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Mellow, mediocre - 70%

Napero, April 26th, 2008

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.