For an album that begins with a funky riff, this is surprisingly free of the iconic guitar riffs that tend to define Deep Purple in the eyes of many. It isn't free of them, of course, and Steve Morse, who I'm surprised to realise has been Purple's guitarist for twenty-six years, does the expected fine job but this seems to be driven as much by Don Airey's keyboards.
In particular, there are a couple of points where this brought the Perfect Strangers album to mind and its couple of instantly recognisable classics, but instead of the guitar defining No Need to Shout and Remission Possible, it's those keyboards with vehement held chords, even if the former promptly kicks in with cool guitarwork as well. It's that more songs seem to kick off with keyboards than guitars, with Nothing at All perhaps the epitome, and a reluctance on the part of the keyboards to stay in the background.
But, quite frankly, this isn't a bad thing and it makes me want to go back to see how the previous four studio albums from Purple Mark VIII sound with that in mind. It gives this longest running incarnation of the band a real identity to distinguish it from Mark II and Mark IV. It's a proggier Purple but one in which melody is still key and the tracks are kept short, Nothing at All feeling the most indulgent and only two songs exceeding five minutes, so ADHD radio-friendly blips compared to the excesses of the seventies.
To be fair, the longest song isn't really The Long Way Round at five and a half, it's the suite that surrounds Man Alive, which really stands out from everything else as the most imaginative and unusual song here. It feels like the title track it kind of is, given that "Whoosh!" is featured within its lyrics. This interesting suite begins with the brief proggy instrumental jam of Remission Possible, patiently explores the end of the human race in Man Alive proper, an unusual song on its own, and then wraps up with a further instrumental, And the Address, which is a redux of the jazzy opening piece of Shades of Deep Purple, the band's debut, which was released over half a century ago now.
That's an interesting choice, in many ways. This album is a solid release, a strong set of nine songs before this point. Then we get the standout track, the title track, the most unusual track on the album, introduced by a brief instrumental. It explores the demise of civilisation and then washes up one man on a beach. Whoosh! And the next thing we hear is the first Deep Purple song anyone ever heard, as if Purple is going to replace humanity. I'm sure some will also highlight that after that is only a bonus track, Dancing in My Sleep, with some programming work from Saam Hashemi. A new direction? No, I'm not going to dig that deep.
Above everything else, this is an enjoyable album. There are no duff songs and most are memorable enough to stand out after we move on to other albums by other bands. Some, like Throw My Bones and Step by Step really stand out, even amongst the enviable back catalogue of a band like Purple. I especially enjoyed the diversity of these songs with the delightful groove of Step by Step and its backing vocals right out of gospel rolling right into the good old fashioned rock 'n' roll honky tonk of What the What. Almost all these songs have something to distinguish them from each other and that's rare in this modern era.
The band sound like they're having fun too, albeit with a patient mindset that's obvious from the outset with Throw My Bones. Gillan sounds good, even if he's a long way from the manic genius of Child in Time or No Laughing in Heaven. It feels like like a safe album for him, even if he's recognisable like always. His most unusual moment, on Man Alive, comes through providing narration rather than any wild use of his substantial vocal talents. Steve Morse is as reliable as we might expect too, surprising mostly by how rarely he launches into a guitar solo. Roger Glover and Ian Paice are reliability personified too, Glover's bass audible and distinguishable throughout. Paice is the only musician to play on every Purple album and we aren't surprised.
But this is Don Airey's album for me. He introduces songs like Nothing at All and The Power of the Moon and its his keyboards that primarily make the former lively and the latter bouncy. He has great solos on Drop the Weapon and Remission Possible. He defines No Need to Shout with a single note. I'm happy enough with Bob Ezrin's mix that I can track every musician here on a fresh runthrough but it's always Airey that returns to focus for me.