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The Big 3 of 70’s hard rock were back in the mid-80’s, at least for a short time to play in the famous Live Aid festival, in the case of both Black Sabbath classic line-up and Led Zeppelin without Bonham. The return of Deep Purple was more stable and serious, they recorded studio albums and went on tour again, after almost 9 years of inactivity. The impressive “Perfect Strangers” record made clear they were back in the business, ready for action, bringing back their magic to the 80’s. They even started making promo-clips, for the first time ever (for “Knockin’ On Your Back Door” and the “Perfect Strangers” title-track itself, too). A new promising era for these guys had already started, pure joy for all the fans that had been waiting so long. The following release wasn’t that appreciated and acclaimed, though...
This album still features some heavy raging tracks, like “Bad Attitude” and the frantic Little Richard influenced rock & roll tune “Hard Lovin’ Woman”. Aggression and power can be found on those, although shortly afterwards, melody takes control and keeps this stuff from being as violent as it could be. It’s not that the riffs ain’t solid and lethal, it’s just the consequence of a much more melodic focused pattern here what makes this stuff more inoffensive than what we heard on the previous record. The mellow arrangements and insistent repetitive vocals became explicit on “Mitzi Dupree” or “Call Of The Wild”. The most unconsciously commercial moments of the whole pack, away from anything the band did before. I guess it was inevitable that, in a time when glam bands like Poison, Mötley Crüe or Twisted Sister reached the charts with their casual party-rock concept, Purple couldn’t resist to try something similar. They even introduced new elements in their music, like cheesy sound effects, comical synthesizers, silly percussion and more unnecessary things that made this material even more commercial (On “The Unwritten Law”, particularly). Fortunately, there’s still some killer cuts here, like “Mad Dog” and “Dead Or Alive”, which are totally outrageous, loose and intense. Specially that second composition I mentioned, a truly epic speed metal exhibition, including a friendly duel between Blackmore and Lord, whose pickin’ parts show a delightful medieval music influence. Damn, that number goes so fast, rivalizing seriously with the velocity of Motörhead, Exciter and Dark Angel. I’m afraid those are the exceptions to the rule, though. Purple’s musical path is rather melodic here, at times getting too close to AOR. However, songs like the magnificent “The Spanish Archer” with more of those cool guitar lines inspired by medieval/classical music, or “Strangeways” featuring that hypnotizing naughty piano and unpredictable Gillan’s gospel vocals are satisfactory, absolutely amusing and competent.
They followed a completely different direction from the heavy rough material of “Perfect Strangers”, trying to make something different and current for those times, avoiding repetition. The production has been despised among the fans, but I wouldn’t really consider it deficient. Remember Glover was already a veteran in the production business, whose contribution to Judas Priest, M.S.G., Rory Gallagher and Nazareth was remarkable. For the nature of these songs and the intention of the band back then, this production is proper, similar to Roger’s production for Rainbow’s early 80’s stuff. However, guitars definitely sound weaker than they should, not powerful and distorted enough, too clean for Blackmore’s fierce nature. Lord’s keyboards experiment with several odd sounds and textures, which are too cheesy sometimes. I wish he put more emphasis on his Hammond organ classic sound, instead. And the rhythm section is brilliant, with Paice making another display of talent and technique, like you can check on that stratospheric percussive climax of the second track or the impossible speed on the spectacular “Dead Or Alive”. Gillan’s vocals are obviously sweet, polished and classy to fit this commercial sound. He forgets about his characteristic hyperactive high screaming style for a while to make these compositions sound sophisticated. I must insist on the admirable talent of the Blackmore and Lord combo, like usual, whose completely skilled parts feature a very notable inspiration from other music genres. Basically, from medieval and classical sounds, as I already mentioned, but also old rock & roll and blues influences can be clearly noticed in both rich guitar and keyboard lines. The extraordinary abilities of these guys, their distinctive ways and attitude, along with their inspiration they took from different music styles make these cuts sound special and unique. Even when their intentions are not that ambitious or creative, this time.
