There are certain bands who, and this is with all due respect, have been around so long in one form or another that the release of new material outside of their ‘golden years’ doesn’t really get the recognition it deserves. Think about Black Sabbath in the ’90s and how each new album that didn’t feature Ozzy Osbourne or Ronnie James Dio was greeted with complete indifference by all but the dedicated few. It could be said that new Deep Purple albums released after 1984’s “Perfect Strangers” – which reunited the classic Mark II line-up of the early ’70s – didn’t really get the juices going quite as much as earlier material and by the time of 1993’s “The Battle Rages On…” things were looking very bleak indeed as the band seemed to be falling apart.
Looking back now, 1996’s “Purpendicular” is quite an important album in Deep Purple‘s career. Temperamental guitarist Ritchie Blackmore quit the band during the tour for “The Battle Rages On…” (and was temporarily replaced by Joe Satriani to finish off the dates) so the band didn’t waste any time and recruited Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse, who not only replaced Blackmore as a guitarist but also as a songwriter. However, it is quite obvious from one listen to “Purpendicular” that this isn’t your dad’s Deep Purple; gone are the tensions that fuelled much of their classic output – the musical tension between Blackmore and keyboardist Jon Lord, where both classically trained musicians would try to compliment/outdo each other on their respective intruments, and the personality clashes between Blackmore and… well, basically everybody but mostly singer Ian Gillan – just weren’t there. Every musician was singing off the same songsheet, as it were, and it made for a lighter, more upbeat direction and an album of pretty solid hard rock songs.
Opening track ‘Vavoom: Ted the Mechanic’ pretty much sums up the album and the new creative relationship as jaunty guitars bounce along while Gillan tells a tale of a character he met in a pub years before. Still played in their set today, it’s not a classic in the vein of ‘Black Night’ or ‘Speed King’ but it is as close to an anthem as the post-Blackmore band have got. Another song still played today is ‘Sometimes I feel Like Screaming’, an acoustic-led ballad with Gillan digging deep for an emotional verse before the dynamics change and the huge chorus crashes in, the singer’s voice going up a few notches and the band locking into an irresistible AOR that threatens to explode at any given time but it never does, hitting a high and then sinking back into a slick guitar solo from Steve Morse.
Whilst those two songs are probably the highlights of the album there are a few other treats to behold. ‘Rosa’s Cantina’ is a quirky blues work out that feels like a studio jam where somebody pressed record and the vibe was so good that they left it as it was, and ‘Soon Forgotten’ is just as unusual with Ian Gillan‘s mocking vocal asking “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” as Jon Lord‘s ever-present keys rise above Morse‘s guitars for a creepy effect. ‘A Castle Full of Rascals’ is a ballsy rocker that echoes ‘Speed King’ but has a neat time change after each verse that leads into a sleazy funk-driven passage more akin to the David Coverdale-era of the band. ‘Cascades: I’m Not Your Lover’ also harks back to earlier glories with a keyboard solo that is lifted straight out of ‘Highway Star’.
The momentum doesn’t keep up for the whole album but that said, there isn’t anything on “Purpendicular” that you could call a complete duffer. On the other hand there isn’t anything that you could call groundbreaking or inventive enough to call it innovative, but by 1996 Deep Purple didn’t need to push the envelope like they did a quarter of a century before. They were a band completely aware of their history and their legacy but were now able to move forward without any of the egotistical issues their former guitarist seemed to thrive on, and “Purpendicular” is all the more refreshing for it. This expanded edition contains the Japanese bonus track ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’ and the single edit of ‘Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming’, neither song adding anything in particular and certainly not worth double-dipping for if you already own the album, but overall “Purpendicular” is a great hard rock album with some banging tunes on it and quite possibly still the best post-Ritchie Blackmore album the band have made.