Sound — 8
Deep Purple are one of those bands that hardly needs an introduction. Chances are, you've played the riff to their smash hit "Smoke On The Water" at least once in your life, rocked out with your friends to "Highway Star", or learned to shred by picking apart pieces like "Lazy".
In the wake of the death of long-time keyboardist Jon Lord in 2012, this is the second album to feature keyboardist Don Airey, and another in a long line of albums since 1994 to feature Steve Morse on guitar. The rest of the Mark VIII lineup features some classic, familiar names: vocalist Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, and drummer Ian Paice. Fans of the band will no doubt be pleased that a lot of the typical blues-rock sounds you'd expect from Deep Purple are still present on the album, but there are a few interesting diversions on the album such as the synth-y opening to "Time For Bedlam", which is the album's first single, and an all-around good example of a track that will likely go down as the album's "classic" track.
The track features all the hallmarks of a good Deep Purple song, like heavy Hammond organ, stomping hard rock shuffle rhythm, and some incredible solos from Airey and Morse that, at times, take on less of a blues-rock flavour and enter the realm of progressive rock and neo-classical metal. It's a real testament to the band's pioneering of the addition of more Wagnerian classical sounds to the rock paradigm while the band featured Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore, that the band would continue in this vein long after replacing those two members. After this track, the album does still have a few good tricks up its sleeve, like the more traditionally blues-rock "Hip Boots" and "One Night in Vegas", which will be sure to appeal to fans of the band's classic material.
The album also dips its toes a little bit more confidently into the progressive rock realm than their classic material from the 70s may have, especially on tracks like "All I Got is You", with its atmospheric dynamic and Minimoog synthesizer solo (one of the big differences between Jon Lord and Don Airey is that the former hated playing synthesizers), and "The Surprising", which has some of my favourite organ playing on the album, as well as a solo section that rivals some of the best material Dream Theater was coming out with in the 90s. In fact, it actually sounds relatively fresh and modern coming from a band that started well before most of us reading this were born. "Johnny's Band" continues the time-honoured tradition of good hard rock tunes glamourizing the story of starting a band, and kind of combines these classic rock and modern approaches in an interesting way.
There are a couple of tracks that haven't really resonated with me, perhaps constituting the only real issues I have with the album. "Get Me Outta Here" and "Birds of Prey" are relatively slow-burning hard blues-rock numbers that, ultimately, just don't really do anything for me. They're not bad tracks, especially with some really great riffs in "Birds of Prey", but I found myself glazing over them far more often than any other tracks on the album. Same goes for "On Top of the World", which is also a good song, but didn't really entertain me as much as the others, save for the weird sort of psychedelic spoken word part near the end of the song.
The production is very well done on this album, Bob Ezrin managing not to overproduce the record, keeping the classic sort of beefy guitar sound intact, and not overdoing the layers of synth and extraneous vocal layers. The record has enough dynamic range to keep things from getting too fatiguing after many listens.
Lyrics — 7
Lyrics have never really been the strongest suit of many classic rock bands, and Deep Purple's lyrics in particular have never really "spoken" to me on any particularly deep level. Perhaps only the story told in "Smoke on the Water" is the only lyric they've put out that I resonate with, simply because of the Frank Zappa connection, but I've never really been one to praise the band for its wordsmithing.
That said, the lyrics on this album, while a bit of a mixed bag and not fitting into any specific concept, are quite decently written. "Time For Bedlam" takes on a kind of futuristic, anti-establishment sort of tone, with a prominent sort of "robotic" effect on Ian Gillan's voice at times. There are sort of Orwellian elements to the lyrics of the song with lines like "Sucking my milk from the venomous tit of the state/This clearly designed to suppress every thought of escape/Ah, I surrender to fate".
Much of the rest of the album's lyrics are a bit mixed, with a lot of songs alluding to sexuality and relationships (a common topic for bands of Deep Purple's pedigree), such as this bit from "All I Got is You" being about a toxic relationship: "Sometimes I wonder how it is you get to p*ss me off this much/I may be heavier handed and I like the tender touch/You moan and groan about me staying out and drinking with the guys/I bet I bring them home try this one for size".
Overall, the lyrics aren't terrible on this record, but there's nothing that really pops out at me as being particularly top-notch. There are even aa few moments that are a little too silly for my tastes, like the psychedelic spoken word interlude in "On Top of the World". And it's also a bit weird to hear such an old band use as much profanity as Deep Purple does on this record. Not that I have any problem with profanity, but for those who don't expect to hear it, it's a touch on the jarring side the first couple of listens.
Ian Gillan's vocal style is certainly a lot deeper and less harsh than it was in his youth, and it really shows that he just can't sing like he did in the 70s anymore, but his vocals fit well with the style of music they're playing today, nonetheless. I rather enjoy Gillan's singing on this record, as it's still rather strong, considering his age.
Overall Impression — 7
Many bands from the same era as Deep Purple are long gone, some like Rush having clung on as long as they could before retiring, many others having broke up or reformed multiple times with different members to the point where no original members remain. It's simply amazing that after all these years (nearly 50 of them, in fact!), Deep Purple has managed to not only continue making good hard rock music, but still maintain a large part of their classic lineup. The 2012 death of keyboardist Jon Lord seems to have done little to stop Deep Purple, and I feel that their commitment to continuing their craft in as high of a quality as they are is a fitting tribute to one of rock's greatest keyboardists. The fact that they've been able to do this twice over now (after 2013's "Now What?") only solidifies this sentiment.
This record's not perfect, there are a few songs that don't quite hit me as hard as the others and the lyrics kind of left me cold, but overall, this is a really fine record. Fans of the band's classic lineups will have little, if anything at all, to complain about. The songwriting is as adept as it's ever been, Steve Morse's guitar playing is truly inspiring as always, the performances of the rest of the members of the band is also excellent. For a band that's been around so long to come out with new material as solid as this really speaks to the greatness of Deep Purple, and I definitely recommend giving this album a spin.