Although a far cry from classic later releases (like In Rock and Machine Head) that made Deep Purple legends as one of the early originators of hard rock/heavy metal, Shades Of Deep Purple was a solid first album from what was really a completely different band. Well, three of the band's main members, keyboardist Jon Lord (who musically dominates this album), drummer Ian Paice (already top notch), and Ritchie Blackmore (arguably the first classical/European influenced guitar hero whose sound wasn't primarily rooted in the blues), are already in place, but bassist Nick Simper and smooth-voiced singer Rod Evans were no Roger Glover and Ian Gillan, let's leave it at that. Although fairly anonymous, they were perfectly competent, however, and the main problem with this album is that it was basically recorded (too) quickly over a weekend by a newly formed band who had barely been together long enough to assemble enough material for the album. As such, there are precious few original band compositions here, and some of the covers ("I'm So Glad," "Hey Joe") are overly familiar. Obviously influenced by Vanilla Fudge, their slowed-down, Fudged-up cover of The Beatles "Help" is impressive and won the praise of Lennon-McCartney (John had always felt that their recorded version was too fast-paced), while dramatic pseuedo-classical instrumental intros (and outros in the case of the former) make "I'm So Glad" and "Hey Joe" (both clocking in at over 7 minutes long) somewhat more interesting than your typical covers even if I still don't find either necessary given how inferior they are to the Cream (especially the Goodbye version) and Jimi Hendrix versions. Elsewhere, not bad but hardly inspired and quite dated sounding group-written pop originals such as "One More Rainy Day" and "Love Help Me" showed that playing, not writing, was this bands primary strength; this is further reinforced by "And the Address," an excellent instrumental introduction to the album that's more a band jam than a song proper. The same could be said for "Mandrake Root," a heavy Hendrix-influenced (the main riff's similarity to "Foxey Lady" is quite blatant) 6-minute number that was their live calling card in the early years, often reaching 30 minutes and being a major Blackmore-Lord showcase. Their explosive playing on this version is likewise extremely powerful, and of course the album's most famous and I would argue best song is their cover of Joe South's "Hush," which hit the U.S. top 10 and is perhaps best-known for Evans' hooky "na na na" vocals. Just an outstanding heavy pop number, that one, with more stellar contributions from Blackmore, Paice, and especially Lord who contributes a long keyboard solo to it, quite uncommon for pop hits back in the day. Anyway, Shades Of Deep Purple is a good but far from great first album, as the material is at times shaky or unnecessary and is flat-out all over the place as the band lacked a unified sense of direction. Plus, the album seems a little stiff production-wise and restrained playing-wise compared to their later work; Blackmore in particular seems reined in at times as again it is Lord's swirling Hammond flourishes that tend to dominate. While a mildly enjoyable period piece, Deep Purple would barely be remembered today if Shades was all that they had recorded.
The Book of Taliesyn (Tetragrammaton ’69) Rating: B+
This one is firmly psychedelic, so much that when Rod Evans does his spoken word parts you half expect "Ride My See Saw" to start immediately afterwards! For all its dated (this album practically screams "1960s!") and at-times hokey flaws, I like this album a lot and see it as a definite improvement over Shades. For one thing, the covers are a little weirder this time out: Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Woman" became their second top 40 U.S. hit (they only had three), albeit barely, and boasts another extended Lord solo as well as a great solo by Ritchie, their 10-minute rendition of "River Deep, Mountain High" is odd to say the least, with Evans "dramatic readings" taking center stage, but it too has its moments, and "Exposition/We Can Work it Out," basically Beethoven meets The Beatles, is very interesting, with Ritchie, Jon, and Ian being in peak form. Actually I'm far more interested in the dramatic, exciting "Exposition" part, as the band basically birthed a weird form of classical metal here; the actual cover song (which starts at around the 3-minute mark) has its moments too but let's face it The Beatles version was pretty much perfect and couldn't be improved upon (the same could be said about Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" come to think of it). Elsewhere, the heavy psychedelia of "Listen, Learn, Read On" provides a strong and quite unique album opener, while "Wring That Neck" (retitled "Hard Road" in the U.S.) is a storming keyboard-led instrumental on which Ritchie also shows that he was something special. Like the prior album's "Mandrake Root," this track became a standard in their 1969-1971 live sets, where it became an improv-fest that could last for up to 30 minutes long. On the mellower, more atypical side, "Shield" delivers pretty good psychedelic pop that has more in common with the Moody Blues than say Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, while "Anthem" delivers very good psychedelic/orchestral/classical pop, with Evans crooning the verses and the band joining in on a melodic harmonized chorus. Then again, there were always many differences between Deep Purple and Zeppelin/Sabbath, the two bands with whom they are often compared due to them all being "founding fathers of heavy metal"; for one thing, again this album is musically primarily anchored by Lord's organ, whereas the other two bands were very much guitar dominated. Also, Deep Purple was far more into classical, progressive-based music that was highly improvisational and distinctly European, whereas Zep and Sabbath were largely blues-based (i.e. more American sounding). Anyway, enough of that comparison, the bottom line is that this album was a notable progression for the Deep Purple Mark I lineup, and I thoroughly enjoy the majority of it in spite of (because of?) its pretentious ridiculousness.
