New Deep Purple?! One has to be excited to hear that the band are still rocking after such a massive career beginning in the late 60s. The album title is "Now What?!" and I guess the answer is "Let's prove we are the masters of classic rock!" The album features a brilliant line up with Steve Morse on guitar, Roger Glover on bass guitar, Don Airey on organ, keyboards, and Ian Paice on drums. The real surprise is the return of Ian Gillan on vocals! He is a powerhouse vocalist carving a niche in rock history when he was with the band and in his solo career. On this latest album Gillan simply proves the old dinosaur can still scream out his lungs and still has one of the greatest voices in rock.
Deep Purple are riff masters and although Ritchie Blackmore is absent, Steve Morse has a great style and blasts out some dynamic riffs and lead breaks. The album is dedicated to Jon Lord, and Don Airey certainly keeps the flame burning with his keyboard style, and I am sure was humbled to be involved. Ian Paice is a genius drummer and it is great to hear his pound away on these songs. Roger Glover is an accomplished bassist, making an appearance on a swag of Purple albums, so it is wonderful to experience his style again on this latest release.
The album is one hour of old school style rock with a metal edge, and there is a lot of progalicious extended keyboard breaks and lead guitar workouts. 'A Simple Song' kicks things off, beginning slowly with nice guitar licks then Gillan in a reflective mood. The heavy rock kicks in with guitar chord progression and very heavy handed Hammond squelches. The keyboarding on this is simply stunning, a real throwback to the great freakouts of the 70s. There is some delightful flute on this too giving a pastoral sound.
After this delightful start they launch into 'Weirdistan' with guitar stabs over a strong bassline and drum pattern. I love the multilayered vocals and melody on this. A lead break cements my enjoyment of this, and what a riff that locks in with organ and axe trade offs in extended jam sessions; it doesn't get better than this!
'Out Of Hand' opens with gloomy atmospheres with a bell chiming and preternatural sounds, then a drone and symphonic violin slices, reminiscent of 'Knocking at Your back door'. A chugging riff enters and some very cool vocals, Gillan is incredible after all these years to be able to sing like this. The way the riff comes and goes with the string section foundation playing beneath is simply wonderful. Again the organ shimmers are absolutely fantastic. A lead break showcase Morse's inimitable style, with fast upsweeps and sustained string bends.
'Hell To Pay' has that Bob Ezrin anthemic production sound, he certainly knows how to get the best out of a band. This one has a Kiss sound but still unmistakeably Deep Purple all the way. The lead break is precision playing from Morse and I love the organ embellishments; Airey is sensational on this album. He has a freakout moment on this track channelling Lord almost in an improvised freestyle; listen to those keyboard crunches.
'Body Line' moves into funky territory, the tune has a funky 80s vibe and yet is as heavy as the Purple get, especially the guitar riffing and that crazy organ. It has a more pedestrian structure but it's still a great song.
'Above And Beyond' is a safer song with a pop melody but I adore the keyboard motif on this and it has a beautiful lead solo at the end. 'Blood From A Stone' has a bluesy feel helped by Glover's bass and Gillan's vocals are deep and resonant showing his age at 67 here. The organ is definitely akin to The Doors 'Riders on the Storm' and that suits me as I am crazy about that song. It builds into a heavier chorus then pulls back to the Doors like sound on the verses. Later it switches time signatures then a gorgeous organ solo like Ray Manzarek in his stoned phase. The song really grows on you and it is so laid back and emotional I can't help but rate this as a highlight.
'Uncommon Man' answers the prog question with some very nice progressive moments, opening with Spanish guitar, then a sumptuous symphonic sound like Pink Floyd. This is quite a surprise after the heavy approach of previous tracks. It is great that DP still want to experiment with music after all these years. Paice has some cool drum fills over this soundscape. Then a guitar solo blazes over and a rhythm builds up ominously with a ton of strings until it moves to a trumpet fanfare on the keyboards. Gillan's vocals are multilayered, and the time sig is off kilter in the main riff as he sings "It's good to be king". The organ and lead breaks are delightful. This is definitely a great song to showcase the prog components of the band.
'Après Vous' is a raucous song with a classic Deep Purple sound especially the riff and the opening vocal section. The time sig has a prog sound and it is a heavy sound from the Hammond and metal guitar that are synced perfectly. It unleashes into an instrumental domination, beginning with soft guitar tones over ethereal synths and a pulsating bass and drum. A symphonic soundscape enters then the staccato organ comes to the fore trading off with incessant speed picking lead guitar; a powerhouse of musicianship.
'All The Time In The World' is the big single and sounds more qualified for radio airplay. The melody is infectious with an uptempo feel. Morse's solo is pleasant but again it is Airey that really captivates me on this track; his organ playing is phenomenal.
'Vincent Price' opens with cathedral pipe organ sounds, like the old actor himself has made an appearance. It is a throwback to the Hammer Horror films of the 70s, such as "Pit and the Pendulum", "Fall of the House of Usher" or "House of Wax". Price was a master and this is a terrific homage to his work. It even has a Gothic female choir and some horror themes interwoven in the structure. The heavy distorted guitar is doom metal and the lyrics capture the horror themes of vampires, and "red blood dripping, she doesn't have a prayer, I know it's not real but I just don't care, it feels so good to be afraid, Vincent Price is back again." The lead break is excellent with a phased sound, and there are effects of chains and Gillan even has a yell like the old days; delightful.
'Highway Star (Bonus track)' is a nice add on after such a great album, and it basically cruises along the familiar bass and drum line, with some incredible lead guitar work, and more Gillan screeches. I always loved 'Highway Star' and I never tire of this, the lead guitar and organ on this live version are absolutely killer, and it ends with a lead guitar workout with piercing screams.
"Now What?!" is a bonafide Deep Purple treasure. I was hoping it would measure up to the brilliance of the past and it certainly delivers from beginning to end. The organ playing is brilliant and a real tribute to the work of Jon Lord who the album is dedicated. I can't complain; this is Deep Purple at their best. It is a real pleasure to listen to and it is comforting to know that not only are Deep Purple back in the studio but they are creating some of their most proficient musicianship and every song has its own atmosphere; they really prove they are masters of classic rock.