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I had my own reserves and fears when I was about to get this album, five years ago. Many doubts were on my mind. Am I gonna listen to Blackmore hitting it? Or will he be just mumbling and staying on the nonsense, as he already got into his mind the Rainbow Rising with RJD?? Will Coverdale and Hughes be up to the point of Purple greatness, as we all know, DP always shattered everyone with their live performances, unique, unmatchable games of virtuosity, improvisation, versatility and madness? Even, will be Jon Lord and Ian Paice, always solid performers, standing up enough for playing the thunder?
I was really afraid. DP legendary reputation in live performances (with Ritchie Blackmore on stage) is unquestionable. 1970's concert with the London Symphony is a magic thing. Made in Japan is beyond any reach in terms of heavy metal live performing. The California Jamming shows us the band in their peak of power. Two or three more albums of the era are the confirmation of this and I wasn't ready for a great dissapointment.
In any case, my curiosity and insane Purple fan collectionist gene made me buy it. And I must say it is one of the finest hidden jewels in DP's catalogue. Here, we taste a bunch of the finest versions ever made of some of the MKIII classics and I know what I'm saying because, about Deep Purple, I know everything.
We get a slashing strike on the face with the most clean and strong version of Burn ever made. The solos are pure, specially the one by Maestro Jon Lord, who usually, never matches in live performances the power of his original solo. Here, at least once, he is up to it. (R.I.P. dear Jon, by the way, you genious!). And of course, if god himself, Mr. Blackmore, is in a good mood and hitting all the notes, we have an instant winner. But the magic trick comes, in first place, with Paicey breaking it so relentless. I wonder how his drums are up to stand a full live performance the way Ian beats them. It's insane. The second thing is the vocal duet. Hughes (a not very metal-suited bassist, that can be easily noted) and Coverdale mix their voices in the exact ammount. Speed and early power metal at its best. That's it. And the magic trick doesn't stops here, because in Stormbringer we get, as well, the finest live performance ever of this particular song. And it's all about a perfect timing between Lord and RB, they fill the atmosphere and that's why this thing will metal up your ass. Magic, magic, magic.
One of a kind moment: Gypsy. And yes, fellows. One of a kind. The vocals rules here, but Ritchie Blackmore, man, that guy in black clothes, he simply outrocks every guitarist in the world. Feel his solo here, feel it carefully. Have a taste of those simply-sounding but actually, enigmatic and tricky keys performed by those fingers and you will understand.
Lady Double Dealer meets his beat. Crafted for a display of rock n roll and speed metal power, this song does it well. That riff, man. That riff.
Anyway, from here on, we got a couple of well known ones in MKIII history. Mistreated (with that particular moment when Ritchie, just before the entrance of Coverdale and the lyrics, misses the point) and You Fool no One. Both are heavy, solid and a pathway for proving, once more, why Ritchie Blackmore is unmatchable, why the sound achieved by Maestro Lord and his keyboards is unique and why Ian Paice is known for being one of the most gifted drummers ever. These numbers are as good as other ones which can be found in other live albums, excellent moments.
The particular vocal style featured here for Smoke and Space Truckin' is also something of a kind. Coverdale and Hughes managed to give, for these two "very MKII" songs an own style and they do it very well. This was hinted already in the "Live at London 1974" album, but here reaches its peak. If you want to listen a different version of that classic song made by that portentous riff, give it a try. The same happens with the other song.
After the long Space Jam, we get to the weaker moments of the album. Getting Down and Highway Star. Simply because the first one is not bombastic enough for joining the lively and powerful Purple rage. And the second, because, well, even if with the prior couple of songs from Machine Head Coverdale and Hughes were able enough to make them work in their style, this classic metal piece requires more than a vocal duet with a funky touch. They lacked, even being two guys, the enough strength for matching Gillan's majestic voice. And that's it. Another thing: Blackmore steals it. In a good and bad manner. His almost-five-minutes long solo is good (not brilliant) but by doing this whimmy improvisation, he prevented us from listening what Jon Lord had to offer. Considering that he actually matched it here with Burn, maybe he could amazed us here. In any case, it's Blackmore soloing and that's more than enough.
Now is about to be released a remastered version of this album with some gifts in it. Go ahead and enjoy the Sounds of Purple Silence, this album which marks the end of an era, the early metal era. This masterpiece must be in your collection.
By the spring of 1975, our heroes the Purple Ones had weathered three separate sets of personnel turnovers, the latest reshuffling resulting in the acquisition of David Coverdale (future mousse haired Kommandant of Whitesnake's glam rock Hindenburg) and Glenn Hughes (evil forbear of WOOO!!! RIc Flair took his cue from this lad). The denoument was a turn away from the metallic uber-over-kill of the Gillan/Glover era, toward a very arena-friendly blooze rawking swagger. In other words, the Seventies Syndrome bit and bit hard.
The ever prescient and paranoid Ritchie Blackmore quite legitimately sensed his cue to exit stage Dio, and get on with plans for his namesake act, and so it was that the recordings we have before us proved to be the last of his work with the 70's edition of Purple.