Deep Purple (Tetragrammaton ’69) Rating: A-
Actually, I like this album a lot too, even more in fact, though the third Deep Purple album recorded in under a year with producer Derek Lawrence was another strange one, and an unsuccessful one at that (at least the first two had made inroads in the U.S. if not in the band's U.K. homeland). This time the band adds more classical elements and only includes one cover song, while Ritchie spectacularly steps to the forefront on certain tracks, as does Lord and Paice for example on the album opener "Chasing Shadows," where Ian really shines with some nimble Santana-like percussion. Like much of the album, this track is interestingly different yet surprisingly accessible, and "Blind" continues with a dramatic harpsichord-enhanced choral psych-pop ballad that's highlighted by Ritchie's cool wah wah solo. The Donovan cover "Lalena" bored me at first but I've grown to quite like its pretty, melancholic ambiance (it's one of their mellowest songs ever), plus Evans puts in an excellent vocal performance. The next song, "Fault Line," was allegedly inspired by an earthquake, which is fitting because this brief instrumental interlude is disorientingly intense, whereas "The Painter" is simply a very good, fairly straightforward guitar-driven hard rocker. I like "Why Didn't Rosemary" (Roman Polanski reference!) and "Bird Has Flown" (Beatles reference!) too, both of which amply showcase the band's superior musicianship and increasingly heavy sound, but how highly you rate this album will likely largely depend on what you think of "April." Even detractors would have to admit that this 12-minute, multi-sectioned finale is quite adventurous and not a little bizarre (again "classical metal" is a pretty apt description). Sure, some of the Lord arranged orchestral parts are boring, but they can also be quite pretty and imaginative, the gothic chants are a hoot, and the song contains some of Ritchie's most dramatic, magnificent soloing. When Evans comes in and actually sings on the more straightforward last third of the song it comes as something of a shock, but then the song simply continues along the lines of the hard rock goodness previously offered. Man, now that's an epic track, not completely successful but pretty fascinating on the whole, with some truly terrific sections. Like the last album, this self-titled album isn't without its "dated" flaws, but the band was further figuring out what they wanted to be: hard rock. Unfortunately for Evans and Simper, the three standout musicians in the band felt that they weren't the guys to go there with, so that duo (and producer Derek Lawrence) were sent packing. It was the right decision of course, which the classic Deep Purple Mark II lineup would quickly prove in no uncertain terms on their next studio album; for his part, Evans would briefly rebound with the notable cult band Captain Beyond, while Simper joined Warhorse.
