Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Deep Purple's 'Infinite' - Album Review

While some older bands in the rock and metal worlds and content to become nostalgia acts and tour on the oldies circuit playing the same old setlist of 30-plus year old hits year after year, other seasoned bands still have the drive to write and record new material. Deep Purple fall into the latter category and, despite releasing their first studio album in 1968, the hard rock pioneers still clearly have plenty left to say. There are fewer bands that are more important to the development of the hard rock and heavy metal genres that we know and love today, and while drummer Ian Paice is the only member left in the band who played on the debut album Shades of Deep Purple the current line-up is the longest-lasting in the band's history having been around now since 2002. Despite Paice being the only founding member of the band left now both singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, who joined in 1969, were part of the famed 'Mk. II' line-up of Deep Purple that released three legendary studio albums (plus one that time seems to have forgotten) and the game-changing live release Made in Japan between 1970 and 1973. While Deep Purple have famously had many different line-ups over the years, it is the 'Mk. II' line-up that most people think of when they think of Deep Purple. Most of the band's most well-known songs are products of that era, and are some of the most important hard rock and heavy metal songs of all time. We are now on 'Mk. VIII' of Deep Purple and, as previously stated, this particular incarnation has been around since 2002. Gillan, Glover, and Paice are joined by guitarist Steve Morse (who has now been in Deep Purple for well over twenty years) and keyboardist Don Airey who have created a tight rock outfit that can more than do justice to the band's classic tracks, while still staying fresh by writing new material. Earlier this month the band released their twentieth studio album Infinite. A new Deep Purple album is always an event in the rock community, but I feel Infinite was a bigger deal that usual as it was the first album the band had released since 2013's Now What?! (which I reviewed here). Now What?! was the band's first album in eight years, and I do not think that many people expected it to be quite as good as it was! The band's previous couple of albums had not been that well received, and I think many had given up on hearing another great Deep Purple album. Now What?! was, and still is, a fantastic modern Deep Purple album however and is probably their best for quite some time. As a result, Infinite has received quite a bit more initial publicity and exposure than it probably would have done if it was not for the success of Now What?!. While Now What?! was quite an immediate rock album with lots of the classic Deep Purple tropes wheeled out, Infinite definitely has a different vibe. It is certainly a more laid back effort, incorporating more of the progressive influences that were introduced somewhat on Now What?! which means that it is more of a grower than many might have expected. Initial reviews were somewhat mixed, but this is an album that needs to be heard a few times to really appreciate. There are certainly a few songs that have classic the Deep Purple sound, but there are some new ideas here too and that is what makes Infinite and enjoyable and interesting listen.

After an atypical droning keyboard intro with a ominous effects-heavy spoken word section, Time for Bedlam kicks the album off with a strong mid-paced chug led by Glover's bassline and Airey's pulsing Hammond organ chords. Unlike the riff-driven nature of many of the band's songs, this takes on a different feel, with Morse's tortured guitar leads soaring behind Gillan's vocals in the verses and plenty of neo-classical instrumental breaks which sees Morse and Airey playing in unison. The chorus sections are more like what you would expect from Deep Purple, with hefty keyboard stabs and a catchy vocal refrain from Gillan. Gillan puts in a strong performance throughout this album, and this song is no different. While he struggles to hit the notes he did at his peak, he has found a way to sing convincingly and comfortably with his current range and this is probably his best recorded vocal performance for a while. The song's lazy, but infectious, groove is the great way to get this album underway and that mood carries on through many of the track here. Hip Boots has more of the traditional Deep Purple hard rock sound, but Paice's trademark drumming helps to ensure that groove continues on here. Airey plays his heart out on this song, with his Hammond continually dominating the sound as he doubles up with Morse's guitar but manages to out-muscle him almost constantly. There is something about the sound of the Hammond organ that just epitomises 1970s hard rock, and Deep Purple's continual heavy use of the instrument is something that helps link all the various incarnations of the band together. The sultry strut of this song is so pleasing, and I can see this one becoming a favourite of many fans over the next few months. All I Got is You is a much more chilled out affair, driven by a melodic bassline and Paice's instantly recognisable jazz-influenced drumming. Morse's guitar mostly adds colour, but occasionally breaks out into one of those classic Deep Purple riffs with Airey's backing . The opening couple of numbers here are instantly memorable, but this is one of those songs that needs a little more attention to really open up. There is a creaking keyboard solo from Airey part-way through that is pretty lengthy and really allows him to show off his skills. This transitions into probably the first bona fide guitar solo on the album. It seems strange to have waited to long for one, but this is not one of those explosive virtuosic albums, but instead one that is far more than the sum of it's parts. Normality is restored on One Night in Vegas with a shuffling drum beat, electric piano melodies, and a playful vocal melody from Gillan. Morse's guitar riffs throughout definitely have that classic Deep Purple hallmark as they grind away, and he gets further opportunity to show off with a short, but extremely tasteful, guitar solo that has a smooth tone and a great economy of notes. Get Me Outta Here opens with Paice's booming drums before a Hammond-drenched opening riff kicks with typical Deep Purple power. The song is quite funky here however, with prominent and technical bass playing from Glover and a slightly off-kilter drum beat throughout that emphasise the off beat in the way that reggae music does. This works well for the band however, and provides a good backing for a surprisingly tough vocal performance and a lengthy Hammond solo.

