Album of the Week 19-2013: Deep Purple – Now What?!

Who would have expected Deep Purple to make such a great album four and a half decades after their inception? As much as I am a fan of the band, I didn’t. ‘Now What?!’ is easily the best Deep Purple album since Steve Morse took over the guitar from Ritchie Blackmore and quite possibly their best since 1984 masterpiece ‘Perfect Strangers’. The energy that ‘Rapture Of The Deep’ lacked is present quite dominantly here and singer Ian Gillan has embraced his age-related shortcomings a lot better here. All in all, though the sadly deceased Jon Lord isn’t present here, ‘Now What?!’ is the album Deep Purple should have made after ‘Purpendicular’.

Morse’s sound has always been a bit too clean and proggy for Deep Purple to these ears, but it’s definitely him and the other relative newcomer – keyboard player Don Airey – who really shine on this album. Producer Bob Ezrin – who also captured Alice Cooper’s greatest moments and even produced Lou Reed’s only fantastic album – must have felt the chemistry between Morse and Airey was electric and decided to have them take center stage here. Not that the rest of the band is any worse; Ian Paice is one of the world’s five greatest drummers and still proves why, even delivering some of his most swinging rhythms so far (‘Bodyline’) and Roger Glover recorded some of his most powerful bass lines to date.

But in the end, it’s the songs that make this record. And ‘Now What?!’ contains some of Deep Purple’s heaviest material to date and after the playful ‘Bananas’ and the reflective ‘Rapture Of The Deep’, that can be seen as somewhat of a surprise. Especially after opening track ‘A Simple Song’ beginning like one of the calmer Iron Maiden epics (listen to Glover’s bass chords and you’ll know what I mean), it’s a surprise to hear a band mainly in their mid-sixties (save for Morse, who is 58) stomp as heavily as on ‘Out Of Hand’ and the dark ‘Vincent Price’.

Not that ‘Now What?!’ is without its reflective moments; ‘All The Time In The World’ (no relation to the brilliant Louis Armstrong song) is a strong, laid-back Rock track with a strong lyric, ‘Blood From A Stone’ is a brilliantly written Progrock opus with heavy choruses and brooding verses. Other highlights include the classic Deep Purple sound of ‘Hell To Pay’, the Neoprog-ish Jon Lord tribute ‘Above And Beyond’ – seriously, you can practically hear IQ’s Peter Nicholls sing this tune – and ‘Après Vous’. However, the album’s absolute highlight is ‘Uncommon Man’. This song has a strong build-up from the quiet, Morse-led beginning to the stately, triumphant riff that is an obvious tribute to ‘Fanfare Of The Common Man’. Simply brilliant. An obligatory listen.

Every Deep Purple album released these days is possibly their last. If this is what they’re going to be coming up with, I’d be glad to have them around a little longer. Ezrin pulled some of the musicians out of their comfort zones with spectacular results. Especially Airey strays from his usual, more restrained role. ‘Now What?!’ is an album showing a great Rock band playing a bunch of expertly written songs as if they were still in their prime. And what more could you possibly desire from a band that started in 1968? Highly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Uncommon Man’, ‘Above And Beyond’, ‘Out Of Hand’, ‘Blood From A Stone’

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