More than the sound is changed. Naturally, with such a dominant contributor to the songs as Ritchie Blackmore gone, the songs themselves are very different to the later albums. In fact, they're not quite like anything Deep Purple's done before. Hardly surprising, as all the previous lineups also have sounded distinctly different.
"Vavoom: Ted the Mechanic" opens the ball. Known to many of us from tapes and bootlegs of the Florida and Seoul gigs in early 1995 (usually mistitled "Ken the Mechanic"), the finished version is a good, steady mid-pace rocker. Good opener.
"Loosen My Strings" is the first small detour from the paved lane. A laidback piece, it's quite beautiful. Here we get the first glimpse of a Ian Gillan we haven't heard much of in Deep Purple. Relaxing his voice in the verses, he can let his qualities as a vocalist shine. There's so much more to Ian than the screaming rocker, and one of the really good aspects of this album is that we get to see many more facets of his voice than on yer average DP album.
Also noticeable by now, is the other band members' efforts. Particularly Roger Glover's bass lines at this stage: much more to the fore, and driving the songs along. "Bass-powered", I wrote in an early preview. Ian Paice's drumming also makes me prick up my ears; this album must be his finest studio work since the mid-Seventies. Elegant as always, and all the constraint that's been on his studio playing for so long is vanished. Imaginative fills, elegant embroideries that just sound right.
Come "Soon Forgotten", and Jon Lord fans should feel their jaws hitting the floor. His first solo on this album, is a dissonant little monster that sounds like it could have been an outtake from "Deep Purple in Rock". Forget the short teasers and runs on "Perfect Strangers", this is the works! The song itself is a small gem. From Steve Morse's dissonant "riff" on, it's probably the most "progressive" song Deep Purple's done since some of the material on the "Fireball" album.
"Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming" is also a beaut. Starting off slowly, with Ian Gillan's voice sounding very naked and present. An uptempo chorus which (to me) is very catchy comes as a nice contrast, the song fades slowly with Steve Morse using one of his fave playing styles - dwelling around a musical theme and exploring it, instead of shredding like so many of the young heavy metal "gurus" seem to prefer.
Woha. "Cascades: I'm Not My Lover" is the first typical Deep Purple fast paced rocker on this album. Even containing a organ/guitar twin solo a la "Gypsy's Kiss/Dead or Alive", the lyrics makes me wonder if it's the sequel to "Smooth Dancer". * If it is, it's surely not hateful, just resigned. Powerful stuff musically.
"The Aviator" finishes side 1 of the advance tape, and you'll probably have to buy a tape to find it closing a side when the album is out, as I doubt that this one will be out in vinyl. [sob.] Known to tape collectors as "The Highland" from the acoustic radio performance in South Africa in April 1995, this is a beautiful little track (am I repeating myself? pass on the "positive adjective synonym book", will ya?). Ian Gillan's singing very relaxed again, and sounding great. Steve Morse's guitar theme, originally written as a lullabye for his son, probably caused the original title. Though far from being a Scottish folksong, it's a totally new type of song for Deep Purple. Easy going, with a great melody added to the instrumental many of us knew. The song is seriously addictive unless you're of the kind that detests everything that's not True Metal. Should be a single, this is the stuff people might kick off on. Lovely.
Turn the tape, and get ready for something completely different. Roger Glover's bass drives "Rosa's Cantina" along, followed by Jon Lord using his Hammond as congas, a la "Hush". Ian Paice lays down a cool shuffle, Steve Morse spreads colour and Ian Gillan again concentrates on singing instead of screaming, and throws in some work on his lunch wrapper in addition. Really cool song, one of the best on the album, and the fattest sounding Hammond solo this side of god knows what thrown in for good measure. A sure winner. Have I mentioned that this is a Deep Purple album I'm proud of, as a fan?
Slow buildup (like on many of the tracks) to the other hardrocking song on the album; "A Castle Full of Rascals". Heavy riffing from Steve and Jon, and lyrics about "conspiracies of silence within the temple walls", jackals lurking in the shadows, a black cat on the scene... hm, I somehow still don't think this is from the same world as Conan the Barbarian... Anyway, those who miss the Ian Gillan from the latter albums, find him right here. Good track again, of course.
One of my faves next [What?! they cry in disbelief], starting with some nice acoustic (I think?) work from Steve Morse, before Jon Lord carries the riff for a change, lovely riff it is to. Another mid-tempo song, "A Touch Away". Like the other slower songs on this album, it's anything but a "Power Ballad". Rest assured. Mucho big Hammond sound in there, too. By the way, I know there's been some synths here and there on this album, but I don't notice them, as they are used very tastefully.
If you liked "Fire in the Basement" because of the bass drive in it, you'll be jumping around to "Hey Cisco!". I feel the melody on this one's a bit anonymous, but the band tosses out a really cool shuffle, and it toggles along nicely. A nice little guitar/organ duell in there too.
From the title, you'd suspect "Somebody Stole My Guitar" to be a quite piece, which it ain't. Rather heavy rocking stuff this, complicated backing from the band, lots of things going on, yet sounding pretty straightforward. I also thought this one was a bit anonymous at first, but it's grown a lot on me.
Finally, an old friend for quite a few of us, "The Purpendicular Waltz" itself. As with "Soon Forgotten", it sounds surprisingly close to the live takes from last March. (Hope this is not the case on the upcoming tour, by the way!) This is a Deep Purple classic in the "Perfect Strangers" tradition, slow, heavy, brooding. An unusual beat drives it along.
Phew. It's late, and I'm tired. I probably should have been able to write a much better review after having this tape for a month now. But, to close it off: some general observations:
Steve Morse's sound is very present. The reminiscence of some of the Gillan stuff has been mentioned by others. Glover's bass work is present like never before, as is probably his songwriting skills. And Jon Lord and Ian Paice are finally back as major participators and contributors in this band.
The sum of all this is obvious: welcome to the first real Deep Purple album since the 1970's. They're a band again.
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