They said in 1975 when Tommy Bolin replaced Ritchie Blackmore and again in 1994 when Steve Morse was announced: “there is no Deep Purple without Blackmore”.
I am a huge Blackmore fan; I have every legitimate release (and a lot of illegitimate ones) covering his 60s sessions through to Blackmore’s Night. I too was a doubter, until I heard the sheer quality and inventiveness that is embodied on Purpendicular. Here was a band that was still recognisably Purple, but with a new, keen edge. I was already aware of Morse through the theme to the Friday Rock Show – the Dixie Dregs’ ‘Take It Off The Top’.
Those first notes on ‘Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic’ definitely convinced me. The song is not about Ted, nor was he a mechanic: it is a heavy rock classic with superb punctuation and solos from Morse with Gillan, Lord, Paice and Glover admirably showcasing the ‘new boy’. The inclusion of the line “banjo player took a hike” may or may not have been a reference to Blackmore! ‘Loosen My Strings’ is an outstanding composition with many elements… it shows how a sweeping and complex piece of rock should be written, topped off with guitar solos of real beauty. ‘Soon Forgotten’ is a bit of an enigma: heavy Hammond, discordant riff and mysterious lyrics make for a song that needed a few listens to really see the point… but worth the effort, especially for Lord’s first solo. ‘Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming’ is a seven and a half minute epic that personifies Purple: the scope of this track with quiet sections and heavy choruses and musicianship of the highest order is pure genius. ‘Cascades: I’m Not Your Lover’ is perhaps the weakest track as it comes across as more commercial: still very good, just not as good as the rest.
‘The Aviator’ surprises, as the brilliant acoustic intro unfolds into a song that captivates to the end… even the Tull inflections in the vocals work and the empathy throughout makes this magical. ‘Rosa’s Cantina’ is an irresistible shuffle… Lord plays the Hammond flat handed (like on Hush) and delivers a perfect solo. It also brings the rare Gillan on gob-iron back to the fold. ‘A Castle Full Of Rascals’ is Gillan’s (apt) way of describing the Houses of Parliament and is another ‘Purple but different’ classic with its atmospheric intro and heavy riffing over those stinging lyrics… and the solos are mesmerising. ‘A Touch Away’ has an acoustic intro to a fascinating love song that you can’t help fall in love with too. ‘Hey Cisco’ is a sad but true story of an old actor who opens supermarkets as his TV character until the corporations stop him. Told over an amazingly structured guitar/Hammond duet, it is another stroke of genius by the entire band. ‘Somebody Stole My Guitar’ is Hammond/guitar driven riff-rock and is typically surreal Gillan. ‘The Purpendicular Waltz’ wraps up the standard release with a truly weighty riff and more gob-iron… evidence of pure Purple with a new twist as it unfolds with harmony guitar/vocals and playing that astounds. A bonus track, ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’ was only available on the Japanese release. I paid silly money for a copy and got the benefit of this semi-commercial but worthy addition. More prowess is on display from the whole band and even a catchy chorus to sing along to… yes, it was worth the money.
So, if you’re still a Blackmore gainsayer I strongly recommend you revisit this heavy rock masterwork. It is Purple but with added variety and shows a move back to the improvisational feel of yore. If you haven’t heard it, my advice is simple… buy it now!