Monday, 17 July 2017

Fireball - Deep Purple

Provenance: Deep Purple feel like a rite of passage for anyone who professes to be a fan of heavy rock. There are certain bands - Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple off the top of my head - which one is expected to be able to speak about somewhat intelligently, at the least. Being utterly conformist in almost every regard, I have unquestioningly accepted this orthodoxy and have subsequently amassed a small collection of Deep Purple albums.

The problem is, I don't really like Deep Purple.

Their music, I admit, can be sensational. In discussions I've always advanced Ian Paice as one of rock's great drummers, and I love the way Ritchie Blackmore borrowed as much from the classical music palette (most obviously the harmonic minor scale) in his soloing as he did from more traditional blues-rock sources. That said, I don't think the individual elements of Deep Purple's sound always meshed together successfully.

However, away from the strictly musical side, in a business where arrested development is positively encouraged, Deep Purple have always seemed uniquely petty. Stupid squabbles, questionable decisions and unpalatable personalities litter their history. And although it shouldn't, I've allowed this side of Deep Purple to colour my thoughts on the music, making their pomposity and pretentiousness even more risible than it already is.

But here at Swinetunes we're (NB: I, there's only one person typing this dreck) all about giving bands a fair shake. Let's see if Fireball stands or falls on its own merits.

Review: The good news: Fireball kicks out the jams with a stone cold classic in its title track. A strange, whooshing intro (apparently an air conditioning unit), some badass drumming and then we're galloping away. It feels taut, muscular and focused - qualities that rarely, alas, resurface on the rest of the album.

If 'Fireball' exemplifies everything that works, track two, 'No No No', is paradigmatic as to what I find dissatisfying about the album. The latter is ponderous, meandering and downright boring - aiming for a kind of heavy funk-rock sound, it has about as much soul as me dancing to a Trojan box-set after sinking a few Tyskies. Everything all sounds a little phoned in - not just the lyrics, which have been uniformly awful throughout Purple's lifespan - especially the late Jon Lord's Hammond organ noodling. It goes nowhere and takes a long time getting there.

Okay, I like 'Demon's Eye'. It has a dark pulse to it and a swaggering guitar riff that repeats throughout. I'd probably like it even more if Uriah Heep did it. (Deep Purple are, of course, a poor man's Uriah Heep.) So maybe I'm being a bit too harsh, yeah? You're allowed one or two clunkers on an album. The problem is that after 'Demon's Eye' wraps, things get worse. Much, much worse.

I know I gave Europe a bit of a shoeing when I reviewed them but I would take anything off that album - even 'Cherokee' - over the abortive mess that is 'Anyone's Daughter'. It almost feels like a bespoke attempt to provide me with reasons to absolutely fucking hate everybody involved in creating it. Nothing says 'mid 70s rock excess' than a bunch of guys indulging themselves with the most half-arsed attempt at country music "hilarity" than 'Anyone's Daughter'. The intro is literally the band playing like shit. Once it gets into gear, little improves - horribly unfunny lyrics, hammily delivered (even by his standards) by Ian Gillan, terrible sub-Chet Atkins guitar from Blackmore and embarrassingly plinky-plunky cod-barrelhouse ivory-tickling from Lord. A sense of 'this'll do' pervades - it's flabby, half-baked and seemingly tossed-off as an afterthought.

From this point onwards, this is, for me, the overriding sensation I take away from Fireball. Once upon a time rock music was young, vital, dangerous and exciting. I'm not atavistic with rock music; I accept and embrace the flavours it took on as it grew up and grew outwards, but at some point one of its offshoots morphed into this lumpen, portentous, grim-faced, self-important masturbation. It's not as if the musicianship is even particularly breathtaking. Is anyone really impressed with that interminable volume-swell guitar solo in 'Fools'? It neither serves to demonstrate Blackmore's virtuosity nor does it create a mood. It's just an irritant.

So that's Fireball - two good songs and a heaping spoonful of pompous crap. Honestly, go and listen to Europe instead; at least those boys sound like they were having a modicum of fun.

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