Deep Purple’s twentieth studio album, Infinite, could well be their last if industry rumours (not exactly quashed by the band) are to be believed; And whilst most fans would have welcomed a final hurrah to have involved founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in some capacity, that’s not going to happen and so we, and the band, must make the best of things. And, within those parameters, then you’d have to say they’ve made a pretty good fist of things.
Opening track Time for Bedlam opens things in as close to savage style as the band can muster in 2017. Vocalist Ian Gillan, reduced to talk singing for most of the album, spits the political lyrics out bilefully as the band revisit the In Rock album behind him in pleasing fashion (especially keyboardist Don Airey, who attacks his Hammond with vim and vigour), but that’s your lot as far as hard rocking jollies are concerned.
For the rest of the album the band weave bluesy tapestries over which Gillan relates his tales of (largely) drunken misadventure and woe, occasionally breaking up the barroom ambience with some superb solos from guitarist Steve Morse and that man Airey, with Ian Paice (drums) and bassist Roger Glover content to keep the engine room ticking over unobtrusively. This isn’t at all as bad as it might sound, as Gillan is, it has to be said, a master storyteller. He’s been wheeling this schtick out for a fair while now – No Laughing in Heaven from his 1981 solo album Future Shock being an early case in point – and his lyrics are always worth listening to as they mix self-deprecating humour and at times biting social comment.
The Surprising has a whiff of sixties baroque pop about it, Airey’s Eastern-tinged keyboards flitting playfully over the spooky sound effects and strings before Morse delivers a tasteful wash of embellishment of his own. This is modern Purple at it’s best – progressive, not afraid to stretch out and explore instrumental themes and motifs, sounding, in fact, not too far away from one of Morse’s former bands, Kansas, and it’s the best track on the album. A tour de force in fact.
After that it’s more storytelling -with bands (Johnny’s Band), working girls (On Top of the World) and the world in general (Birds of Prey) all coming under Gillan’s baleful glare, the latter also standing out as being something rather impressive.
In fact, the marvellous solo played by Morse on that track’s fadeout would have been a great way to end the album, and possibly the band’s recorded career; instead the band chose a loose, earthy take on The Doors/Status Quo chestnut Roadhouse Blues, a decision as inexplicable as it is surprising. Still this is Deep Purple we’re talking about, and if they haven’t earned the right to bring the curtain down in just the way they please then who has?
Deep Purple’s new album, Infinite will be released on 7th April by earMUSIC.