I’m afraid this enjoyable album will always be ignored behind the splendour of the masterpiece “Perfect Strangers”. Of course, I can’t put this material in the previous record level, which is way higher and more memorable. However, “The House Of Blue Light” is pretty decent, honest and convincing. With a much heavier production and straighter intentions, less exhausting melody and more brutality, I’m sure these tunes would sound totally raw. But it’s obvious the band wanted something different, in those days of romantic ballads, extravagant looks and silly videoclips. At least, they didn’t sell out completely, used make-up or eyeliner, either painted their instruments pink.
Three reviewers, some of them very respected ones in the MA's community, already explained the gorgeousness of Perfect Strangers, as well as I did it with my own review of that album in a short way. Now, for the sake of the things, happens that after such a crusher comeback with lots of moneymaking and several praise for the "return of the metal gods" and stuff we must remark once more the failure committed with The House of Blue Light.
We don't know what's up with Deep Purple, sometimes. I mean, ¿don't they have enough money in their accounts for dropping out AOR please-buy-me-we-are-kinda-sold-outs albums like this one? Because, well, when we compare this with the primary bad album of the band, Who do We Think We Are, there are lots of similarities with a subtle difference. They are like the same in terms of the objective pursued. Money making, easy money making without efforting. That's why, nowadays, WDWTWA gets totally bashed in between the majestic early metal trio of albums before that one and, later, the release of Made in Japan and Burn. That album, simply, does not belong.
Same happens here. After the brilliant traditional metal comeback with Perfect Strangers, THOBL is a total wreck in terms of musical greatness. When we talk about sales, this probably got lots of attention from AOR audiences and made enough money to make the things ongoing. Nice charting in North America, great charting in Europe and Asia and stuff. But nothing more. And that's it. This release is a historical evidence that such a tremendous band like Deep Purple can do wrong, and do it almost twice.
Why am I saying "almost twice" and not simply "twice"? Because in "Who do We Think We Are" they have done moneymaking but, somehow, within the limits of integrity, trying to do American Friendly Rock with some touches of "heaviness" in it, and not so desperately trying to suck the tit but with some blood in the face to look themselves good enough to do mediocre albums at least once. But "The House of Blue Light" is not a mediocre, but a BAD album in terms of hard rock and traditional metal.
The production is superb, the musicianship, mind you, is great as well. The things that are wrong here are the songs and nothing more, nothing less. In the previous album, there were three "hit" songs: Knocking at your Back Door, Nobody's Home and Perfect Strangers. In those ones, the power of DP's commercial hard rock can be felt, you can taste the goods, the masterful singing by Gillan, the unique game of bass/drumming shred by Glover and Paice and, of course, Jon Lord providing delicious and guitaresque licks of his keyboards, well followed by the String Sorcerer, Ritchie Blackmore, mostly in the rythmic zone. Compare this with the singles in "The House of Blue Light", Call of the Wild and Bad Attitude and you will easily understand what I'm talking about.
And let's not even enter in deep analysis of the rest of both records. In Perfect Strangers, Blackmore shreds almost everywhere, followed by Lord. Gillan sings as a metal performer, Glover and Paice beat away the irons. In The House of Blue Light, well, this is around 70 percent lower, with the attempt of doing it extremely easy to digest for non-metal ears. The result is terrible, weak, unworthy of Deep Purple's majestic legacy.
The songs here are boring, gutless, without emotion. The Spanish Archer would be the most aggressive one, with Bad Attitude, and well, you know, gets short, falls weak into a deep hollow in comparison with other masterpieces by the band. In this record, almost nothing is good enough to take, for example, and mix is alongside the millions of compilations or the powerful live albums made by the band. I mean, seriously, "take a look to these dirty hands" and you will figure out. Nowhere is the magic, nowhere is the evergreen riff, nowhere is the brainmelter solo. It's hollow, it's light, as the title says.
So, in case you can find this album lingering around, bypass it. Only if you already have the other ones, go ahead and buy it, just for the sake of collectionists.
“Perfect Strangers” was a stellar comeback album for Deep Purple. The return of the famed Mark II lineup did not disappoint as Ritchie Blackmore’s familiar leads and Ian Gillan’s vocals were back together and it just felt “right.” The album would be a huge success for the band commercially and critically, but now they had the challenge of trying to match the greatness of “Perfect Strangers.”
