This Time Around: Live In Tokyo
CMC International Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/26/2001
Among fans of Deep Purple, there appears to be what I would call the "cult of Bolin". This includes anyone who believes the Mark IV lineup of Deep Purple (which featured Tommy Bolin on guitar... and lasted for all of one studio album) was tops. I guess this could include anyone who believes that Bolin was a stellar guitarist.
I am not in the cult of Bolin. To my old ears, his playing never came close to some of the classic '70s guitarists (though I still have yet to listen to any of his solo albums), and by the time he shuffled into Deep Purple, that band was in serious disarray. To lay all of the fault that Deep Purple had at this time at Bolin's feet would not be correct, though his own lifestyle didn't help matters much. Also, to be fair, anyone who stepped immediately into the spot vacated by Ritchie Blackmore was going to have a difficult time adjusting.
This Time Around - Live In Tokyo is a new release capturing Deep Purple about three months before their self-implosion (and about a year before Bolin's death). But this 1975 show hardly does Deep Purple justice, and in fact suggests the band might have done well to have packed it in after the departures of Blackmore and bassist Roger Glover.
Where to start with this one? I admit that I never was a big fan of David Coverdale as the lead throat for Deep Purple, but by the time the band took the stage in Tokyo, the rigors of the road were showing on Coverdale's vocals. At times, he tries to do his best Ian Gillan imitation, at other times it seems like he's unable to hit the high notes he had sung on the studio versions of some songs. Bassist Glenn Hughes isn't really able to pick up any of the slack with his vocals; sometimes, they don't even feel like they fit in the context of the band. (I do admit, though, that knowing both Coverdale and Hughes were sharing - or was that fighting over? - lead vocals makes me understand a little more of where the Mark III and Mark IV Deep Purple albums were coming from.)
Material-wise, Deep Purple was in a creative slump. It's been years since I listened to Come Taste The Band, the only studio album from the Mark IV lineup, but I remember thinking it left a real crater in the band's legacy. Featuring a good chunk of the album in this concert doesn't help matters - in fact, it speaks volumes when the best song is "Wild Dogs," a track from Bolin's solo effort Teaser. Coverdale and Hughes might have been wanting to take Deep Purple into a funkier direction, but the fact is that Deep Purple is at its best when it is a guitar-oriented act. (No offense meant to keyboardist Jon Lord, whose signature style is just as essential to the band's sound.)
Even the classics take a drubbing. Whether Coverdale and Hughes dropped the third verse in "Smoke On The Water" or they just flubbed it, this rendition makes me want to crawl into the Pierce Memorial Archives and dig out my well-worn vinyl copy of Machine Head. "Highway Star" also suffers in the translation from classic to at-the-time present lineup, though Bolin's pedestrian attempt at a solo is where I'd start to put the blame on his performance. Part of the charm of this song has always been the machine-gun guitar lines; hell, even Steve Morse does this in the present Deep Purple lineup. Was Bolin not willing to follow the song's pattern - or was he unable to?
The second option is a possibility. The liner notes say that Bolin (who had been fighting drug and alcohol problems) started to suffer from arm paralysis after overdosing in Japan at the start of the tour. It is possible that Bolin's playing was suffering due to this - though the same liner notes quickly make it clear that the absence of guitar at the start of "Burn" is due to mechanical failure at the gig, not from Bolin's inability to play. Whatever; all I know is that Lord had to work some serious overtime as a result, as did drummer Ian Paice.
This Time Around - Live In Tokyo ends up showcasing a band which was running on empty in many regards, and can occasionally be rather difficult to listen to. Of course, if you're in the cult of Bolin, you will probably debate this review until the cows come home. If that's what floats your boat, fine - though you tend to be in the minority. If you absolutely must know what the fourth incarnation of Deep Purple sounded like, then pick this set up. Otherwise, you'd be better off picking up one of the many other live sets that Deep Purple has on the market.