart, just enough, so that it will have you wailing on the air guitar on a Monday, in your car, on the way to work to a job you’re not particularly fond of, as if you believe them wholesale.
(Song recommendation by Tyrel Kessinger)