on 30 April 2013
When I heard that the band were describing this album as having 'the excellence and elegance of "Perfect Strangers" and the wild freedom of "Made in Japan"', I admit to having deep reservations. I mean that is some mighty claim to make, especially so, given that not only has it been 8 years since Deep Purple's last release, but this is a line-up sans the late Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore who made Purple what they are. Furthermore, though the efforts with Steve Morse have been pretty good, I can't in all honesty say that any of his 4 previous efforts were classic in that vein. Don't get me wrong, Morse has rejuvenated a band that had become music by numbers. Good, solid and creative yes, but hardly 'Fireball' or 'Machine Head'. 'Purpendicular' was the most diverse and exciting, 'Abandon' was solid hard-rock, admittedly reminiscent of 'In Rock', 'Bananas' was great fun, though 'Rapture of the Deep' was awful. Likewise, Don Airey. He is a fine musician with a musical pedigree, second to none. However, his contribution up to now has been pretty standard fare and certainly nothing to write home about.
My reservations and doubts increased when I heard the first single 'Hell to Pay', the chorus of which was a bit tame. 'All the time in the world' was certainly better. Indeed, has grown on me over time. Hence, the sense of trepidation when I listened to the album.
I needn't have worried. This album is BRILLIANT. It blows away pretty much everything they have produced since 'Machine Head'. How so? Of course, albums like 'Burn' and 'Perfect Strangers' are substantive efforts with meaty numbers that define the band, but what makes this different and certainly closer to the spirit of what made Purple the classic band we know and love, is the looseness and free-flowing nature. 'Now What?!' isn't simply a collection of well crafted songs, masterly put together, and finely produced. Instead, it manages to sound like a live album, fresh, full of pounding energy, whilst at the same time demonstrating some of the most dynamic, imaginative and deeply layered material in years. Quite simply, it blows apart comparisons with any of their recent efforts. It is also the most progressive thing they have ever done with elements that sound almost like 'Asia', 'Yes', 'ELP' and even 'The Doors'.
Bob Ezrin is the band's 6th member. He has done for Purple what George Martin did for 'The Beatles'. What is more, Airey performs like a man possessed. The spirit of Jon Lord - to whom the album is dedicated - looms heavily here, but Airey stamps his own mark distinctively and conclusively. Likewise, Morse, plays some blinding guitar that proves that he has finally cast aside Blackmore's shadow.
'A Simple Song' is one of the best openers. It draws you in with its gentle, melodic guitar intro and Gillan's subtle folk-like singing, before WHAM! Gotta be heard to be understood. This could be brilliant live with ample opportunity for extending. 'Weirdistan' defies decription, 'Out of Hand' is Purple through and through, and even 'Hell to Pay' with its extended solos is a very different beast to the single. My personal favourities are 'A Simple Song', 'Uncommon Man', 'Above and Beyond' and the shlock horror pastiche 'Vincent Price', but there are no fillers. This is a serious effort that begs only one question. What the hell took them so long?!