Deep Purple In Rock (Harvest ‘70) Rating: A
After indulging Jon Lord's orchestral project Concerto for Group and Orchestra, which I've never heard and have little desire to, the Mark II lineup got down to business by recording this landmark hard rock release. With Roger Glover on bass and the astounding Ian Gillan on vocals, Deep Purple were now one of those rare bands where every guy in the band was great at what they did. The Mark I version of the band I actually find quite underrated, but there's simply no comparison, as Glover and Gillan added songwriting talent to group as well, and Gillan in particular simply demolishes poor Rod Evans as a singer. As usual, the band starts strongly with "Speed King," a hard hitting speedster that's aptly described as "Little Richard on steroids," as the band immediately lets listeners know that the band's energy and power has increased exponentially. Elsewhere, so called "album tracks" such as "Bloodsucker," "Into The Fire," and "Living Wreck" are also really good, but this album's main claim to greatness is in its epic tracks. "Flight Of The Rat" (7:58) is a great fast paced groover with some great soloing by Lord, Blackmore, and even Paice, while "Hard Lovin' Man" (7:11) is propelled along by galloping grooves (the new rhythm section was really locked in now) and sees Gillan at his unleashed best. The song is also a great example of how the keyboard/guitar interplay was really the key to the band, as Lord's classical yet rocking, almost guitar-ish keyboards do battle with Ritchie's shredding Euro-guitar wizardry. Of course, THE highlight of the album, and in fact of Deep Purple's entire career, is "Child In Time" (10:20); though not their most famous song (we all know what that is) I do believe it's their best. Starting as a moody, gothic ballad, the song builds to several mighty climaxes where Gillan gives arguably the greatest hard rock vocal performance ever. His glass shattering shrieks are a true wonder to behold as the band thunders behind him; when Paice's drums kick it up another several notches and then Gillan does the same it literally makes my hair stand on end. The middle of the song features a spectacular fast paced jam section on which Blackmore in particular shines, before the band returns to the original slow atmospheric melody, which again builds and builds towards one final mind-blowing climax. It's thrilling listening to Gillan set the template for all future hard rock singers, few of whom would ever scale such lofty heights (p.s. this song's usage in 1999 documentary film One Day in September, which is about the 1972 Munich Olympics where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists, is unforgettable). Anyway, the rest of this album is mostly excellent as well, my one minor complaint being that perhaps the songwriting is a tad generic at times. That's major nitpicking however, for on this album the band firmly established their incredibly talented and confident (note the iconic Mount Rushmore cover art) new lineup, as well as their new identity as an explosive hard rock band who were now capable of writing great songs in addition to being great soloists. P.S. I just realized that I used varations of the word “great” 8 times in this review – but hey that’s only fitting.
Fireball (Harvest ‘71) Rating: A-
This album is often overlooked given that it's sandwiched between two major heavy metal classics, but I'd argue that Fireball is a minor classic in its own right, though it took a while for it to grow on me. Over time, however, I came to enjoy the kind of creepy, borderline prog, very European material like "The Mule", "Fools," "No No No," and "No One Came," as the band definitely gets points for adventurousness. Still, some more accessible, radio-friendly, memorable songs such as "Fireball" and "Strange Kind Of Woman" would've been welcome, and the experimental country rock of "Anyone's Daughter" was a misfire even if it is at least semi-interesting. As per usual, the band introduces the album with a blazer of a leadoff track, the concise title track in this case, before the band gets bluesy and somewhat funky on the repetitive and overly long but still quite good "No No No." "Strange Kind Of Woman" is more pop but still moody and rocking too, with a stomping mid-tempo groove and soloing that makes me say to myself "man Ritchie rules!" "The Mule" really grooves and captures an enticingly exotic Middle Eastern-flavored mood that's more in line with the psychedelic Mark I version of the band; in concert this song would become a live showcase for Paice, and he shines here as well, providing a prime example of his jazzily metallic style. "Fools," the albums longest track, starts as an intense straightforward mid-tempo hard rocker, that is until its weird mid-section on which Blackmore's guitar approximates a cello. Although undeniably impressive, this section drags a bit and overstays its welcome it must be said, but the hard rock part does come back and the album then ends strongly with "No One Came," another intense chugger with great soloing (especially by Blackmore and Lord with his patented distorted organ runs) and excellent lyrics from Gillan (who often handled that part of the songwriting equation) about every performer's biggest fear. On the whole, this album is something of a victim of circumstances; though it became their first U.K. #1 album, largely on the back of the success of In Rock and its subsequent tour (ironically the band were now bigger in the U.K. than in the U.S., in contrast to Mark I), those touring commitments meant that the album was basically bashed together in between concerts. Of course, other successful albums were created under the same stressful circumstances (Led Zeppelin II comes to mind), and the album's hasty assemblage may also have something to do with its spontaneity. Still, the songs aren't quite as good (few of these songs would subsequently be performed live), nor is the energy level of the performances quite as high as on In Rock. Note: The U.K. version of the album replaces "Strange Kind Of Woman" with "Demon's Eye," a good mid-paced number that nods to Jimi Hendrix's "Highway Chile." P.S. The band seems divided about this album's merits; I've read comments from Blackmore and Glover disparaging it whereas Gillan rates it as his favorite Deep Purple album.