As such, Blackmore is unquestionably the star of the show. By turns manic, melodic, abrasive, restrained, and sloppy as John Holmes' Lovelace-era seconds, he puts on a flawless vaudeville of Stratocaster deviltry--even if his heart and mind were (arguably) thousands of miles away from his fingers at this point. When even a phoned in performance is this solid, it only proves that Blackmore's arrogance and misanthropy are well, well indulged and earned.
By contrast, Lord and Paice are anything but flies on the slaughterhouse wall. Paice remains the octopoidal protoplasm responsible for welding together even the most improbable of meter and tempo conceits. And in this area of increasingly funky and r&b derived material, these rhythmic skills come even further to the forefront (albeit in a manner that had antagonized RB to the point of angry departure in the first place). Consider , for instance,his flawless cue-ins at the beginning of the "Lazy" jam affixed to "Mistreated", as well as "Space Truckin'" (passim).
Lord is equally solid, sometimes surprising; his mastery of the Hammond giving way only in unfortunate patches to a somewhat less than visionary tweedly-wee turn on the (then highly unstable) Moog synthesizer.
At the vocal end, Coverdale's hoarse, faux-blooze, Paul Rodgers affectations can only be described as understated next to Hughe's bloodcurdling falsetto geisha shrieks. Clearly, this was not the dual-vocal powerhouse that Purple had promised us in the late fall of 1973.
Disc 1 kicks off with the customary MK 111 set opener, "Burn". It's treated pretty faithfully as per the album version, with RB's stun-guitar intro leading into the verses, capped off with the DC/Hughes, Dalek-delivery of the song's ultimate hook..."BUUUURRRRNNN!!!!" This sets up the famous lightning speed Bach-derived solos from RB and Lord (and indeed, this track really is a rewrite of the original Bach-derived Purple monster "Highway Star", with superior hooks, lyrics, and indeed, solo).
"Strombringer" is next, a mid paced groover complete with more threatening weather imagery (are these guys glued to the Weather Channel in their spare time?). Chugging along to a satisfying crunch, it gives place to a somewhat moodier and darker piece.
"Gypsy" is a rather nicely repetitive riff, some random ruminations on crystal balls and such that would be infinitely better handled by RJD in years to come, and some decent dual-throated warbling from the codpieced ones forever battling at the mic, terminate in a seething, neurotic solo from RB. Some damned tasty melodic energy entrapped within the grooves here.
"Lady Double Dealer" is next, and is formulaic (but finely crafted) sped up Bad Co. cockrock swagger that wouldn't make the cut on "Bomber" but would fit nicely onto "Appetite for Destruction".
"Mistreated" kicks in, and right away, unintentionally conjures up more premonitions of Dio. DC's version has long been outclassed by subsequent RJD deliveries, beginning with Rainbow's "On Stage" and continuing, inexplicably, to this day. DC's rendition is decent enough but simply unconvincing --technical but not probable-- and the main riff, no doubt derived from Free's "Heartbreaker" (another masterpiece of minimal inspiration) sets the stage for some introspective, consciously "bluesy" soloing from RB that here and there threatens to dissolve into atonal noodling. Indeed, Paice's sudden staccato drum roll seems to serve as a wake up call, and it's telling how quickly the solo is concluded, leading back to the final verse and requisite shriek-a-thon.
A bit of audience-winding follows, courtesy of a hyper-driven delivery of the initial riff of "Lazy", and then we have a curiously funked-up version of "Smoke on the Water" to contend with. Taken at this tempo, and with Paice's incessant hi-hat punctuation trebled by way of compensation, this reviewer is put rather painfully in mind of ....Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55"!!!
They soldier on into the funk-laden mire, and it's actually not so bad. It's an apt and honest touch to have DC sing "They all came down to Montreeaux", since this is, after all, the doings of Mark II being immortalized here. DC and Hughes trade off the first few verses, then after a rather lackluster solo from RB (no doubt deathly sick of this mandatory crowd-pleaser), they sing the first verse in uinson. I guess the original last verse was too full of second-person pronouns?
Oh, and it stops in mid-finale to allow Hughes to indulge in some GOD awful impersonation of "soul emotiveness". He literally stops the song, swaggers and swoons his way thru some nondescript Al Green castoff, and only when he's finished does the band wipe the sour sneer of contempt off our faces with a crashing finish to the "newly improved" opus. If anyone at this juncture needs a reason for RB's departure, I'd wager that the 1001st delivery of an already well-clapped-out arena rock standard, freshly belaboured with the 2000lb anvil of Hughes' bruthaman fiasco, should leave them in no doubt. It all points to curtains!!!
Last but definitely not least, at the end of Disc I we come to "You Fool No One". If Hughes' nauseous Ray Charles hysterics had you reaching for the Rolaids, you'll be well pleased to greet the overdriven strains of Jon Lord's Hammond-and-Moog intro. Lord takes a much-deserved turn at center stage, grinding out a hodge-podge of "Toccata and Fugue", "Le Marseillaise", and even some Mariachi gibberish, effortlessly alternating between the piquant and the merely piqued. He spices it up with a breather of clavinet-ish disco synth, before melting it down in a feedback-driven vacuum of white-noisy backwash, cueing in Ian Paice's frenetic Maiden-influencing gallop.
