Prominent Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/24/2008
I will preface this review by stating that Ritchie Blackmore’s untimely departure from Deep Purple in 1993, and his subsequent replacement by Steve Morse as the band’s guitarist, was nothing short of a blessing. Not since Ian Gillan and Roger Glover took over vocal and bass duties from the pedestrian Rod Evans and Nick Simper had a personnel change had such a rejuvenating effect on Deep Purple’s creative output. Talent though he may have been, Blackmore was a control-freak who could make or break an album depending on his moodiness any given day of the week. It was his desire to break into the mainstream pop charts that unleashed such dreadful pap as “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “Street Of Dreams,” and “Love Conquers All” on public ears, and as far as this reviewer is concerned, he’s better off today playing his minstrel music than bogging down the other great talents in Deep Purple.
It is no exaggeration to say that Purpendicular is Deep Purple’s best album since 1984’s Perfect Strangers. For my tastes, it is also their most consistent effort since 1972’s Machine Head. From the opening notes of “Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic,” the energy is enough to knock you off your feet. Not only does the new lineup show that it can pull off catchy, high-caliber riffs in Blackmore’s absence, it does so with a refreshing degree of enthusiasm.
Listening to Purpendicular is an adventure in that Gillan, Glover, Lord, and Paice sound as if they’re relaxed and enjoying making music for the first time in
ages. Their decision to carry on with a guitarist wholly dissimilar to Ritchie allows them to explore a spectrum of sound far beyond what they were limited to from 1970-1993. Morse brings his own distinct tone and precision-based style to the band, and the result is one that will delight music fans (and perhaps enrage Blackmore-loyalists.) Gillan, meanwhile, turns in one of his best performances in years. While he no longer has the range that he did in the glory years, he refrains from straining for the high-notes as he did the Mark II swan-song, The Battle Rages On. The result is a much more pleasant, honest performance from one of rock’s best vocalists: yes, he sounds his age, but that’s a good thing. The only complaint one can make about the vocals on Purpendicular is that the way they’re overdubbed to create odd, parallel harmonies is at first a bit bizarre. After a few listens, however, the unique vocal dub becomes one of the defining factors in this landmark Purple album, next to Morse’s new guitar sound.
There are no particularly weak tracks on Purpendicular, but there are a number of highlights. “Loosen My Strings” is a slow-paced, brooding tune with some great minimalist guitar playing from Morse. Who’d have thought that the guy from The Dixie Dregs could tone things down so well? Jon Lord also does a very nice job of fleshing things out with tasteful keyboard fills. “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” is one of a couple gorgeous ballads on this album, featuring some of Gillan’s best vocals. The other softer number, “A Touch Away,” features a breathtaking acoustic intro from Morse. Who would have thought that after 28 years, the core members of Deep Purple would uncover a knack for this kind of songwriting? Remarkable!
Older fans need not fear though -- the band hasn’t abandoned its hard-rock roots. Far from it, in fact: “Cascades: I’m Not Your Lover” is a great rock song, featuring some squealing harmonics from Morse, and an old Mark II-style duel between organ and guitar. The aforementioned “Ted The Mechanic,” with its speedy, funked-up riff, has gone on to become one of the post-Blackmore lineup’s more popular tunes, and the shuffling groove to “Rosa’s Cantina” has a definite catchiness about it, with some great organ breaks from Lord.
True, there are some ideas here that don’t quite work. “Soon Forgotten” is, well, a tad forgettable, and “The Aviator” seems a bit out of place with its efforts to affect a Celtic vibe. The disc as a whole is a bit rough around the edges, with many songs running over five minutes in length. But in the end, this sort of adds to its charm. Deep Purple have released four studio albums since Ritchie Blackmore’s departure in 1993, and Purpendicular remains the best of them thus far.
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