Machine Head (Harvest ‘72) Rating: A
This was the breakthrough album that made Deep Purple superstars and helped bring heavy metal into the mainstream, in no small part due to the legendary guitar riff on “Smoke On The Water,” which everybody who owns a guitar knows by heart (it's seemingly the starting point for every prospective guitarist). Simply put, Blackmore's simple but supremely effective riff is arguably the most famous in rock history, and the rest of the song is also top notch; including memorable true story-based lyrics (about a fire at a Frank Zappa concert that the band witnessed), a catchy chorus, great guitar solo, and Gillan singing at his raspy best, this one has it all. The rest of the album also boasts some outstanding songs, including popular classic rock radio standards such as the chugging “Highway Star,” a perfect album (and concert) opener that's simply one of the greatest driving songs ever, capped off by Blackmore's classic guitar solo, and “Space Truckin,’” a perfect album (and concert) closer that more than anything else is a Paice tour de force (he even has a brief but unforgettable drum solo), though it also features distorted guitar/keyboard riffs and more vintage (and quite hooky) Gillan vocals. Those obvious highlights aside, the reason Machine Head marks the band's songwriting peak is due to the high quality of lesser known album tracks such as “Pictures Of Home,” which really grooves and features some great soloing (even Glover gets in on the action), and “Lazy,” an eerie, spooky, bluesy, relaxed yet rocking epic (7:23) that sees Lord and Blackmore at their dueling best and has more superb high pitched shrieks from Gillan. Rounding out the set list (while skimping on the details), the mid-tempo "Maybe I'm A Leo" is another solid grower of an album track, as is the more commercial and quite catchy “Never Before,” which was supposed to be the album's big single though "Smoke On The Water" was the one that caught on. Anyway, the one knock on Machine Head, and it's pretty much a nitpick, is that the recording sounds a bit flat in places, which is made more obvious by the Made In Japan versions of four of this album's songs. Still, there's no question that Machine Head is a classic album, in fact it's probably the best starting point for anyone looking to get into the band. Note: The 25th year anniversary edition of the album contains as a bonus track the simple but extremely effective b-side ballad “When A Blind Man Cries,” which features some of Blackmore’s most gorgeous, emotional guitar playing on record.
