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The Highway Star


This album has been an adventure to discover. From the first time I listened to it on a tape copy, feeling something was lacking when comparing it to its predecessor, "Purpendicular" (1996). The first thought that struck me, was that this one was lacking in variety compared to the previous album. Till I'm sitting here now, finding the thought of putting on "Purpendicular" right after "Abandon" to be distant.

"Purpendicular" knocked my socks off at first listen. It had hard rockers, but also soft, beautiful numbers like "The Aviator", which still gives me the chills. It showed me a band that had rediscovered the band spirit - every single member was giving his best. The distinctive feel of Ritchie Blackmore, that had come to define of Deep Purple for many fans, was absent. But those with ears willing to accomodate to the new times here could find a band functioning together in a way Deep Purple hadn't been since the early Seventies. Personally, I loved the album, and still rate it high above all the other albums released since the band's reunion in 1984. Including the comeback-album itself, "Perfect Strangers" (1984), which seems to hold a strong place in the hearts of many fans.

Thus, I approached the new album with a lot of tension. I had heard that it was supposedly much "heavier" than "Purpendicular". A change of direction that didn't immediatley sound like a wise move to me. I was afraid "our boys" were trying too hard to accomodate the fans that found the previous effort to be too much of a detour from traditional Purple-ground. I was slightly worried that the end result might end up as a forced effort at recreating the "classic" Purple-sound.

At first, I was slightly bewildered. I really loved songs like "Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming", "A Touch Away" and "The Aviator" on the previous album, and this album doesn't have any of the more adventureous "detours" like these songs. It is, however, far more cohesive. As the early reports from the studio suggested, it is a hard rocking effort. Despite the lack of songs that really hit a home run with me on the first listen, the quality of the songwriting did strike me.

Squeezing in time to hear the album a couple of times more, it started to grow on me. Slowly. The first time it really started to hit me with full impact, was at the release party at a club in town, with Ian & Ian present. Hearing the songs I was getting to become familiar with played at full volume, I couldn't help tapping my feet during most of the album.

Shortly afterwards, I received the promo CD, and finally discovered that my tape desk is total and utter crap. Upon hearing the album played from CD on my headphones for the first time, it really lifted off. Now, a handfull of playthroughs later, its really gotten to me. And I do find it hard to put on "Purpendicular". Mainly because the force of "Abandon" is the rock aspect of Deep Purple. Which works so much better here.

I'm not afraid to go on record stating no Purple album has sounded better. The production can only be described as ace. Crystal clear, and packing a punch. The playing is immaculate, as suspected. The two original band membes shine like the brilliant stars they are. Ian Paice has truly been reborn as a drummer. Where he could sound a bit stale on the recordings from the Eighties, he now lays down a groove few can beat (pun intended!) him to. Jon Lord is finally again a truly integrated part in the Purple sound. His growling Hammond organ is integrated in most of the heavy riffing on the album, he delivers some utterly tasteful, if somewhat understated, solos throughout the album, and throws in some disharmonic chords at just the right time. Play "Watching the Sky" at full tilt, and you'll know what I'm referring to.

This is indeed a hard rocking Deep Purple. Its immediately recognizable as Deep Purple, but at the same time its inventive, modern sounding and ground solid.

The songs. Ah, the songs. I did mention that the through and through solid craftmanship that has gone into the songwriting was one of the first things that struck me about this release. While there's no new "Smoke on the Water" here, there's a songwriting skill of a more subtle quality present here. It will ensure that the listeners will be coming back for more and more, and more, and more, and more...

If I should haul out one standout song, it would be the track "Fingers to the Bone". This should be a single. Its atypical of the album, in that it is rather mellow. It has great crossover potential, it can easily be played at radio stations that wouldn't touch hard rock. The lyrics are truly great, and Ian Gillan shows that he's still a vocal force to be reckonned with. Lots of emotion in this track, and the lyrics are of the kind that could keep you speculating forever - it could just as well be about Ian having to fire his band as he went back to Deep Purple in 1992, or about Ian being fired from Purple himself in 1989, or... something completely different. "Everything went wrong, I'm sorry boys, I had to let you go..." Jon Lord plays some equisite elaborations on a chord change that could be taken straight out of Steve Morse's songbook. This is Deep Purple today - total interplay. One band, playing off each other. Feeding off each other. Growing as a unit.

Trond J. Strøm

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