DEEP PURPLE — Deep Purple (review)

DEEP PURPLE — Deep Purple album cover Album · 1969 · Proto-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
DEEP PURPLE’s Mark I lineup lasted only two short years but the band still managed to record three full albums, tour extensively and release a handful of singles, one of which “Hush” from the debut album “Shades Of Deep Purple” becoming a surprise hit and hitting the top 5 on the American Billboard charts. And consequently, due to that very success, the band members were constantly under pressure to repeat the pop hit formula however the musicians themselves wanted something else entirely. And such was the nature of the music business which meant that there had to be a middle ground between the ambitious progressive rock fusion with classical music and the more simplified pop hook tracks that could generate some income for a poorly managed Tetragrammaton Records that would soon fold and be absorbed by Warner Bros.

Despite the short time playing together, the band had evolved quite a bit since their nascent recordings in early 1968 and by the time the quintet of Rod Evans (lead vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitars), Jon Lord (keyboards, organs, piano), Nick Sempler (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion) had reached their third album simply titled DEEP PURPLE also called DEEP PURPLE III, the band had unknowingly hit upon one of the great sounds in all of rock music. It’s just that they didn’t know that quite yet and would have to go through a few changes before superstardom would come knocking at their back door. Graced by an eerie amalgamation of characters on the Hieronymous Bosch cover art, so too does the music on this third installment of the DEEP PURPLE universe imbibe the many nectars of the musical world and because of that remains the band’s most diverse and unique albums of the entire multi-decade canon.

The album was preceded by the non-album single “Emmarretta” which was hoped to generate enough interest to promote the album but the single failed to match the success of “Hush” and fell by the wayside rather quickly and likewise the third album sold rather poorly which prompted the dualistic talent of Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore to think about the changes that were needed to take the music to the next level, that of a more streamlined hard rock approach. This was a tumultuous time as the duo had to assemble a new lineup of DEEP PURPLE behind the scenes while carrying on the business as usual as they toured the US after having finally found some modicum of interest in their native UK. It was decided that Evans didn’t have the vocal chops to take the music to the next level, an unfortunate limitation made all the clearly on this third album where the music had evolved into more progressive heights but the vocals didn’t and kept the album from reaching the pinnacle of its potential. Likewise friction existed with Simper.

While steeped in both the 60s psychedelia blues rock riffing and classical expressionism, DEEP PURPLE III served as more than a transitional album for the Mark II lineup just around the corner but rather allowed the band to go hog wild experimenting with all kinds of different sounds possibly hoping throwing enough spaghetti against the wall that something would stick. The introductory “Chasing Shadows” prognosticates the DEEP PURPLE to come with a heavier guitar presence than on the previous two albums. Blackmore was clearly coming to fruition as a top tier guitarist and was beginning to display more ambitious speedy solos as well as a wealth of wah-wah effects which made it clear the heavier side of rock was where this band was heading. Likewise Ian Paice’s drumming skills were finally let off the leash as he delivered a powerful bombastic African rhythmic fusion style present on the opening track that pummels the senses in an almost Santana like freneticism.

With bands like King Crimson and The Nice upping the ante in more adventurous arenas for rock, DEEP PURPLE were hot on their heels and on this third album demonstrate remarkably how they easily could’ve gone the progressive rock route in lieu of the less angular hard rock that they opted for. While “Blind” seems to revert to a couple years prior with a distinct Procol Harum type of softness clearly rooted in the 60s, Lord manages to crank out some stellar classical piano runs and Blackmore unleashes his own guitar tricks. This track in retrospect shows how the two main members were quickly outgrowing the limitations of the current lineup. Likewise the Donovan cover “Lalena” also keeps the band firmly placed in the 60s sound complete with those period organs. The album doesn’t really come to life until the excellent instrumental “Faultline” cranks out the backmasking as a rhythmic instrument and serves as an intro for “The Painter” which cranks out a killer blues rock riff and organ mix that start to sound a bit like the Mark II stylistic shift but anchored into the past by Evans’ relaxed vocal style. Paice is phenomenal in how he can produce a mood solely with his percussive drive.

Likewise “Why Didn’t Rosemary?” and “BIrd Has Flown” both display a mature sound for the band’s rhythm section as the guitar, bass, organs and drums have found their own spaces that inch even closer to the Mark II style. It now becomes obvious that Evans had to go as you can imagine Gillan screaming out a more sophisticated singing style complete with more emotive utterances. The cream of the crop for DEEP PURPLE III is the almighty progressive closer “April” which which was Jon Lord’s dream come true as far as the perfect classical and rock hybridization. While the band had structured their compositions to include classical interludes and underpinnings, “April” went all the way in creating a perfect harmonizing melodic construct of classical music mixed with progressive rock that even included a complete string section to accompany the rock aspects. This sort of style was en vogue at this point in early prog nascency but nothing The Nice cranked out approached the magnanimous nature of this beautiful piece. Even Evans seems to have stepped up to add some of his best vocals on the album and what a fabulous way to end this phase of DEEP PURPLE before the change.

While the Mark I lineup continued to play, Blackmore and Lord were already rehearsing new material with new lead singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover leaving Evans and Simper in the dark about the numbered days and unfortunately the two found out through the grapevine and didn’t exactly exit on good terms. While Evans would go on to sing lead for Captain Beyond and Simper would start Warhorse, the true winners were DEEP PURPLE themselves which under the Mark II lineup would become superstars and one of the most popular bands in rock history. The Mark I phase is certainly a precarious time for the origins of one of rock’s most celebrated musical talents and although these early albums are hardly perfect, they were quite innovative for the time and despite the uneven quality of the tracks and inferior talent of certain members still managed to crank out some timeless music. Whether its for historical curiosity or for the love of early proto-prog and metal, then sampling the 60s nectar of this phase of DEEP PURPLE is mandatory and this third installation of the Mark I lineup is perhaps the band’s most accomplished. Essential? Not really, but a fascinating album nonetheless with certain moments that are mind blowing.
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