Made In Japan (EMI Records/Purple ‘72, Warner Bros. '98) Rating: A+
Simply put, Deep Purple in their prime were among the greatest live bands ever, and Made In Japan expertly captures them at their absolute peak (many props to sound engineer Martin Birch) and is one of the greatest live albums of all time. Containing a mere seven tracks as per all the Mark II albums thus far, this time out the songs are expanded considerably, thereby enabling the band's improvisational strengths to shine through. Indeed, Deep Purple was unique in that their live versions were generally superior to their studio versions (with Zep that wasn't always the case and with early Sabbath it was never the case), and my biggest problem with this album is that it's so great that it somewhat diminishes Machine Head. I mean, if you thought that the studio version of "Highway Star" was great wait until you get a load of this one; in particular, Ritchie's laser-like solo here is the template for heavy metal shredding and may very well be the most astounding guitar solo of all time. This version and the also-excellent "Smoke On The Water" aren't all that different from the studio versions other than being a little longer and faster-paced, whereas "Lazy" and "Space Truckin'" are much different and are a lot longer. "Lazy" may take a little longer than necessary to get going, and it's less moody and mysterious than the studio version, but it's also more guitar-based and energetic. I pretty much love them both, and "Space Truckin'" is really only "Space Truckin'" for the first five minutes or so. The next 15 minutes (not a misprint) are devoted to soloing: first Lord, then Lord and Paice, then Blackmore does his guitar-as-cello thing again before they all join in as they near the finish line. Such showy displays of musicianship may be "pretentious" and "indulgent" yadda-yadda-yadda, and I wish that Paice's long unaccompanied drum solo on "The Mule" had been cut down considerably (Paice is one of the greats but I can only take any unaccompanied drum solo for so long), but on the whole my take is that if you've got it flaunt it, and Deep Purple circa 1972 had it in spades. Not only were they the loudest band in the world (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) at around that time, but they were among the best, and onstage is where they shined brightest. True, I prefer the studio version of "Child In Time," but the rendition here is still tremendous, and this version of "Strange Kind Of Woman" is a definite improvement, with multiple magician-like solos from Ritchie and its last few minutes creatively modeled after Edgar Winter's live takes of "Tobacco Road." On the whole, this album has its flaws which I previously pointed out (I would've also liked for them to have included more songs), but it's so exciting, virtuosic, and hard rocking that its flaws are easily forgotten amid the enormity of the band's accomplishments here. Note: My complaint about their being too few songs was somewhat rectified on the 1998 2-cd reissue, which added "Black Night" (a non-album single that had been a big U.K. hit for the band in 1970), "Speed King," and a cover of Little Richard's "Lucille."
Who Do We Think We Are (EMI Records/Purple ‘73) Rating: B-
Well, they say that success breeds contempt and that's pretty much what happened to the Mark II lineup of Deep Purple. Being overworked by their management and record company didn't help matters, but the bottom line was that relationships within the band had frayed, most notably between Gillan and Blackmore, who to put it bluntly couldn't stand each other. Given that after this album the notoriously difficult Blackmore basically forced out Glover as well one can assume that their relationship had also deteriorated, and given those circumstances I guess it's not too surprising that Who Do We Think We Are is a rather lackluster effort that doesn't even come close to matching the band's prior peaks. On the whole, these generic songs are slower than usual, they sound less crisp, and they lack that certain spark and their usual memorable solos. Still, this is Deep Purple we're talking about, one of the best hard rock bands ever not too far removed from their prime, so I wouldn't call this a bad album, merely a disappointing one. I don't have much to say about the likes of "Mary Long" and "Super Trouper" beyond that they don't do much for me; at least "Smooth Dancer" ups the tempo, Lord struts his stuff, and Gillan interestingly rips Blackmore to shreds in the lyrics ("Mary Long" is similarly mean-spirited but the targets are more "meh"). Elsewhere, "Rat Bat Blue" is a good funky number, though I definitely don't approve of Lord's synth attempts, "Place In Line" is a slow boring blues that's at least salvaged by some good soloing from Ritchie, and the modestly enjoyable "Our Lady" is a rather grandiose gospel-flavored finale that's musically anchored by Lord's bright keyboards. Which leaves us with this album's lone undeniable highlight, "Woman From Tokyo," arguably the band's second most popular radio track in the U.S. after "Smoke On The Water." It's easy to see why, as it contains the type of good riffs that are in short supply elsewhere, there's the catchy "Tokaayyo" chorus, Lord plays some rare boogie piano, and Gillan delivers an excellent vocal, especially on the song's surprisingly mellow, evocative bridge. Unfortunately, too much of the rest of this album sees a once great band going through the motions, as clearly some new blood and fresh ideas were needed at this point.