Ultimately, the songwriting is not as strong and the songs are less memorable in the blue house. There are also a couple instances of bad moments like the lame lyrics and uninspiring chorus of “The Unwritten Law” and the biggest offender in the poppy “Call of the Wild.” During the track, Ian Gillan sings “operator, this is the call of the wild.” I don’t know how Gillan could manage a straight face singing that cheesy line, but I give him credit for doing so. Thankfully, those are the only painful moments lyrically.
On the musical side, there are a couple stellar tracks to be found. The opener, “Bad Attitude” has all the ingredients of great song. The epic keyboard opening by Jon Lord, a pounding rhythm of drums and bass by Ian Paice and Roger Glover, a strong vocal performance, and of course a memorable solo by the esteemed Blackmore. The keyboard ending by Lord too is very catchy and all in all a grade A song. “Mad Dog” is a riff driven song with a riff that will stick in your head for days and showcases some more theatrics from Lord and an awesome Blackmore solo to close it. The other two great songs are “The Spanish Archer” and the closer “Dead or Alive.” The former features an adventurous desperation in the guitar and showcases Blackmore at his finest as he just wails and bends the notes at the perfect times. The clarity in Gillan’s voice almost serves as a calming presence due to the nature of the song. The latter ups the tempo with the characteristics being similar to “Burn” as the musicians keep going at it with the solos and do not let it up.
However, the quality drops with some tunes that are different from what listeners expect from Deep Purple. “Black and White” utilizes the harmonica and the song sounds like something you would hear in a movie during a bar brawl. I like the bass line by Glover, but overall the track does not have that purple charm one would expect. “Mitzi Dupree” has a lounge band type feel with a strong vocal performance by Gillan to keep me interested. The song has a certain charm, but it may turn others off. A track that could have been great, but fails in a couple areas is “Strangeways.” The tickling of the piano creates a mysterious atmosphere, but is thrown out when the chorus comes in and breaks the mood of the song. It does not help that the song runs too long either.
What made “Perfect Strangers” great is that the band was on a mission to rock and show they still got it. The songs kept coming at you and provided an experience you wanted to return to. “The House of Blue Light” wavers between its sounds and it does not help when the second and third songs are stinkers in “The Unwritten Law” and “Call of the Wild.” The guys find their legs in the best song on the album “Bad Attitude”, “Mad Dog”, and “Dead or Alive.” While the stay at the house might not be the most comfortable, it certainly will not leave you feeling cold.
Deep Purple is one of the bands with the most interesting and turbulent histories in the annals of hard rock. The legendary Mark II was a magnificent piece of rock history, and as an influence on the development of the fabulous metal genre itself, it has earned them a place in the spotlight from many different and largely segregated audiences: there are the new fans, trying to find out the historical artefacts in the foundations of metal, there are the old geezers with their pensions, bald spots, walkers and memories of the early 70s gigs, and those of us who found the band after the 80s reunion of the said Mark II. Because, hell, the return of the Mark II with the suberb Perfect Strangers is one of the finest comebacks ever. That particular album is a damn fine piece of work, and worthy of much more attention than it currently gets.
On the downside, the band has turned to a money printing machine for a release industry intent on cashing out the niche until it bleeds. Deep Purple's post-1995 discography has the live releases based on old tapes outnumbering the new albums at least 3-to-1, and that's not counting the compilations. The lackluster "best-of" compilations are generally piss-poor and completely redundant, since they usually contain a bunch of 8 to 12 worthy and ever-repeating tracks in various studio or live versions, and add a couple of "rarities" with no value whatsoever, except for completionists who have their Deep Purple collections in argon-filled vaults and include any bootleg bobble-head dolls of Blackmore, Gillan beef jerky, and every other item they can get their hands on.
Another interesting facet of the Deep Purple history is the family tree of the band. One of the best second-hand record stores in Helsinki is The Music Hunter, and despite the generally outrageous prices on certain items, it's worth a visit if you're a Deep Purple fan: the store has a special "Deep Purple and the family tree" section, with the bands with a Deep Purple number of 2 or lower (in imitation of the Kevin Bacon number in the film industry, or the Erdős number of mathematicians). The collection includes obscure bands, and certainly provokes thought if nothing else. The band is, indeed, a powerhouse, a hard rock academy with various faculties named Rainbow, Whitesnake and others, and the DP#2 layer of the family tree probably contains hundreds of musicians from dozens of styles.
