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The Highway Star

Abandon - Review by Garry Smith

Abandon - /-\ - does little for me, and I'll try to explain why. I've listened to it many times now, sometimes carefully, sometimes less attentively, and I still can't get into it. But it's not because I'm not trying.

I'll have to compare /-\ to Purpendicular - _|_ - but I think that's a valid comparison, since it's the DP album preceding /-\, and the only other studio album produced by the same line-up. If you want to know what I thought of Purple up to the release of _|_, then check out /rosas/editor/garry/, where my reviewer's credentials are on display!

I like _|_ very much. It's one of my favourite Purple albums. The first time I played it, the first few seconds of "Ted" said "Hey! This is fresh, and this is FUN!", and put a grin on my face - a smile that returned many times when I played that album and saw them live (see /lato96/garry.html ). _|_ has exuberance (e.g. "Ted", "Cascades", "Hey Cisco"), it has melody (e.g. "Aviator", SIFLS, "A Touch Away"), and it has a tremendous variety of songs, styles, textures, and moods. "Deep Purple", "Fireball" and "Stormbringer" are high up in my list of Purple favourites, for similar reasons.

/-\ isn't like that. There's no denying that it's a much more consistent album than _|_, in terms of sound, style and mood. The product of a line-up who now have a few years' experience together under their belts, and who have clearly picked a certain style for this album.

It's heavier than _|_, it's more aggressive (more about that later), and it has very few of the gentle melodic touches that made _|_ such a surprise. There's very little contrast between the songs on /-\. Yes I know that anyone could pick out two separate sections off it and say "Look, they are completely different", but the fact remains that /-\ is mostly heavy, loud, and largely riff-driven. This is precisely why a lot of folks really like it, and precisely why it does little for me.

Maybe it all depends on what else you listen to, and where you are coming from when you arrive at Purple. In my collection, I have very little apart from Purple (and their family) that could be classed as heavy rock, or as metal. For me, Purple at their best provides something that's heavy, something that rocks - sure - but something that's still tuneful, and also warm and good-natured.

This last point is important. I don't listen to music to hear anger, to hear people shouting at me. The blues - fine. Aggression and anger - small measures are OK, but no large portions please.

So what do I make of /-\? There's no argument that the band is in fine form, each of them putting in a great performance, and playing together as a much tighter, more integrated unit than they were on _|_. I'm not going to go through the songs individually, because that's not where my problem is. It's the album as a whole that gives me a problem.

Like I said, I find it relentlessly heavy and loud. It's dark, brooding, and, I feel, it's a *cold* album. It gives me the impression that they're pissed off with something. It has no charm. It doesn't engage me, nor does it challenge me. It just leaves me cold.

The overall consistency - the relentless heavy feel - make it difficult to remember individual songs. Some of the songs - e.g. "Any Fule" and "She Was" - have parts where it's difficult to discern any tune or melody. And although I've heard it many times, right now I can't for the life of me think how "Whatshername" goes.

(Having said that, I'm sure that the songs that they play on tour will fit well into the overall context of the live show. The _|_ songs did, as did the two live /-\ songs that I've heard.)

I think there are too many mid-tempo songs in the second half of the album - "She Was", "Whatshername", and "Evil Louie". Even "Bludsucker". Individually, each might be OK, if a little ponderous, but put them close together and it's like wading through treacle.

Even in the songs where they have introduced the lighter touch - DMMH, "Fingers..." and "Jack Ruby" - they haven't gone as far as they did on _|_. The contrast between songs is not as great as it was on _|_.

Some of the songs might have benefited from more time - on the album - to develop. For example, "Watching The Sky" sounds like an attempt to compress "Fools" (and a bit more) into just over five minutes. This applies to several other songs too, and the result is a very dense album, packed with detail, that, together with the heavy riffing, makes it tiring to listen to. A bit like HOBL and TBRO, I feel.

Where are the warmth and good humour? I always liked Purple because they sounded like they were having a good time, and they took me with them. Do they sound like they're having a good time on /-\? I don't think so.

Finally, I must confess that Steve's fast ascending runs do begin to irritate me. Can he go up the fretboard without playing every note on the way? Of course he can - I know, it's just his style. But we even get a run in the solo in the bluesy DMMH - the sort of thing that would have BB King spinning in his grave if he wasn't so wonderfully alive.

OK, that's more than enough. I've tried to present my views as clearly as possible, and without trying to be confrontational. They are, of course, nothing more than my personal views, so I don't expect they'll change the world.

The bottom line is that I've been listening to Purple for 27 years now. They've come out with an album that I can't enjoy. After the kaleidoscopic colours of _|_, it was disappointing to go back to monochrome with /-\.

Big deal! I'll still be there in the second row at Wembley in October, and I look forward to their next album. I just hope that whatever they were trying to do with /-\, they've got it well out of their systems by then!

Garry Smith

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