“The banjo player took a hike” — Ian Gillan
When Blackmore quit Purple for the second time, I had written the band off. I wasn’t too keen on the previous studio record The Battle Rages On, and what is Purple without the man in black? I didn’t want to hear a hack Deep Purple, struggling on to pay the bills with some sub-Blackmore player. The first time he left, it shattered the band and they were unable to continue past one record with Tommy Bolin. Then I started reading reviews of live shows with Steve Morse on guitar. Steve Morse? What the hell was that going to sound like? Morse and Ritchie Blackmore — it is hard to imagine two electric guitar players who sound less alike. (Joe Satriani was also briefly in the band to help them finish up touring commitments. Bootlegs of shows with Satriani are well worth checking out.)
When Purple finally released their new studio album Purpendicular, I had to buy it on import. It didn’t even have a North American release. When it was released officially in the US, an extra bonus track was added, so I tracked that down and bought it too. That is how much I really love this record. It had a huge impact on me musically in the mid to late 90’s, and when I saw Purple on this tour, they were smoking!
Kicking off with some of that patented Morse shredding, the oddly titled “Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic” kicks you in the teeth and won’t let go. This was, according to Gillan, done on purpose. It was a statement: “Here is our new guitar player, bitches.” Ian’s lyrics, ranging from bizarre to absurd and back again, are at their absolute peak on this album. (Check out “Somebody Stole My Guitar”.) Clearly, when the man had been freed of Blackmore’s shackles, he had been creatively revitalized. That probably followed in turn for each of the members.
The second track is the melancholy, bass-driven “Loosen My Strings”, a song which wouldn’t sound out of place on Slaves and Masters. From there, the album goes from strength to strength: The powerful progressive epic “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” (probably the best track on the album) to the bright and positive “A Touch Away”. Every song is backed by Morse’s unmistakable picking, miles away from Blackmore’s style of riffing, or medieval tendencies. That is not an attack against Blackmore, but sometimes a quality change can be refreshing. Morse utilizes pinch harmonics frequently on this album, which is a new sound for Deep Purple. He also utilizes long sustained notes with wide vibrato, a classic Steve Morse sound.
There are very few weak songs on Purpendicular. The plodding “Soon Forgotten” can be skipped. Not all the songs are immediate. Some of them are complex arrangements designed to take a little effort to penetrate. This album must be played a couple times for it to sink in. But when it does, stand back and prepare to be blown away. I wouldn’t want to miss “The Aviator”, a rare acoustic Purple tune. Morse lends it a celtic feel. For folks who prefer the 70’s jamming Deep Purple, check into “Rosa’s Cantina” and give a shout-out to “Hey Cisco”. And if you like it a little more straightforward and rocking, you may prefer catchy rockers like “Somebody Stole My Guitar” and “I’m Not Your Lover Now”.
I mentioned that I re-bought this album for a US bonus track. “Don’t Hold Your Breath” is a bright upbeat rock song, and worth tracking down. It’s not necessarily an album highlight, but why do without? Jon Lord’s organ sounds on this one are particularly enticing.
There was also one outtake from this album, a silly little jam/band intro called “Dick Pimple”. This was put out on a fanclub-only release, and later reissued on Ian Gillan & Tony Iommi’s compilation CD WhoCares. It’s a 10 minute track, giving the fans a rare chance to hear Purple with Morse jam just for shits & giggles. Because it’s Deep Purple, it is a quality jam, and completely unlike anything on Purpendicular.
Purpendicular was a vital record for Deep Purple. If they had blown it, that would have been it. They couldn’t have continued with any credibility if it didn’t kill. Fortunately it did. I am pleased to report that despite the tragic death of Jon Lord, Deep Purple has managed four more great records since, all with Steve Morse on guitar.