Reviews of Bananas
by Rasmus Heide
With Purpendicular in 1996 Deep Purple proved to the world and - possibly more important - to themselves, that they could still pull off an imaginative slice of quality rock when they set their collective minds to it. Their new album Bananas is a glorious continuation of this proud tradition. Permeating this new set of songs is a daring willingness to try new things, the likes of which has characterised Deep Purple's music over the past 35 years.
New 'boy' Don Airey's organ and keyboard work provides both surprises and new flavours on Bananas. His chameleon-like ability to switch between styles and sounds is a refreshing addition to the Deep Purple world of keyboards. While his soloing might not be as refined as his predecessor's, he has a wider vocabulary of sounds to choose from - from delicate synth-icing on tracks like I've Got Your Number to the best Keith Emerson Hammond impression this side of, well, Keith himself on the title track.
Auxiliary percussion has always been a part of Purple's sound (e.g. the manic tambourine at the end of Fireball), but rhythmical extras like tambourine, shakers and a curious vibra slap have been afforded a more prominent role on Bananas, aiding and improving the swing and finesse of numerous songs. This is but one of many commendable new touches to the sound perfectly procured by outside producer Michael Bradford.
Album opener House Of Pain is an effective and rather typical Deep Purple piece of chugga-chugga fun, but it is the ominously haunting Sun Goes Down which is the album's first outstanding song. With its expertly produced layers of vocals and musical backing, the song is a mid tempo work of Purple art that will prove to be a fascinating experience in a live setting (please!). "I never tried to walk the walk cause the steps are elusive." Great words for an evocative song.
Haunted is the single, but save for a lovely melodic solo from Steve Morse, it's not what I wanted.
Razzle Dazzle is the real commercial high point of Bananas. Its highly inventive middle section of restrained backing allows Ian Gillan to ramble and soar with gusto as only he can do. "I'm working on my thinking and I think it's improving." It's quite magical. Don Airey attempts a honky tonk piano solo which somehow doesn't really convince, but coming from an album elsewhere brimming with his top notch work, it ain't a worry.
Silver Tongue sports the meanest, grooviest and simplest backbone of them all; Steve Morse and Roger Glover grinding away below the stage planks, providing an infectious backing that almost overshadows the excellence sprinkled over the top by Airey and Gillan who deliver some of the most wholesome and inspired work on the entire album. Ian Gillan in particular radiates like a boy posessed, screaming, lulling, slamming, humming, exclaiming, rhyming, retorting. "I can dream in any language." Indeed, and with a song like this we're dreaming wonderful dreams in purple lingo. It's an immense song, a label-defying group composition and a hot contender for best song of the album.
On the surface Walk On is Gillan tackling a Blind Man Cries type slow blues in that dark, emotive voice of his that he employs much too rarely. Dig deeper and you find a relaxed band performance as blatantly loose as only a gathering of seasoned old dogs like these can do it. Their collective reserve of massive musical strength hiding just under the surface is what allows them to pull this one off with such an abundance of sly bliss. All competitors should start here. "If you don't like what you see, if you can do better than me, you better walk on." (Sentiment also goes out to all nostalgia freaks spending their evenings on begging knees praying for a return of Deep Purple anno 1972 in musical style and line-up.)
Picture Of Innocence sees Gillan railing at modern day political correctness in what sounds like a dig at the increased amount of conformity on all levels of society where new fangled passifying schemes for the masses are promoted as improvements. "I hear they're gonna try something new, I can feel it sticking to my shoe." The song's right-in-the-pocket shuffle lays the foundation for another round of nicely energetic soloing from Messers Airey and Morse. Bananas as a whole positively brims with nitty gritty instrumental brilliance. Hey, the advantages of intense recording schedules and a clever producer.
Since its first airing on the February 2002 UK
tour, Up The Wall has gone through a slight update in the lyrical department
and come out as the somewhat more ordinarily titled I've Got Your Number.
It was your editor's gleeful first taste of great new things to come. Back then
Never A Word is an airy (not Airey!) piece of acoustic guitar and layered vocals. An esoteric encounter perhaps more at home on Gillan's Dreamcatcher - if only that album had enjoyed the same high quality of production as Bananas - its pleasantness is a welcome delight to the ears.
Not for the faint hearted Bananas (the song) is, in its first half, an inventively timed little ditty seemingly describing the recording sessions in Los Angeles; "I'm just lying here in the sun, watching you guys having fun." The second half of the song is the album's core source for intrepid intricate 100-thrills-a-minute soloing, incessant backing and, well, just plain simple fun. If you'll pardon the crass language, this is where the band rocks yer socks off. When Don Airey finally joined the band full time 18 months ago, many were immediately reminded of one particular part of his illustrious career. However, instead of coming across as just another ex-Rainbow keyboard player, Don Airey now displays himself as an astute performer with a whole lot more to offer. The Bananas title track in particular shows touches of his years as a fusion rock instrumentalist with Colloseum II and on Gary Moore's Back On The Streets album, which is exactly what your jolly editor had been quietly hoping for. (Maybe we can now persuade him to pension off the Star Wars theme he enjoys wheeling out for his onstage solo spot...?)
As Ian Gillan admits that prospective procreation improves his eyesight, the rest of us sit around dumbfounded by the Deep Purple Tango that is Doing It Tonight. Such a salacious groove! Separating the aforementioned nostalgia freaks from the genuinely musically adventurous, Deep Purple fans everywhere will either hate this for its obvious lack of anything remotely heavy'n'riffy - or praise it for daringly displaying yet another side to the unwavering and inexhaustible well of playful musical talent that is Deep Purple. This penultimate Banana is a beauty and such is its infectious nature that it even inspired the lady of THS Features HQ to initiate a late night lounge room shake-a-leg. Oh yes!
Contact Lost is Steve Morse's beautiful tribute to the lost space shuttle. Understandably moving, it nonetheless ends an otherwise mostly upbeat album on a down note.
So, Bananas' overall offering is an impressive amount of joyful sonic new friends, a couple of eye openers and a single puzzling moment of identity loss. The title will confuse unsuspecting customers, but its intensely varied selection of styles - no doubt as much to do with the new Hammond twirler as the new producer - will be just what makes or breaks this platter. Openminded listeners with a taste for another imaginative purple excursion should take this convincing set of new and carefully constructed album to heart.
While it ain't quite the milestone masterpiece of Sgt. Pepper proportions touted by Mr Gillan exactly four year ago, it is nonetheless an invigorating box of fresh fruit, strangely packaged but sweet and nourishing. It resurrects belief in a band that came dangerously close to being swallowed by the shadows of its own greatest hits the last few years. Now it's time to reaffirm trust in the band as Bananas is quite obviously their way of enticing us back onto the playground. Let's go, let's play.