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Purple's much maligned MkII swansong - 80%

metaljim, September 24th, 2013

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.