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Much has been written about Who Do We Think We Are! over the years and much of it is just not true. To clear those misconceptions up, let me start there before reviewing the actual album. Falsehood #1) The album was a critically lambasted commercial failure and the press crucified it. In truth, the album got some of the best reviews of Purple's career. Some rock magazines even called it their best album to date. Modern revisionists have rewritten history and painted a false narrative about the album. A little research will uncover the near unanimous praise the press had for the album upon its release. Falsehood #2) The band were out of ideas and that's why the album doesn't stand up today. The band were not out of ideas. Roger Glover told me about one jam session during the recording of the album, where Blackmore tore into a ferocious new riff and the rest of the band joined in. He abruptly stopped playing. Roger encouraged him to continue, so they could flesh out the song. Blackmore replied, "No, I'm saving this one for a solo project." Roger recognized the song a few years later, when it showed up on the first Rainbow album as Sixteenth Century Greensleeves. Far from being dried up and short of ideas, the band were crippled at every turn by their moody, petulant, guitar player. He refused to work on the others ideas and only played what and when he felt like it. Yes, they were tired, but fully capable of writing top notch material. Falsehood #3) The album wasn't well received by the fans. In truth, fans bought the album by the truck load and it went gold quickly. FM radio in the US gave it a lot of airplay, with Woman from Tokyo and Rat Bat Blue being played the most, but Super Trouper, Smooth Dancer and Our Lady getting some exposure too. When you consider the unimaginable popularity of their epic Made in Japan set that was released almost simultaneously, the studio album was bound to get short changed. Another reason for the album not having the longevity of their earlier efforts was the fact the band made little or no effort to promote it. Where they'd supported Machine Head for almost a year and a half and played four of its seven tracks on a regular basis, Purple only played Mary Long from Who Do We Think We Are!. The 1973 tour lasted right at six months and was more of a Made in Japan tour than a Who Do We Think We Are! tour. Weary and burned out, the band simply continued to play what they'd been playing and couldn't be bothered to work the new songs into the set.
The fact is, the band was falling apart at the seams. Blackmore and Gillan weren't speaking to each other, and various members recorded their parts separately from the rest of the band. Considering the circumstances under which it was conceived, the album is a remarkable success. The opening track, Woman from Tokyo has rightfully become a DP classic. With an instantly recognizable Blackmore riff, the band throttles into full drive. It's not really easy to define the genre the song would fit into. It's heavy, but melodic and is played to perfection. Track two is not regarded as a top tier Purple song and most complaints concern the lyrics. In 1970's America, any song with a chorus of, "How did you lose your virginity Mary Long?" was bound to be met with skepticism and a degree of embarrassment. No one wanted to have to explain that to their parents or significant other. The lyrics were a complete mystery to most Americans anyway, since they dealt with a pair of English politicians unknown on this side of the Atlantic. The album takes on a more progressive note with Super Trouper , a short but interesting number. With its phased passages and twisting riffs, it shows that even in the depths of disintegration the band could push the envelope. Lyrically, Gillan shares what being in the spotlight can do to you and the price of fame. Side one closes with the most "traditional" Deep Purple track on the album. Smooth Dancer is often unfairly criticized as being a simple rehash of Speed King. While there are certainly similarities, the track stands on its own as an unsung Purple classic. It stands proudly among the heaviest tracks the band ever recorded and Jon Lord's solo is among his more inspired moments. Wrenching sounds out of his Hammond organ that were never intended by its makers, he truly rips on this one. Sadly, all of this is usually overlooked and any attention the song gets focuses on Gillan's lyrics. Gillan rips his heart open in a direct message to Ritchie Blackmore about their deteriorating relationship and his desire to salvage their shattered friendship. The song thunders to a close and the side ends on a musical high note. Flipping the album over (showing my age!), side two opens with a monster riff and the band inventing funk metal. With its hard hitting power and a serpentine riff, it's another unsung DP classic. Heavier than a Panzer division, the song is a sonic masterpiece. The highlights are numerous, but one simply cannot overlook the importance of Ian Paice in the Deep Purple equation. Here, all his talents are on display. He combines power drumming with jazzy fills and a funky back beat, often all at the same time. One can easily criticize the lyrics, but to do so and ignore the sheer complexity of what's going on musically is criminal. Again Jon Lord takes center stage for another epic solo. He pulls out all the stops and turns in another classic performance. The next track is where even the staunchest Purple fan usually lost hope. The longest track on the album is also the album's weakest moment. Place In Line, a blues track that takes far too long to get there and the final destination not really being worth the trip sort of takes the wind out of your sails. Blackmore and Lord both turn in fine performances, but they lack passion and seem almost phoned in. Gillan's odd vocal delivery on the verses doesn't help things much and the song ultimately becomes nothing more than a track to occupy space. If Place In Line challenged the Purple faithful, Our Lady pushes their tolerance to the limit. Rare in Deep Purple's enormous catalog as song without any solos, it's generally a love it or hate it track. It's a very atmospheric song and among their more progressive efforts, but at the end of the day the experiment doesn't quite jell.
