Deep Purple are one of the greatest rock bands in history. Fact. Their Mark II line up (Gillan, Paice, Glover, Blackmore and Lord) is the most well-known and loved, but over the years various lineup changes also altered the band's sound. With this collection not only do you get a chance to follow this lineage, but you get to do it on 180g vinyl which makes a huge difference in terms of audio quality.
Machine Head which contains one of the most well-known songs, Smoke on The Water which raised the band to stratospheric fame. You can hear how hard they are working on this album, they are hungry for it, Highway Star, Maybe I'm A Leo, there's not a bad track on here. Gillan's voice is still the epitome of a rock vocal, Blackmore's guitar is legendary, Glover's bass playing percussive and dynamic, Paice's drumming is syncopated and masterful and John Lord's organ and keyboard work is well...sublime. With tremendous pieces of work like Fireball and In Rock already behind them and all being delivered in a short space of time, this is Purple at their peak, but perhaps they gave too much too soon?
Machine Head was also the beginning of the disintegration of the MK II line-up due to a combination of exhaustion and internal politics.
1973's Who Do We Think We Are? is the last album to feature Ian Gillan and Roger Glover for nearly a decade. The album has elements of a hard rock sound, but they have put the breaks on and incorporated a much more blues feel kicking off with the most well-known track, Woman From Tokyo. It certainly sounds like Purple, but the focus and passion in Gillan's vocal just aren't there for the most part. The same could be said for the rest of the band; they are musically competent but the fire that invented a genre is lacking in comparison to their earlier work. Mary Long, for example really comes across as a band who sound fatigued. The band attempt to resurrect their energy with Rat Bat Blue and Place In Line on side two and injects more of an invigorated sound to the album. Even though they certainly seem to have their act back together on the second half of the album a few choice tracks and cups of coffee couldn't save the band's current formation from their fate. In a BBC documentary Rock Family Trees: Deep Purple People, Lord would later say of Gillan and Glovers exit when the band were at their peak "the biggest shame in rock and roll; God knows what we would have become over the next three or four years."
David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes were now on board pairing lead vocals, with Coverdale doing the lion's share. Burn released in 1974 is the transition between the old and the new and there are glimpses of genius where it's the best album that the MK II lineup never made; Imagine Gillan taking over the belt and screams of Coverdale on the title track for example and it's pure bliss. There are some great musical flourishes from Paice and Lord as always and Coverdale's vocals on Mistreated serve as a reminder why Whitesnake are so popular to this day. Tracks like the funk orientated Sail Away and the electro A 200 are far removed from the Purple we know and love, but it's still the best work from the MK III period.
With Stormbringer, their second album of 1974, MK III builds on a rock-funk fusion which they had attempted to create in their previous album. The album is very experimental in terms of sound and quite groundbreaking for the band and the genre. Coverdale and Hughes both have more creative input and they are intent on shaking off any notion of the past and putting their own stamp on the music. Retrospectively the band lose their hard rock edge with this album and slide into west coast rock for songs like the Hughes led Holy Diver and ballad Soldier Of Fortune, the latter being one of the most popular tracks from the album.
Lady Double Dealer has the feel of a MK II track and Hold On is more traditional rhythm and blues. It's impossible to dislike Coverdale and Hughes' glorious harmonies which are enhanced by Blackmore's soaring guitar work. The funk vibe of You Can't Do It Right (With The One You Love) and High Ball Shooter are probably the main reasons Stevie Wonder named Hughes as his favourite white vocalist.
After Stormbringer, Blackmore left the band and went on to form another great rock band, Rainbow. Tommy Bolin took over on guitar adding a slick soulful sound to the music and really put the fire back into the band due to his jazz background. Often seen as a low point in the band's recording career, it actually feels like the direction the band were searching for during the last two albums. It's much more like classic Purple in terms of the rock sound, but manages to capture the rhythmic dynamics of the funk and soul influence; take Gettin' Tighter and I Need Love for example. The album is actually quite pioneering in musical terms and is pretty important for the way rock would later go on to blend with other styles. Looking back, it's not as bad as you probably remember it; although it might not be exactly what you expect from Purple, but it's still a solid album.
After nearly a decade in the wilderness, the MK II line-up reunited and produced Perfect Strangers. It's not a patch on their earlier work, but it's a damn good imitation. Here the greatest Purple line-up isn't setting anything alight in terms of originality, in fact, they are running with the NWOBHM pack at this point, who no doubt relished their creators once again united and producing some bloody good music. It's aggressive, passionate and even features a swear word! Gillan's vocals have matured to have a beautifully gnarled edge to them, which make them perfect for the music that they are making in this period. It's all a bit 80s in terms of production, but it's one of the best rock albums from the era. The title track still stands up 30 odd years later thanks to Lord's majestic keyboard sound resonating throughout the track and Paice's ferocious drumming second only to Blackmore's guitar work; it's pretty understandable why it's still a live favourite. A Gypsy's Kiss, Knocking At Your Backdoor and Not Responsible are all terrific tracks that herald the fact that Deep Purple are back!
House of Blue Light in 1987 was the follow-up to Perfect Strangers. The recording process was tiresome and fractious at times. It's Deep Purple 1980s style. Thinking that this album comes nearly 20 years after In Rock is a humbling lineage to behold. Like the other albums it pales into insignificance when compared to their finest hours, but it's still not a band album. House Of Blue Light is home to some good rock songs, The Unwritten Law, Bad Attitude and Mitzi Dupree. As is the case with Who Do We Think We Are there is a sense of the band not working in total synergy, but they still lay down some good work, even if it does seem of it's time.
With a band that has had such a long history it's hard not to compare notes on the various lineups and who was better than who. Looking back at their musical timeline it's evident that Deep Purple are a band who continued to evolve. They were fearless in expressing their creativity and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't, but always the desire to create music was at the heart of whatever they did.