Burn (EMI Records/Purple ‘74) Rating: A
Enter Deep Purple MK III, with then-unknown singer David Coverdale replacing Gillan and bassist/singer Glenn Hughes (ex-Trapeze) replacing Glover. An inspired move, really, at least at first, as the duos dual tag team vocals (Coverdale taking most of the leads but both singing far more often than not) are generally impressive and the rest of the group sounds revitalized, with the songs themselves adopting a more of a funk/blues-based edge than previously. The album starts with the title track, which does in fact burn, with a distinctive Euro-metal sound that would become "power metal" in the '80s. Both Coverdale - later famous for "ripping off" Robert Plant in Whitesnake but with Deep Purple the template was Paul Rodgers, not Plant - and the higher pitched Hughes shine, Ritchie delivers a blazing guitar solo and Lord delivers a great solo as well in his classic classical style (while we're doling out accolades I'll note that Paice is fantastic too). Simply put, this track rivals "Highway Star" as the band's best turbo-charged album opener, and a pair of very good album tracks then appear with the melodic, catchy, mid-tempo, r&b-influenced "Might Just Take Your Life" and "Lay Down, Stay Down," a fast-paced boogie groover with another great guitar solo. Whereas these two tracks are musically more brightly upbeat than your typical Deep Purple fare, the next track, the excellent "Sail Away," delivers a slower, moody funk blues number that's a good example of Coverdale/Hughes' vocal chemistry; Ritchie's hard funky riff is also memorable, and the song is notable for its strange synth guitar sounds as well. I also really enjoy "You Fool No One," a Paice showcase that can best be described as "Cream meets Santana" and which is highlighted by another blazing guitar solo, and "What's Goin' On Here" (if not quite as much), which is propelled by Ritchie's powerful blues riffs and Lord's jazzy piano licks. The closing synth-heavy instrumental "'A' 200" is another winner, in large part due to the stellar work from Ritchie and Paice, and then there's the searing, brooding blues epic "Mistreated," one of the band's best songs ever. Man, both Coverdale (no Hughes on vocals this time) and Ritchie in particular are in vintage form here, and there's a reason that this became a signature song for both men, later surviving in the set lists of both Whitesnake and Rainbow. Anyway, Burn was an extremely successful album, both artistically and commercially, which showed that this new incarnation of Deep Purple was still a very viable musical proposition. Today the album is seriously overlooked (not a single song appears on "classic rock radio") and underrated, but though the band's earlier psych and prog-like elements have been toned down in favor of a more straightforward blues rock sound, the band deliver the goods both song-wise and with their performances, which are often electrifying. Burn is both the third best Deep Purple studio album and the best non-Mark II Deep Purple album.
Stormbringer (EMI Records/Purple ‘74) Rating: B
The band seemed reinvigorated by the new lineup on Burn, but the good times didn't last as Blackmore was growing increasingly disinterested while Hughes' influence increased, hence this album is very soul and funk-based. Quite a few of these songs are distinctly un-Purple like, and though I like the lighter funk of "Love Don't Mean A Thing" and "You Can't Do It Right," which sounds like Stevie Wonder crossed with KISS, the fact is that these are guilty pleasures at best and if I want to listen to this type of music I'd rather simply listen to Stevie Wonder, who was obviously a big influence on Hughes. "Hold On" is even less Purple-like, with its groovy gospel feel, but I have to admit I like this one as well, even though I suspect I shouldn't (Blackmore loathes it). Also very atypical but a real gem is the Hughes showcase "Holy Man," a melodic, soulful soft ballad with a sublimely lyrical Blackmore guitar solo; Lord's synths add color, and unsurprisingly there are louder sections as well. Other highlights include the storming (couldn't resist) title track, another excellently hard rocking album opener, and "Soldier Of Fortune," a melancholic Coverdale ballad (he again shares lead vocals with Hughes on most songs but not this one) that even Ritchie likes (he's been very vocal about his displeasure with most of this album). "The Gypsy" is also powerfully moody and intense, and though Lord is such a brilliant organist it's rare that I approve of his use of synths instead, they work well in this instance, though I wish he used the device less on the whole. Elsewhere, generic songwriting plagues the likes of "Lady Double Dealer" and "Highball Shooter," but at least the band's high energy performance salvages the fast-paced former song, and Lord again shows his keyboard mastery on the latter. Anyway, I do like this album but it was still a big comedown from Burn, and its mellower AOR sound lacked the sheer heft (and dare I say it, balls) of Deep Purple's best work. That said, I'd recommend it to big fans of the band with the caveat being that much of the album is far from your typical Deep Purple fare. Unsurprisingly given his deep dissatisfaction with this album, and with Hughes increased role in the band, Blackmore left Deep Purple after this album to form the also-legendary Rainbow with Ronnie James Dio. Deep Purple would soldier on however, recruiting the supremely talented (he'd have to be to replace Blackmore) Tommy Bolin. Note: I'd recommend the Made In Europe live album mostly for the elongated versions of "Mistreated" and "You Fool No One," but I'd have to side with Blackmore to some extent because Hughes' ridiculous, unwarranted Stevie Wonder-isms and absurd vocalizing brings down all live recordings (I've heard some bootlegs too) from this era.
