Review by Rick Ossian
For those of you keeping track, I believe this is studio album number nineteen for the mighty Purple. Also of note is that we are talking about Deep Purple Mk VIII. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “Mk”, it refers to which version of the band you are listening to. For most fans of the classic line-up (Mk II), this is about as close as it’s ever going to get. There will always be those who prefer Blackmore over Morse, or those who insist Airey has nothing on Lord (RIP). All arguing aside, this is a damned fine line-up and a doubly damned fine album.
Apparently Don Airey (Rainbow, Ozzy, Sabbath, Whitesnake) has inherited Jon Lord’s famous Hammond B3. It’s small wonder then, that I heard what I thought were ‘ghosts’ of keyboard riffs past all through the listening of this latest gem. The downslide runs on lead-off single, Hell to Pay, in particular, echoed Purple’s past. Speaking of Mr. Airey, his work is prominent throughout Now What?! Every track shines with his seasoned, veteran brilliance. I know it may be sacrilege to say this, but one almost finds themselves NOT missing Lord. Crazy, I know – right? Just listen and you’ll wonder how crazy.
Take, for example, the funky solo he turns in on Body Line. It HAS to be funky, because the groove of the tune is incredibly funky. Airey’s keys thrown into the mix merely makes things that much funkier. He seems to have a lifetime rapport, if you will, with his bandmates. The way he duels with Steve Morse is unprecedented, especially in Aprez Vous. The majestic chords in Above and Beyond seem to go perfectly with the drums and bass. While we are on the subject of the rhythm section, I feel it of special importance to recognize them at this time. Ian Paice, percussionist extraordinaire, is the last of the original members. He can trace his lineage to pre-Purple congregations, in fact, having been the only remaining member who can claim having worked with Blackmore in Roundabout.
Those not familiar with the initial group concept (Roundabout) may find it slightly ironic that the groups’ calling card has remained a factor. Members would come and go, and there was never a set line-up. Of course, the line-up HAS remained intact since Airey first joined in 2002. Airey had assisted the band on tour in 2001 when Lord was out with an injured knee, and when he retired (amicably, it would appear; he just wanted time to work on solo projects, in particular his orchestral work) Airey came aboard permanently. Let us dispense with the technical difficulties for a moment, though, as I’d like to continue to praise his work. The light touches on Blood From a Stone, for example, remind one of classic Lord nuances from Mk II’s halcyon days. They are from a mellower Purple, perhaps, and a much simpler time, but they seem to fit perfectly, even when Morse unleashes a flurry of blistering notes on top.
Now, to Mr Roger Glover. He and Gillan remain from the heady Mk II days. His bass is not just a load of repetitive ‘G’ notes, as one may have criticized him of utilizing in the early days. His runs actually resemble more seasoned players such as McCartney, Chris Squire or even the mighty John Entwistle. I always liked Glover’s playing, and his arrangement and production abilities are no small feat, either. It’s a shame that he and Blackmore don’t get on anymore. As to that, Gillan and Blackmore’s difficulties with one another are legendary, according to Lars Ulrich of Metallica. Anyone who wasn’t familiar with Purple’s legendary past need only watch VH1 Classic’s Purple episode of Behind the Music for a look into the personnel shifts over the years.
Uncommon Man is another of the epic pieces here – it begins with a truly beautiful duo between Airey and Morse, he of the fleet-fingered pyrotechnic guitar heroics. Legend has it that Morse had to be eliminated from the Guitar Player Magazine Awards at one point because he had won Best Guitarist five years running; consequently, the magazine decided that, in order to give the other six-stringers a chance, Morse would not be allowed to participate! Whether that’s true or not, one need only give a listen to the dozen or so tracks on display here (depending on which version, how many bonus tracks you get) to know that Morse is on top of his game. His previous work with Kansas, Dixie Dregs, and his recent foray into prog (Flying Colors) is all worth searching out as well.
On to Gillan, then. I find myself at a loss for words, oddly enough, when it comes to describing Gillan’s voice. He is in fine form – top notch, in fact, in this humble listener’s opinion, but you have to wonder how much longer he can keep it up. Long gone, of course, are the bloody murder screams of Lazy and Space Truckin’ (“vocal acrobatics”, as Glover once termed them), but his voice is still, thankfully, intact. ‘It’s Good to Be King’, he intones on Uncommon Man, and he sounds as if he believes it. But then lack of confidence was never one of Gillan’s shortcomings! He seemed to be rather non-plussed about not making the roll call in this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, stating, rather, that “it’s not about those things. It’s not about the money. It’s about making the fans happy, right?” In fact, he also remarked, “it’s an honour to be nominated. Hopefully next year we’ll get inducted”.
Meanwhile, Purple fans the world over seethe at the apparent offence. Myself, I thought they should have been inducted years ago. After all, they’ve been eligible since 1992 or so…
If you got the limited edition CD/DVD of Now What?!, then you get some interviews and some behind-the-scenes type interaction on the DVD, and an extra track (It’ll Be Me). I sincerely hope that everyone enjoys this set as much as I have been. Best marks, then!