Review: Deep Purple – ‘Now What ?!’
Deep Purple is a band that needs no introduction – creator of one of the best known riffs ever, and part of the “unholy trinity” of British rock bands (with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) that lit up the 1970s – the band has lived through several lineup changes since 1968. These days, it’s kind of back to the future with Ian Gillan on vox, Ian Paice on drums, Roger Glover on bass, Steve Morse on guitar, and Don Airey on keyboards (Jon Lord retired in 2002 and sadly passed away in 2012).
It’s been eight years since the band’s last release, and I had some misgivings about this album since I’d heard rumblings online about lackluster material and Gillan’s voice weakening.
Happily, there is much to love about “Now What?!”, an album that hearkens back to the band’s roots without being a re-tread. The hard rocking riffs and expressive keyboards that are Deep Purple’s signature sound are still here, and the music shines with a strong, 70’s progressive rock vibe that, at times, brings to mind bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes (really).
When it all comes together right, as it does on the first four tracks for example, the results are fantastic. First track, “A Simple Song” starts off slow and almost sorrowful before the guitar rips it open, while the lyrics beneath still carry a wistful beauty: “Time, it does not matter/ but time is all we have“. Several tunes here, including the truly weird and wonderful “Weirdistan”, with its bassy goodness, crazy organ and distorted layers of vocals, are very strong lyrically, adding to the depth and complexity of the music.
“Out Of Hand” is another hard-rocking, prog-flavored beauty with bone-shaking riffs and a swinging Eastern vibe; while the band goes for a more straight-edged hard rock sound on “Hell To Pay”, with a terrific singalong chorus and some crunchy, growly guitar work.
Not every track is a winner. In spite of some great drumming, “Body Line” feels out of place and tired.
“Above And Beyond” is dedicated to Jon Lord, as is “Uncommon Man” – a track that has grown on me with each listen to become one of my favorites. It starts off with an almost churchy organ and an atmospheric, soaring feel that made me flash back to Vangelis’ classic soundtrack for Blade Runner of all things. Once those riffs hit you though, it’s definitely Deep Purple!
The band shows some heavy, throbbing rock-veins on”Blood From A Stone”; and finds a deep, hard-rocking groove on “Après Vous”, with the back and forth between Morse’s guitar and Airey’s keyboards being worth the price of admission all on their own. Gillan’s vocals are probably at their best on the loose and flowing “All The Time In The World”, and “Vincent Price” which also shows off some great bass and guitar riffs and has an off-kilter, horror movie vibe.
Obviously the musicianship is stellar throughout “Now What?!”, though I do feel that Gillan’s vocals could have been handled better at times. Aging can be a bitch, not least for vocalists, as some power and range tend to be lost no matter how well you take care of yourself. Don’t get me wrong: Gillan’s voice is in good shape, but it’s not like it was in his younger days (I wish I was in the same shape as in my younger days…), and sometimes the effects (layering and filters) used on it end up washing out his vocals too much for my taste.
That said, “Now What?!” is an intriguing, often brilliant, somewhat uneven album, by a group of great musicians who are clearly not satisfied just trying to recreate past glories. For a band in its 45th year, that is a definite sign of strength.
- Ian Paice:drums, percussion
- Roger Glover:bass
- Ian Gillan:vocals
- Steve Morse:guitar
- Don Airey:organ, keyboards
- A Simple Song
- Out Of Hand
- Hell To Pay
- Body Line
- Above And Beyond
- Blood From A Stone
- Uncommon Man
- Après Vous
- All The Time In The World
- Vincent Price
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