Before we get started, a quick note for those of an audiophile persuasion;
This is a review for the 1986 CD issue of Machine Head, EMI CDP 7462422. It seems to be a nice flat transfer from the original tapes, with no extraneous compression or use of noise-reduction, although it does have pre-emphasis (which will usually only make a difference to the quality of sound if you rip it to CDR without setting the flag properly during the process, so no big deal for the majority who will listen to the actual CD). It comes with a 10 page booklet full of photos, which makes a pleasant change because often with CD's of this vintage you're lucky to get more than a basic 2 page fold-over featuring only song titles and advice on how to treat your disc.
Ok, and so to my brief review of this album
Machine Head saw something of a return to form for Deep Purple after the very good - but slightly lacking - Fireball. Despite that album's inherent funkiness and drive, it featured a lot of instrumental sections which were laid-back to the point of being almost horizontal. Very uninspired. With Machine Head the band tightened up their focus as a musical unit. They got their groove back.
But is Machine Head "the" Deep Purple album it's often cited to be? That's up for debate really. It lacks the primal ferocity and barely restrained brutality of In Rock
, which is the only other Deep Purple album which can legitimately battle against Machine Head for pole position as "the" classic. Yet each are very different musical beasts.
Machine Head is the more mature of the pair and most certainly has a more professional production.
One thing that really stands out for me with this album is how surprisingly low at times the guitar is in the mix - which is very easy to overlook because Jon Lord's keyboard being pumped through a distorted Marshall stack often has the presence of a guitar. It wasn't until I saw Machine Head - Classic Albums [DVD] [2008
] and heard Blackmore's guitar work isolated, and then made a point of listening closely through headphones to the CD, that I began to appreciate the effective simplicity of his rhythm guitar work on this album - because on the whole it's more implied than upfront due to the mix giving the keyboards a general rhythmic prominence. His lead and riff work is though given more of an equal footing.
Don't mistake that for meaning this album doesn't rock. It does. And very nicely so. Not in the brash, outlandish and abrasive style of In Rock, but in a solid and dependable manner. From the opener of Highway Star to the closer of Space Truckin' it's a steady paced ride, the only slump in proceedings being Lazy - a mellower number which sounds somewhat out of place due to overtones of (dare I say it!) Jazz and R&B harking back to the days of Georgie Fame.
So, Machine Head get 4 stars from me. Out of all of the Gillan-era Purple albums it's the one I find myself returning to most often.