Sound — 8
A band called Deep Purple formed 45 years ago with the intention of starting a temporary project called Roundabout, but instead they've become one of the longest living bands in rock and roll. Despite numerous personnel changes over the years, 3 out of the 5 current members has been with the band since at least 1969. Steve Morse joined on guitar in 1994 and Don Airey has been on keyboards and organ since 2002. The original premise of the band was for a progressive rock project with rotating members started by Chris Curtis (drummer from The Searchers) in 1967, but Chris was booted from the project pretty early on due his very volatile personality. By 1968 the band was touring and had changed their name from Roundabout to Deep Purple, a name suggested by Ritchie Blackmore. Today we find ourselves 19 studio albums into Deep Purple's career. The 19th studio release, "Now What?!", has 12 tracks and clocks in at just a few minutes short of a full 60 minutes. The first singles from the album were released on February 29th 2013 with the tracks "Hell To Pay" and "All The Time In The World", released together on CD and vinyl.
From the time I hit play until the album finished I was blown away. A lot of "classic" bands release new albums and it sounds like they're just throwing together old riffs, but Deep Purple seems to be committed to moving forward with only an occasional look back at their past. It is easy to imagine Deep Purple as a band in their prime. Ian Gillan's voice is still powerful and he still has his range. Steve Morse is awesome on guitar and produces memorable riff after memorable riff, squeezed in between some stellar soloing. Their newest addition, Don Airey, does an excellent job on the keyboards and organs whether he is soloing, inserting little fills or playing rhythm. He reminds me what a rock band can sound like with a good organist. Ian Paice stays really solid with the drums throughout he may not be hitting the drums quite as hard as back in the day, but what he's lost in force he has made up with finesse. Roger Glover maintains the backbeat on bass, demonstrating some really solid playing. The bass shines most clearly on the track "Weirdistan". My favorite moments from the album would have to be during "Aprs Vous" when Steve Morse and Don Airey are trading solo licks, or several passages from "All The Time In The World" where there is a really strong groove between the whole band. This album is absolutely solid from beginning to end.
Lyrics — 9
Ian Gillan has one of those voices that was made for classic/prog rock vocals. For someone who has been singing in a rock and roll band for more years out of his life than not, Ian's voice has held up surprisingly well. As soon as the album starts and the vocals come in on "A Simple Song" I knew Ian Gillan could still pull off a great prog vocal, and then suddenly the song got heavier and Ian made the transition to a more powerful rock vocal and my worries were completely put to rest. Ian is one of classic rock's greatest vocalists and there is only so much to say beyond that he hasn't lost his touch much more and it just turns into gushing. The lyrics from the album fit in with the legacy of Deep Purple's past lyrical outings and with classic prog rock in general. Some of my favorites are the opening lyrics from "Weirdistan": "We travel through time and meet on a stretch of sand/ well, you're from up north and I live in wonderland." Then from the opening track "A Simple Song": "Time, it does not matter/ but time is all we have/ to think about, to think about/ the road it has no end/ crossroads every turn/ so it goes, so it goes/ once you sang a simple song."
Overall Impression — 8
I don't know if there is a soul alive who wouldn't recognize the guitar riff from "Smoke On The Water" when they heard it, and you gotta remember that this is (essentially) the same band who brought us that iconic song. "Now What?!" isn't a walk down memory lane, however, but a solid album on its own. My favorite song from the album is "Uncommon Man", but I was also really fond of "Aprs Vous", "A Simple Song", and "All The Time In The World". The track "Vincent Price" is also a standout track, paying tribute to the actor from many classic horror films. My least favorite track from the album would be "It'll Be Me", as it seems to really almost come off as some overdriven country more than rock something you would expect from Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it didn't quite gel with the rest of the album.