The album's second half opens with the strange The Surprising, a song which sounds quite different from anything Deep Purple have done previously. A keyboard drone heralds it's arrival, before a clean guitar pattern and Gillan's mournful vocals come in to dominate the opening section. Harder rock sections fit well with the more downbeat overall feel of the song, and Airey once again proves his worth with some excellent Eastern-influenced keyboard melodies that work in a great call and response fashion with a Paice drum roll. This song definitely emphasises the progressive side of the band's songwriting and moves through quite a few different sections and relies heavily on the instrumental prowess of the members. Morse has a fairly lengthy solo mid-way through the track, before an almost-classical influenced piano section takes over to change the song's mood totally. Johnny's Band returns to the simpler, hard rock feel of the opening few numbers. A short piano intro soon gives way to a bluesy guitar riff and some of Gillan's excellent storytelling lyrics which are sung with conviction and passion. This is probably the song on the album that is closest to the band's classic sound, and that is probably why it is my favourite song here. The chorus is extremely catchy, and the Hammond-driven hard rock sound that the band helped to pioneer in the early 1970s shines here. A jaunty guitar solo from Morse is the icing on the cake, before another run through of that laid back, but extremely catchy chorus really makes the song a keeper. Another great song comes next in the form of On Top of the World which features another great mid-paced riff with bluesy overtones that just struts along at that jazzy pace the album generally sticks to. Morse's plentiful bursts of lead guitar really help the song to come alive with a cheeky, lustful vibe that fits in with Gillan's lyrics perfectly. The song takes a sharp turn towards the end and descends into a strange spoken word section that takes on an-almost mythological feel. It is ridiculous, but it does actually work quite well without ever becoming embarrassing. A lesser band would not have been able to pull this off, but Gillan's voice manages to take on a hypnotic quality, before the band bursts back in with a short, but explosive, outro focused around Morse's soaring guitar leads. The album's penultimate number Birds of Prey is probably the album's least-interesting number. I cannot quite put my finger on why this is, but for whatever reason it just fails to really stick in my brain at all. The rest of the songs here all have something that sticks out, be it a catchy riff, a strong chorus, or just a great overall vibe; but this song never really seems to get going. While Deep Purple performed quite a few covers in their early days, they have not recorded a new one for an album for quite some time. Their version of The Doors' Roadhouse Blues, which closes this album, is pretty good however and fits in well with the rest of the songs here. I must say I am not that familiar with The Doors, but I am familiar with Status Quo's version of the song, and Deep Purple's take on it is fairly similar, but obviously with more keyboard work! It is a classic twelve bar blues tune, and it gives all the members of the band chance to shine once more, particularly Morse who plays an excellent solo part-way through. Overall, Infinite is a great modern Dee Purple album and a good companion piece to Now What?!. I think Now What?! was a better album overall, but repeated listens here are extremely rewarding and it shows that Deep Purple are still capable of writing quality rock songs.

The album was released on 7th April 2017 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for All I Got is You.

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