But The House of Blue Light is somehow a misstep. Many people who know more say that such albums as Bananas, with its stupid cover art, and the relatively recent Rapture of the Deep are actually good albums. But The House of Blue Light does not work very well, and even if there are ideas worthy of the Mark II reputation, the execution kills the album's replay value.
Ritchie Blackmore only stayed in the band for two more full-lengths after this album, and while the very good quality Nobody's Perfect live album was released after The House of Blue Light, with Blackmore's guitar contributing its excellence for perhaps the last time, the two new works never get mentioned as anything special. It perhaps took the departure of Blackmore, and more specifically, the injection of new blood in the shape of Morse, before Deep Purple could regain the bearings and produce something of value again.
The House of Blue Light shares the same basic blueprints as Perfect Strangers, but falls short of the kind of heavy-hitting hard rocking it held inside. Yes, there are innovative and successfully derivative ideas: the intersting spidery keyboard thingy in "Strangeways", "Bad Attitude" and "Unwritten Law" with their reminiscence of "Knocking on Your Backdoor" and "Perfect Strangers", respectively, from the masterpiece three years earlier... and... well, that's pretty much it. The rest is mostly almost poppy hard-rock-by-the-numbers that lags its feet behind, has a tempo too low to keep the songs interesting, and none of the sparking virtuoso performances of the 70s Mark II works. These are songs that could have turned into something nice, but failed, and the whole album reeks more or less of waiting for the hard-earned pension.
"Call of the Wild" is a prime example of what is wrong with the songs. It's toothless, almost neutered, and despite the basically OK chorus and melody, it's perfectly happy just being there, slipping almost all the way to the boredom level of AOR, and tries hard not to invoke any emotions. Gone are the days of frantic "Strange Kind of Woman" live perfomances, the almost surreal "Child in Time" magnificience, the jamming stretching of "Space Truckin'", that never turned boring despite reaching lengths way over 20 minutes, or the ruthless drive of "Speed King", "Fireball" and "Highway Star". This is an ambition-free piece of work by a tired band, with some leftover ideas that could have been developed so much further. But they settled for less, and ended up with a cheap Taiwanese copy of Perfect Strangers. It's worth wondering how the hell they managed to recharge their enthusiasm after this album, and record the virtually flawless Nobody's Perfect on the album tour.
Yup, this piece of work is not what Deep Purple is all about. Surprisingly, Perfect Strangers is. Get that one, and enjoy the old-school originality still to be found on it. Skip The House of Blue Light, and go for the old Mark II works instead. Get In Rock, Machine Head and even Burn from the other worthy Mark number and, especially, Made in Japan if you want to know where many of heavy metal's conventions are originally from. But forget this let-down of a decade.
Note: I have based this review on the CD remaster of this album, which has slightly shorter track lengths than the original release.
Sometimes, an album just grabs you. You don't really know why-- if you try to analyse it, it doesn't seem like it should be that great. Yet despite this there's just something that appeals to you on some fundamental level. Other times, the opposite holds: an album ticks all the boxes, there's nothing all that wrong with it, and yet you just can't quite bring yourself to truly enjoy it. For me, The House of Blue Light is definitely an example of the latter. This, technically Deep Purple's twelfth studio album, is really only the sixth from the Mark II lineup of Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, and Paice: the same line-up who brought us timeless classics like In Rock, Machine Head, and the underrated Fireball. This fact is, in many ways, the primary cause of my dissatisfaction with the release.
On the surface of it, there's really nothing wrong here. The album has a strongly eighties sound and it's kind of cheesy at times, but these pretty much go with the territory. There's nothing wrong with the production, and the songs are reasonably catchy and pleasant-sounding. All of the members of the band are very talented and they all pull their weight. The problem is, all of this contributes to a very safe and thus mundane sound. The band sounds like a group of (very competent) musicians going through the motions, painting by numbers. Nobody seems to be willing to paint outside the lines, though, to put themselves out there and take a risk. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in a general sense, but this is Deep Purple!
