In an interview a couple of years back, Roger Glover (or it might have been Ian Paice) said that Deep Purple were not sure whether or not they would make a new album. Not everyone in the band felt there was any point. But Glover (and I suspect it was he) said that making an album is like capturing a snapshot of where the band is at musically at that time.
Bob Ezrin, in a recent interview that was published on the Deep Purple site "Highway Star": "I said, 'If you want to be a contemporary rock band and be relevant give up, forget it, it ain't gonna happen and I'm not the right guy to produce it. No one will play this record on radio; no one will care about it in the contemporary business, but I you want to make THAT record - if you want to make that unashamed musically brilliant record, I'm in,' and they did."
Producer Bob Ezrin wasn't interested in taking on Now What?! until he saw Deep Purple play live. Blown away by the power of their rock and floored by the band's ability to play like a progressive rock band, he decided that if the band were willing to record that kind of music, he was in.
Deep Purple is one of my favourite bands and twice in my life I have gone through a Purple phase where I listened to nothing but. However, I wasn't really in the right place musically to buy the new album. Not just yet. Then I read the reviews and went straight away and ordered it. It hasn't left my earbuds for the last three days and I am on my seventh listen through. Make no bones about it, this is one of their best.
The Music: Deep Purple continue in the same musical trajectory as they have been going since Steve Morse joined the band 19 years ago. The general vibe of Now What?! strikes me as being a cross between Perpendicular and Rapture of the Deep. The music follows mostly a mid- tempo pace but sounds more like progressive heavy rock than it has for quite some time. One might suspect that Bob Ezrin played a big part in making that happen, telling the band to put that kind of live stuff into the studio recordings. Many songs include extended instrumental sections, such as Hell to Pay and Après Vous, with flamboyant solos and colourful introductions (Uncommon Man with its symphonic introduction, Après Vous sounding like ELP, the spacy effects at the beginning of Out of Hand and the pipe organ and choir at the beginning of Vincent Price). The production is sharp and sounds clear; there are no scratchy distorted bits like on Bananas and Rapture. The music is mostly heavy but with some slower parts (check out the intro to A Simple Song or parts of Blood From a Stone. Synthesized brass and woodwind instruments appear, and for progheads, Uncommon Man moves through different parts and instrumental sections.
Don Airey: When Don Airey was asked initially to cover for Jon Lord it was said that there were few in the music business who could take on that monumental task. But Airey had quite a background: Colosseum II, Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore, Whitesnake (Jon Lord had been there done that too), and many other appearances plus a solo album (he now has three). The man knows how to play a Hammond organ in the DP style but also uses synthesizers in his own way. He really shines on this album, having been given more room than on Rapture. Listen to the Wurlitzer piano on Blood from a Stone and see if you don't think of Riders on the Storm. In Hell to Pay, we are taken back to 1968 with an organ solo that seems to rumble out homage to Jon Lord. There's a weird synthesizer solo in Weirdistan, cosmic effects in Out of Hand, piano and organ in It'll Be Me, and various keyboards and dueling with Morse in Après Vous. Catch the powerful organ riff in Above and Beyond or Airey's work in Uncommon Man. At times this sounds like classic DP transplanted in the modern sound.
Steve Morse: At first hardly noticed him. Good heavy riffs and signature shredding but no acoustic work like Fingers to the Bone or The Aviator. There's no real folk, classical, or renaissance (okay we don't want Deep Purple to sound like Blackmore's Night) even though Morse is totally capable. A little blues and lots of metal and rock is what we get this time. He takes the lead or solo solo in some tracks and plays with his usual style. He's very Morse on Out of Hand and his Bodyline solo is very driving and funky. All the Time in the World's melodious solo is like something from Perpendicular. He takes charge in Vicent Price with triple tracked guitars. A big surprise comes at the beginning of his solos in Hell to Pay and Blood from a Stone because I could almost hear a Ritchie Blackmore tribute. And then there's some great prog work in Après Vous.
Glover and Paice: These two are always solid and steady, not flash. Glover keeps the simple but thunderous bass in control but lets some solid rocking basslines roll in Hell to Pay and Après Vous. Paice plays a good complex rhythm beat to Bodyline and seems to barely keep his sticks under control in the intro. There are no Chasing Shadows/You Fool No One mind- blowing percussion compositions but good work from the stool with tempo changes and use of percussion equipment. And just listen to that Glover/Paice rhythm section roll for Airey's solo in Hell to Pay.
Gillan: Once the lungs that made banshees flee into the night, Gillan now wisely keeps to his present range. We get only one "Whaaooh!" and maybe that's good. It can't be easy to be 67 and scream your head off night after night. Thankfully, there's no whine! I love Ian Gillan but at times he affects this whiney tone that irks me, and it's not here on this album. He gets close when he gets forceful in his singing but keeps his voice under control. There are a number of chorus mixes or overdubs which work on the album but will be a challenge to work out live. There are no echoes as there were on Rapture's Clearly Quite Absurd and Before Time Began, and no scratches as there were on Bananas' Haunted. Gillian's humour and word play still show up in his lyrics. So far, I like the lyrics of All the Time in the World best. "Like Zeno's toytus with Achilles snapping at my heels" or "Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit".
Disappointments: Basically my only real disappointment is that some songs end the same way. Vincent Price, Uncommon Man, Après Vous have an extended instrumental section then a couple of lines from a verse or the chorus and then abruptly end. Especially Vincent Price could have been given a few measures more to really blow the top off. It's like waiting for the explosion and then missing it because you turned to a friend to say, "This is gonna be good".
Repeat playability? Seven times straight in the iPhone and once more in the car. Not all songs will please everyone all but each song has its merits. My favourites are Après Vous, A Simple Song, Vincent Price, Uncommon Man, Weirdistan, and Blood from a Stone. Deep Purple have added more progressive elements into this album. If you have the bonus track It'll Be Me then think of it as just that. It's a bonus track, a B-side, in a different groove. Not too much to say but the lyrics are funny though.
Call this a hard rock album? Yeah! This has become one of my top 5 Deep Purple albums now. Very well done guys.