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Blackmore fakes the funk?? - 78%

aspersive_worm, May 14th, 2005

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.