Overall, Who Do We Think We Are! stands as a testament to a dark time in the band's history and the ability of five young men managing to pull off an almost unthinkable feat. With relationships dead or dying, communication almost non-existent within the band, egos running rampant and various factions lobbying for control, they managed to produce some of the finest performances of their career and a very listenable, if inconsistent album. Sonically the best sounding Purple album of the 70's (along with Come Taste the Band), it proved that even at their worst they were capable of exploring new directions and making exciting hard rock music.
The evolution of heavy metal, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple crafted most of what would later become the oficial morphemas of the mother genre. Sabbath gave birth to the first heavy metal songs, while DP made, with "Deep Purple in Rock", the first wholly metal album.
But, anyway, getting away from all those historic conventions, what about this album, which is like the watershed of a lively period in which Deep Purple was the most revered and powerful band in the world?
The thing is, probably and debatably, as follows: after the coincidence achieved with "Hush", a top 5 single in North America and respectable sales of Deep Purple's debut album, the first mark of the band, with the progressive and psychodelic sounds under the elbow, attempted to reproduce the brief sucess achieved by the band, but without reaching it. In Europe, moreover, they were well unknown. The thing was going bad and Blackmore decided to shake off everything and led the band to a different direction.
A long struggle took place between the second semester of 1969 and the first semester of 1972, when DP Mk II reached its peak of popularity.
Gillan and Glover replaced Evans and Simper and, as well, the band left away the ancient sounds of progressive psychedelia for the pumping power of the guitars, bass and drums. The result of all this, as said before, was the birth of the first heavy metal album in the history: Deep Purple in Rock (this can be debated, certainly) and it was a huge seller in Europe and Japan, well followed by Fireball, created swiftly to maximize sells, but a great and kinda forgotten album. This two releases resurrected DP's image worldwide and with "Machine Head", the american market finally plunged at Deep Purple's feet. Made in Japan was the confirmation of this (and many more things). No other band was more powerful than DP.
But, what was it, then? Well, it goes like this. Gillan and Blackmore couldn't stand together anymore and the band, far from producing new and mighty metal ideas, was a constant ego battlefield. After a long tribulation, Gillan decided to leave but before that, they released this "Who do We Think We Are".
What can we say about the album? Well, first of all, the monetary impulse and idea of it can be felt everywhere. With huge sellers in US, like Machine Head or Made in Japan, this one came for sucking til the last drop of milk from the tit before the thing blows off. The guys quickly made a song for matching Smoke on the Water's hitting and there you got "Woman from Tokyo", the only slightly remarkable track here. The rest is pure and total filler.
It's still, in any case, a total mistery to figure out how, from such a tremendous blaster forces like the albums cited above, the band could have fall into this American Friendly Rock kind of stuff?? That's a deep enigma, maybe there will be no answer ever. But the thing is that "Who do We Think We Are" sold millions and, at least commercially, worked out (only for its time, because now its probably the minor seller in Deep Purple's 70s catalogue). Nevertheless, there was to be a dead end for MK II.
Certainly, in the hands of Foghat, Lynrd Skynrd or a band such as, this would have been a total masterpiece. But we are talking about Deep Purple, the freakin' crafters of early speed, power and melodic metal!! You know, Super Trouper, Place in Line, those are american style rock songs, AOR if you like. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page could have, probably, made of this things mainstream classics, but with Blackmore without doing wizard technicalities in the guitar, with Mr. Lord without magic and Gillan shouting like a pop singer this album can't work for DP.
Mary Long is NOT a blood brother of Pictures of Home. Rat Rat Blue is far away from Hard Lovin' Man. Smooth Dancer has nothing to do with Fools. And that's it. This album is made with easy light rockers which are flickers of easy beat radio station songs and not the brain eater metal monsters of the early MK II days. This tracks are a kinda return to the MK I roots, but without the psychedelia and with Mr. Lord far asleep doing ear friendly sounds with his keyboards, not the intrincate and dark solos of the late 60s.
So, for finishing, "Who do We Think We Are" is not a worthy descendant of the majestic productions made before by Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord and Paice. It was made for profitting, for making easy money and for leaving away with a solvent bank account and not for creating new sounds, not for amazing with blaster solos, ruthless singing or solid and aggressive bass/drums lines. This thing is a forgettable moneymaker, only worthy for having the latent talent of the creators of the album and the name that carries the band. Nothing more. As an historical piece, you can totally have this. As a lover of early AOR, give it a try. But as a heavy metal definer, this album is a wreck. And that's all, folks.
Deep Purple had an impressive run of four albums in the early 70's: First, the incredible In Rock. Fireball, the album that has always felt like it was shorter than it really is. Machine Head, with its smörgasbord of classics. And finally, to top it all off, the irrefutable proof that the band was not just a studio phenomenon, Made in Japan, one of the best five live albums ever, no matter what the genre or year. Who Do We Think We Are was to be the swansong of the legendary Deep Purple Mark II, until the reunion with the superb Perfect Strangers more than a decade later brought them back together.