Come Taste the Band (Purple ‘75) Rating: B+
The is the lone Deep Purple album without both Gillan and Blackmore, and as such it hardly seems like (or sounds like) a Deep Purple album. Which isn't to say that this isn't a good album, I actually like it quite a bit and feel that it's seriously underrated. Then again, I'm a big Tommy Bolin fan, a good thing as Lord seems more in the background, certainly more so than on the early albums which he dominated. He's also more apt to play piano or synthesizers, a strategy which I've already remarked I'm not too keen on, but regardless these are mostly high quality songs, even if some of them sound more like Bolin's work (solo or with the James Gang) or Whitesnake than Deep Purple. Again, so long as you don't expect the classic Deep Purple sound there's much to enjoy here, starting with "Comin' Home," a fast-paced boogie that sees Bolin and Coverdale at their best. "Gettin' Tighter" is a fast-paced Hughes funk groover that features some great guitar, and "Dealer" (about Hughes being a druggie, basically) features more memorably flashy guitar heroics. I also like Bolin's funky guitar lines and effects on the overly simplistic but still catchy "I Need Love," and his tasty high pitched guitar work on "Drifter," an agreeably tough blues rocker. Other highlights are "This Time Around/Owed to 6," the former an emotional piano ballad from Hughes, the latter an extended instrumental coda on which Bolin is the star, and "You Keep On Moving," an intense funk rocker from Hughes that also features Lord's moody keyboards. Again, not every song here works ("Lady Luck" and "Love Child" are decidedly average), and even the ones that do are generally flawed. Which makes this merely a very good as opposed to a great Deep Purple album; as long as you realize that you're getting an album that mostly contains soul and funk inflected blues-based hard rock, and your expectations are set accordingly, I suspect that most listeners who are willing to give this album a fair chance will like it. I think it's heavier and better than Stormbringer in any event, though given the problems the band faced on tour (Bolin's playing was erratic due to his drug dependencies plus their Blackmore-worshipping fan base was none too welcoming) it's not surprising that the Mark IV lineup of Deep Purple lasted for but this one lone album (obviously they were on borrowed time anyway given Bolin's lethal overdose in 1976). Rather than attempt to piece together a Mark V lineup, the band decided to break up instead, albeit not permanently of course.
Deep Purple in Concert (Harvest Records '80, Spitfire Records '01) Rating: A
This archive live release is both the second essential official Deep Purple live album along with Made In Japan and one of the best BBC concert releases ever (it helps that unlike many other BBC releases there is no song duplication here). Disc one was recorded in 1970 and features a mere four tracks: "Speed King," "Child In Time," "Wring That Neck," and "Mandrake Root." Remember in my earlier reviews when I mentioned that the band would really stretch out on the latter two tracks? Well here's your proof, as both versions here exceed 17-minutes (though thankfully they don't stretch out to a half hour as could sometimes be the case). Granted, I suppose you need a certain tolerance for such extended free form improvisation, but despite some lulls these versions do expertly show off the band's great chemistry (again particularly between Lord and Blackmore) and striking improvisational skills. Basically, disc one captures the long, jam-based Deep Purple of 1970, before all the success and inter-band problems, whereas the second disc recorded in 1972 focuses on Machine Head tracks (before the album was actually released), though "Strange Kind Of Woman" and "Lucille" replace "Pictures Of Home" and of course "Space Truckin'" is extended past 20 minutes (having replaced "Wring That Neck" and "Mandrake Root" as the obligatory "stretching out" song). Again the performances are first rate, though I prefer the Made in Japan versions on the whole (certainly the guitar solo on "Highway Star" can't compare, for example, and on the first disc Gillan briefly screws up some of his high-pitched shrieks on "Child In Time," though he ad libs nicely through it anyway). Then again, "Maybe I'm A Leo" and "Never Before" aren't on that album; apparently the former was never played live aside from here, and apparently this is the first live version of "Smoke On The Water," so in addition to being a great listen this album has some historical value going as well (you'll notice that the response to "Smoke" is muted because the crowd doesn't know it yet, similar to "Stairway" on Zep's BBC album). True, I could do without the song announcements, and some of the instrumental sections could be tightened up a bit, but this terrific release captures the classic Mark II lineup in their best element.