The intro riff takes hold, and before long, DC and Hughesey are oh-so-sweetly harmonizing in a manner reminiscent of Cream's "I Feel Free". The verses give way, in turn, to the contractually obligated Blackmore solo, which is a ferocious ripper, soon intensifying aas the band drops out, leaving him, axe in hand, hacking furiously away in a truly technical ecstacy. The band cues back in for a bar room bluesy 30 seconds, then he waves them off, finishing in a masturbatory seizure. He recovers his composure, several rather awkward seconds of silence ensue, and back he plummets into the main riff. Then come the last verse and chorus, and -wait for it!- Ian Paice's drum solo! The requisite furious pounding, stop/start, slow/faster/faster/ fastest, flam, paradiddle, cymbal crash, etc, 4 1/2 minutes worth. He then cues the band, completely incongruosuly, into the closing section of "The Mule", at which point the number finally ends.
Now, this sort of 17 minute auto-erotic chops-fest is of course exhibit A as to why so many believe that punk rock was "fated" to occur. And you know what? FUCK punk rock! Give me quality musicianship and Limey attitude over politically correct, ska-influenced, solo-less, emo-screamy bullshit any hour of the day! I'll keep my place as the Last In Line, thank you!
Well, there you have it, 62 minutes, 7 tracks, of alternately clever, banal, riveting, and just plain cheesy '75 vintage Purple, and you've probably had quite enough. Not so fast! This is 70's British arena rock we're covering here--of course there's more!
Disc 2 begins with the perenial set closer, hoary old Mk II choke-slammer "Space Truckin'". And indeed Lord and Paice get things off to a cracking hi-hat and Hammond build-up. Lord delivers bits of Holst and "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", DC and Hughes improvising incoherently all the while (and Blackmore nowhere to be found). This intro gets extended to a Ritalin-craving 5 damn minutes, before finally breaking into the familiar opening riff (Blackmore tardily materializing, like the Cheshire Cat, just in the nick of time).It goes thru the verses and chorus as usual, then something upsetting occurs.
Mk II devotees are at one in agreeing that the number is supposed to be played the whole way through, as on the album, and then it must give way to a 15-20 minute "Blue Rondo A La Turk" derived rhythm, replete with solos and various freakouts. This fails to happen. Instead, the percussion-heavy middle section is extended by 15 minutes! As this bizarre development proceeds, Blackmore very audibly loses interest, his accompaniment gradually becoming sparser until he finally drops out altogether.
And so for 10 of these 15 minutes, the band is basically reduced to a trio. Hughes' bass takes the lead role in the proceedings. He lays on some funk wah-wah, and zips up and down the scales as he and Coverdale trade rock-star catch phrases ("Outta sight! Ooh baby ooh!"). Paice and Lord bash dependably away in the background, but it's definitely not the furious show-stopping maelstrom of 1972. What the listener confronts here is a spastic kaleidoscope of tautly woven blooze-rock bits, some obviously contrived, others improvised on the spot. It works astonishingly well, but for no easily definable reason.
Granted, by this point, "Space Truckin'" was merely one of the trio of "Machine Head' cliches being trotted out by the DC/Hughes lineup in a spirit of sheepish obligation. This version ought to suck, and miserably at that--yet does not. Instead of raging flat out, this "Space Truckin' " ebbs and flows with half-songs, connect-the-dot improvs, and various detritus flow swiftly past your amused (and occasionally outraged) ears. I hated it the first time around, and so will you, but give it a third and fourth spin, and you'll see! It grows on you!
Thus we arrive at long, too long, last at the encore: a howlingly ill-matched medley (!) of "Goin' Down" (Jeff Beck) and "Highway Star". In an attempt to freshen up another ancient (time moved at warp speed in those days) clapped-out Mk II oldie, "Goin' Down" gets surgically welded to the front end and flops and bleats around like a disembowelled goat before being mercifully dispatched at the middle 8 (cut off at the knees!).
"Highway Star" then gets a simultaneously perfunctory, yet willfully extended, run-through, RB bullying aside Lord's organ solo in favor of a double-time take on his most famous solo; the baroque arpeggios and triplets being hammered on and pulled off in a loveless passion. We listen in dismay as he raves, mystifies, and drools, untill reaching the inevitable amp-humping climax that always looks so cool on DVD and always sounds so blurry and dull on disc. The Big Finish arrives, Lord's Moog backfires and sputters in a pre-set squall of curtain call feedback, and...it's finally at an end...
In the months to come, Blackmore would toss his Dio Dwarf into his empty pot of gold, and off they'd go to catch the Rainbow. The remaining 4/5 of DP would recruit jazzy maestro (and desperate junkie) Tommy Bolin and proceeed to grind themselves to a howling death in the pre-punk wasteland spring of '76.
The epitaph? Forget it. You got some finely wrought ear candy here--and some ill-savoring merde. And with the (temporary) death of Purple, and the simultaneous mental diaspora of Sabbath, Zep, and Heep, there ended the first Golden Age of proto-metal.