DEEP PURPLE Machine Head (Rhino)
Is there a more definitive Deep Purple album than “Machine Head”? Pressured by circumstance, the band rose to the occasion admirably, turning in authoritative performances of brilliant songs, forging a work that surely merits a position in the holy trinity of British heavy metal records, alongside Led Zeppelin’s fourth and “Paranoid”. Having just about shaken off the last vestiges of the blues influence at the core of hard rock (well, we’ll let “Lazy” lie because it’s so darned good) they produced music that was both heavy and commercial. Even, or perhaps especially, today it still seems staggering that one album could contain “Highway Star”, “Smoke On The Water” and “Space Truckin’” without exploding from an excess of fabulousness. The musicians even seem to integrate as a group better than before, perhaps best exemplified by the way Ian Gillan’s trademark screams are incorporated into his vocal style rather than ladled on top like party tricks. “Smoke On The Water”’s self-referential, “Ballad Of John And Yoko”-style reportage still seems like a dazzlingly modern idea, but the album’s surprise highlight is “Lazy”: Jon Lord’s opening organ solo builds from meek church mouse into distorted, streetwise bruiser, a kind of English equivalent of Garth Hudson’s “Genetic Method” showpiece. If the song itself is a little generic in form – Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me” given a post-psychedelic stumble, perhaps – its execution is stunning.
Rhino’s 180 gram vinyl reissue might not have the kind of holographic sonics MFSL bestowed upon their pressing of Santana’s “Abraxas”, but it does a decent enough job with tapes that probably aren’t an audiophile’s delight themselves. If, for example, the rifftastic opening to “Smoke On The Water” appears somewhat underwhelming, proceedings certainly perk up as the rest of the band join in. I suppose it’s one of those situations where memory argues with reality, and that intro has probably made an indelible impression on quite a few of us. The packaging, however, is lovely: presumably modelled after the original US issue, the labels are era-appropriate olive Warners, the gatefold sleeve carries pictures of the casino ablaze and recording equipment hastily assembled in hotel corridors, and there’s also a lyric sheet. No doubt this “Machine Head” would be bettered by a mint condition first UK pressing, but given the time and trouble required to locate one this is a valid alternative for the, uh, lazy.
DEEP PURPLE Made In Japan (Friday Music)
Originally treated with disinterest by both band and record company, this document of Deep Purple’s 1972 Japanese tour rapidly acquired a mystique that makes it far more than the “Machine Head” with clapping (give or take) suggested by the tracklist. Neither Zep nor Sabbath had released a live album at this point, and double live albums generally were still something of a rarity: of those of real note, I can only think of “Live/Dead” and The Allman Brothers’ “At Fillmore East”, so the Purps stood alone in attempting to enshrine the weighty ferrous concert experience in plastic. As such, “Made In Japan” captured a moment, riding a perfect storm of material, performance and audience reaction into an almost empty marketplace.
“Machine Head” might have barely been six months old at the time “Made In Japan” was recorded, but Richie Blackmore was already tampering with the trademark “Smoke On The Water” riff, whether through accident or design. Moments such as Ian Gillan’s request to have “Everything louder than everything else” casually forge heavy metal lore, and his throat-stripping a capella screams at the end of “Strange Kind Of Woman” surely influenced Freddie Mercury’s performing style. “Lazy” foregrounds Jon Lord’s acrid electronic experimentation, and the whole kit caboodle comes together, for better or otherwise, on a monolithic 20-minute “Space Truckin’”. It moves from a subtle, slowburning intro evoking Miles Davis circa “In A Silent Way” to shards of white noise, via quotes from Holst and what sounds unnervingly like a belly dancing soundtrack. How much “Space Truckin’” is too much? This much, maybe, but what’s early-70s hard rock without excess?
Friday Music have produced some rather good vinyl reissues (their versions of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds Of Fire” and Muddy Waters’ “Hard Again” spring to mind) and some that are not so much (step right up, mediocre attempts on Yes’ “Close To The Edge” and Thin Lizzy’s “Live And Dangerous”).Their “Made In Japan” is, well, kinda in the middle. The best Friday Music reissues usually carry credits for mastering engineer Kevin Gray and pressing plant RTI; this has neither, and perhaps not coincidentally its sonics are not outstanding, being coarse and congested when the going gets loud, although it’s quite fluid and seductive during the album’s delicate moments. So, the world still awaits a definitive vinyl reissue of this definitive album.