To me, Deep Purple is a band who are at their best when they really cut loose. Classic tracks like Child in Time, with its insanely over-the-top vocal and solos, the intense speed metal assault of tracks like Fireball and Speed King, and the bludgeoning riffing and high energy of Space Truckin'-- these are all the creations of band who didn't know how much was too much, and frankly didn't give a shit. There's an unreserved, unrestrained, joyous energy to the first three Mk II albums. They're exciting, they're dramatic, and although the band made their fair share of mistakes, they're far outweighed by all the incredible material on offer. Unfortunately, the lineup's next effort was the far less inspired Who Do We Think We Are?, which is far less exuberant. Whether it was due to the oft-mentioned internal tensions experienced by the band at the time, or simply because of a lack of good ideas, we were presented with an album that just didn't quite cut the mustard, despite some containing some very cool tracks. It was safe, and restrained, and hence not nearly as thrilling as the previous material. As a result, 1984's reunion album Perfect Strangers was a breath of fresh air. Although more reserved than the 70's albums, the reformed line-up seemed to have recovered a great deal of their passion and enthusiasm, and pumped out another excellent addition to their catalogue. Which leads us to the next pre-breakup album, The House of Blue Light, a relatively timid and safe hard rocker.
Despite its relative lack of impact compared to their older material, let's be clear-- this is still decent. It's very much within the bounds of hard rock, but with a rather light and poppy feel for the most part. An interesting characteristic of the album is that there's no filler at all-- in fact, every single song sounds like it was intended to be a single. This manifests in catchy, sing-along choruses, as well as a fairly consistent lean towards your typical verse-chorus radio rock structuring. In short, it's unchallenging, but it's actually a great deal of fun. The thing is, the band themselves don't seem to have been having an awful lot of fun playing it. Where are the dramatic and ear-splitting wails? Gillan has an incredible set of pipes, but if this release was the only Purple I'd heard I might not realise it. It makes it fairly easy to sing along with, but also less interesting to listen to! Where are the over-the-top guitar solos? There are a few nice enough ones here and there, but nothing that's going to make the kids want to pick up a guitar and attempt to impress girls. The rest of the band similarly fail to shine. It doesn't really feel like they are a rock band, jamming and improvising and just generally doing whatever the hell they want. It feels more like a group of session musicians, playing the sheet music as written. It's technically very good, but there's no emotional involvement, no passion.
The other big problem with the album is that most of the songs, although they don't actually sound the same, don't really manage to differentiate themselves. They're all fine at the time when you listen to them, but when the album stops spinning there's nothing that you will find yourself humming to yourself until you next spin it, nothing that really makes you sit up and say "wow". That said, there are a couple of tracks that do make themselves known. Mitzi Dupree is probably the most notable-- I'm not actually a huge fan of it myself, but its oddly slinky, bluesy riffs and humorous/sleazy lyrics make it arguably the most memorable thing on here. Another more interesting track is Hard Lovin' Woman, which isn't a patch on its masculine counterpart from In Rock, but still manages to work rather well with its relatively high tempo and some unexpected horn sounds and a really cool riff at the start. There are also less memorable songs which contain great moments-- for instance, the synth/guitar solo exchange on Dead or Alive is very cool, as is the chorus of Black and White, which really reminds me of Queen. However, none of these highlights would be particularly good if they were placed on an album of the calibre of In Rock or Machine Head-- they are only exciting relative to the fairly homogenous morass that is The House of Blue Light. They just don't have the riffs or the vocal lines to really stand up to the band's back catalogue. They never really build up enough momentum to make the listener sit up from their torpor and pay attention-- Mad Dog does threaten to do this a few times, but it's really only teasing, and seems to slump back into mediocrity after each attempt.
This is an album that could have been quite good, but ultimately fails due to an utter lack of effort at doing anything truly exciting. I would probably be more forgiving if it was another band, but as I know that the Deep Purple Mk II line-up is capable of so much more, the release feels almost castrated, and is ultimately quite disappointing. It's too safe, too moderate, too uninspired, and it tries too hard to fit into the template of what was popular at the time to let the band really show off what they can do. It's a fun little hard rocker, but that's all it is.