But was it a worthy swansong? Well, it's a swansong, and by definition, a swansong usually means that the band is in trouble, something does not work, and the creative well is getting too dry to pump. The line-up changes before Burn resulted in a much better album, even if Glenn Hughes lacked the self-criticism necessary to keep his mouth shut. The loss of ruthless quality since Made in Japan, released just two months earlier, is incredible, and the album can only be seen as too mellow a piece of work.
If Machine Head contained such classics as Highway Star, Smoke on the Water and Space Truckin', the only claim to fame Who Do We Think We Are has is the low-testosterone, sheepishly lame, and completely aggressionless Woman from Tokyo. 24 Carat Purple, the first compilation worth mentioning after the album, serves as a proof of the softness of Who Do We Think We Are: Woman from Tokyo is the only track - perhaps, debatably, together with the sub-par Never Before - that feels out of place among such monsters as Speed King and Child in Time. Not worthy; does not belong. Who Do We Think We Are is definitely not among the important Deep Purple albums that had a profound effect on the early metal scene, constituted a lasting body of works that still finds itself on people's turntables, and served as their ticket to the Metal Archives. No, it essentially is a 70's rock album, and should be judged as such.
70's rock, of course, is a broad definition, but the album is just that. There are a few softer tunes, the bluesy Place in Line, Mary Long with silly lyrics and a few twists in the melody, and generally a softish distortion on the guitar. And, of course, the Hammond; to be honest, Jon Lord's Hammond sound didn't seem out of place or ancient on the House of Blue Light tour in 1987, but nowadays the aged instrument can only be found on albums that work really, really hard to have that retro feeling.
Well, is it worthy as a rock album, then? Well, it depends. It's not bad. But it's not magnificient, either. The sound is very 70's, the songs are very 70's and even the cover art is very 70's. The production effects used on Super Trouper, for example, are so very, very 70's. The whole reeks of the 70's in every possible respect, and since then, the wheel of time has turned and crushed many things from the 70's without remorse. Who Do We Think We Are can be found among the powdered victims, but the surprising thing here is the fact that the four albums before it stood under the crushing weight of three and a half decades, and suffered only tiny cracks on their production values and a few scattered songs among the powerful masterpieces. In any case, if looked upon without the bias that the band name forces on it, the album is mediocre, but not forgettable piece of the early 70's. It's the 70's condensed, let's rate it at 70%. And that's about it. Thank you.
But since a lot of people either love or hate reviews that run off on a random tangent, it's time to do exactly that, just for the sake of entertainment and random irritation; if you have a feeling you'll be irritated by the following speculation, please stop reading here. You see, Deep Purple's career has some intriguing parallels with that of Black Sabbath, but nobody seems to notice them. It's time to put the cat on the table, as the finnish figure of speech goes, and take a good look at it.
Black Sabbath is the band that created, in the opinion of a lot of people, the whole musical concept of heavy metal. This can be debated, of course, and there are a lot of opposing opinions. But if we, for the sake of this useless argument, assume that that is true, we must take a look at later developments. Sabbath continued their career, and according to some, gave birth to doom and stoner metal, too, as if it wasn't enough to create the great mother genre itself.
What, you may ask, does this have to do with Deep Purple? Well, it's simple, actually. If you look at the works of Deep Purple, especially the Four Great Albums mentioned above, it would be trivially easy to claim other genres as inventions of Gillan, Blackmore, Paice, Lord and Glover. Speed King, Fireball and Highway Star? Obvious proto-speed metal, partly before the birth of heavy metal itself. Speed King, at least, would definitely work as a pure speed metal song, if covered by a suitably oriented band. The Mule? Whoa, we have a pretty epic proto-doom metal song from 1971 in our hands! Child in Time? An obvious predecessor of the Opethian branch of progressive metal, of course.
But Who Do We Think We Are? It's got nothing in the way of genre-defining epicness, no thrash or death metal on it (because, hey, we've already exhausted the rest of the potential genres here)? Well, listen to Rat Bat Blue. A rock song, you say? Yes, yes it is. But hold your horses and wait until the keyboard solo, listen carefully, and you'll surely hear it, the thing that would spawn the finnish branch of power metal thirty years later: roughly thirty seconds of neo-classically tinted keyboard soloing, with an irritating synthetic cembalo/harpsichord sound, played at high tempo, rather detached from the rest of the song. Yes, it took almost three decades before Stratovarius & al. realized it's a good idea, but Purple did power metal before anyone else...
Nah, just kidding, of course; the same song has "Woo-hoo!"s that were faithfully copied by Michael Jackson in the mid 80's, but hopefully nobody will claim Deep Purple invented the music Mr. (Ms.?) Jackson performs today. It's just a coincidence, but still, it's a coincidence that shows that there's rarely anything that hasn't been done before, by someone, somewhere.
Yup, this a mediocre and half-boring piece of early 70's rock, and contains no genre-spawning great ideas. It's not a bad album, but should you stand in front of the CD shelf at a store wondering how to invest your precious allowance, get the four earlier ones before this one.