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Time for a reappraisal?
on 9 July 2008
A reappraisal, because the general feeling about this album has been doomy - mostly from the band themselves! Maybe the sessions, conducted in a haunted building, were too much for everyone except Blackmore (who THRIVES on the tension created by such settings - hear the awesome Long Live Rock'n'Roll album for proof!), and the feelings left were a little bitter. The album 'only' got to #10 in England - the band's last Top 10 album to date - and there was the idea that DP were underachieving. But so what? Many bands now produce chart-topping slabs of bilge (and they did then!). What matters is the music, and this album has only two substandard tracks (by the standards of Purple, the greatest band of all). They are Spanish Archer, which is pretty dull, and Hard-Loving Woman, which has poor lyrics (again, by Gillan's standards). The rest is the bee's knees. Bad Attitude may borrow a little from Yes' Owner of a Lonely Heart, but sounds fabulous. Gillan's vocals are bluesed up, and sound superb. Unwritten Law has really wonderful lyrics (a comment/warning on STDs and so on), plus an inventive, jazzy musical backbone. Call of the Wild is almost like Bon Jovi playing Woman from Tokyo - catchy, but not cliched. Mad Dog is heavier, and very original, with witty lyrics. Love Lord's 'dog bark' solo. Black & White, DP's comment on the press, is another standout - quite funky (yes, Mk2 could be as funky as 1, 3 and 4), hearty, and still humorous. The two duff tracks (to me) follow - they have their fans too - but the real highlights end the album. Strangeways shows Blackmore's fabled Eastern influences, but in an entirely new setting, with Gillan resolutely avoiding any Rainbow-isms. A startlingly innovative number. Mitzi Dupree is also fantastic, with Gillan's vocals and lyrics as good and heartfelt as on the previous album's Wasted Sunsets. He can tell a story, that man. Lovely blues in the DP style (very different from Zep's take on the genre). And the 'speed metal' track is this time saved 'til last - the anti-drug live standout, Dead or Alive. Great, intricate solos from Blackmore and Lord, which fit perfectly with Gillan's impressive performance.
Throughout, Glover is his usual reliable (in the good sense) self, but Paice and Blackmore both show unusual restraint. Those two can show off with the best of 'em, so great is their technical expertise, but here they choose to blend in with the band. The approach works, but it would be good to hear them both stepping to the foreground again with Battle Rages On five years later, the last Mk2 album.
This one, though, can lay claim to being one of DP's most interesting and diverse records, with very memorable songs. And those qualities make a good album, surely? One of Purple's most mystifying moments came not long after, with the (temporary) dismissal of Gillan. Now that was bizarre.