Perfect Strangers (Polydor ‘84) Rating: B+
After Come Taste The Band the members of Deep Purple went their separate ways onto a myriad of projects. Of course by then Blackmore was already busy with Rainbow (which Glover also later joined), Bolin likewise with his stellar solo work, while Coverdale would go onto fame and fortune with Whitesnake, whose members at one point also included Lord and Paice. The best Whitesnake album is probably 1980's Ready and Willin', the most popular by far their 1987 self-titled album, by which time Deep Purple seemed stable compared to Coverdale's revolving door membership! Elsewhere, the band Gillan had three very good albums from 1979-81 with Mr. Universe, Glory Road, and Future Shock, and then there’s the unfairly overlooked 1982 one-off release from Glenn Hughes and guitarist Pat Thrall (titled Hughes/Thrall), a top notch hard rock album that should've had a few hits. Anyway, back to Deep Purple, whose classic Mark II lineup reconvened and in 1984 released their highly successful comeback album Perfect Strangers, which, while far from classic, at least boasted a couple of classic tracks and was better than most of the participant's recent albums. The main problems with this album are that the songwriting is patchy ("Under The Gun," "Mean Streak," "Hungry Daze," and "Not Responsible" are filler-ish tracks though the band's solid playing, in particularly Ritchie's guitar wizardry, still makes them listenable), Gillan's weathered voice isn't what it was, and the album has a slick, overly sanitized and synth-y '80s sound. Perhaps Blackmore overuses his symphonic, creeping riffs as well, but you won't hear me complain about this when listening to the album's first song and excellent first single, "Knockin' At Your Back Door," with its memorable Jaws-like intro (the first appearance of said symphonic riffs), silly but fun lyrics, not one but two good guitar solos, and catchy harmonized chorus. "Nobody's Home" also got some airplay back in the day, and it's simply a good hard-hitting straightforward hard rock song, while the title track was another outstanding single (both this and "Knockin'" cracked the U.K. top 15 though neither fared nearly as well in the U.S.), with excellent echoed vocals from Gillan (probably his best performance on the album), more memorable creeping riffs, and moody keyboards from Mr. Lord. I also really like "A Gypsy's Kiss," a fast paced groover that features exciting organ/guitar interplay like in the old days (really they're all in fine form here which is good to hear), while "Wasted Sunsets" is an obligatory "power ballad" (seemingly unavoidable for a hard rock band in the mid-to-late-'80s) but a moody and powerful one, with Blackmore's soulful, searing guitar providing the primary highlight. On the whole, this flawed but largely enjoyable album was a welcome return from the band's signature Mark II lineup, and the massively successful tour that followed was but a further confirmation that the band had been missed by their loyal fan base. As ever, however, the good times would be short-lived, as Gillan again departed after 1987's less well-received The House Of Blue Light, replaced by ill-fitting former Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner on 1990's Slaves and Masters. Gillan again returned on 1993's also-underwhelming The Battle Rages On, by which time Blackmore had it with Gillan again; he was replaced by the supremely accomplished Steve Morse on 1996's Purpendicular, while ex-Rainbow keyboardist Don Airey replaced a retiring John Lord for 2003's Bananas. The band also released ABandON in 1998 and Rapture Of The Deep in 2005, but I'm not really that familiar with the Morse-era recordings (I've only heard a few tracks here and there on SiriusXM radio) so I'll refrain from commenting on them for the time being.
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