REVIEW: Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers (1984)

It’s Purple Week at mikeladano.com!  It’s all Deep Purple and Deep Purple alumni, all week.  This is Part 3…and this time we’re going Epic Review Time.  

Part 1:  Shades of Deep Purple
Part 2:  The Book of Taliesyn

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DEEP PURPLE – Perfect Strangers (1984 Polygram)

Deep Purple were the proverbial candle that was burned at both ends.  Their first four studio albums (plus a friggin’ concerto!) were cranked out in a mere two years.  Management and record labels pushed the band to stay on the road, only taking precious breaks to write and record new music.  Sometimes the pressure worked (Machine Head) and sometimes it didn’t (Who Do We Think We Are).  Ian Gillan’s resignation signaled the end of the celebrated Deep Purple Mk II lineup.  Though the band successfully carried on with David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes, even those lineups imploded and by 1976, Deep Purple officially ceased to exist.

The absence of Purple created a void that was filled by greatest hits records, live albums, and well-known side projects such as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Gillan, and Whitesnake.  Still, there was such a demand for Deep Purple itself that original singer Rod Evans put together his own bogus “Deep Purple” and played several shows in 1980!  In his band were a couple guys from Iron Butterfly, but no other former Purple alumni.  Just Rod.  The guy who didn’t sing “Highway Star”, “Smoke on the Water”, or “Lazy”.  Needless to say, Rod Evans’ bogus “Deep Purple” did not last as soon as word got out.  The lawyers for the other former Deep Purple members ensured that by running ads in the local papers. “The following members will not be appearing with the band called Deep Purple at [such and such a date and venue] : Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, Glenn Hughes, David Coverdale.”  A show in Montreal was particularly horrid, and reportedly the band’s stage act involved one of the members bringing out a chain saw to cut stuff up. They were hit with lawsuits galore and quickly packed it in, but not before recording two new songs for a projected new “Deep Purple” studio album. The two songs, “Blood Blister” and “Brum Doogie”, are thankfully lost.  A video of “Smoke on the Water” live in Mexico remains, to remind us why this was not a good idea.  [For more on the bogus “Deep Purple”, click here.]

Clearly, lots of profits were to made if the real Deep Purple were ever to reunite.  They tried earlier on, but were hung up when Ian Gillan joined Black Sabbath.  When Ian’s Sabbath commitments were finished a year later, it finally happened.  Jon Lord had freed himself of Whitesnake, and Ritchie, Roger Glover and Ian Paice were all ready willing and able.  The reunion was on, for real this time.

The band quickly agreed on creating new music (otherwise, what’s the point of it?), and decided that there had to be a level of quality that served the name Deep Purple.  They retreated to the gorgeous Stowe, Vermont and found themselves to be in great spirits and full of ideas.  Another wise decision was the use of bassist Glover to produce.  After his first stint in Purple, he became quite successful as a producer.  He recorded some of the best Nazareth albums, a Judas Priest record (Sin After Sin) , Rainbow, David Coverdale, and countless more.  It only made sense to keep production of the new album within the band when you have a guy like Roger in the band!

The album that resulted, Perfect Strangers, was more modern but unmistakably Deep Purple.  Taking advantage of modern recording studios resulted in an album with rich instrumental tones.  As great as classic Deep Purple albums were sonically, Perfect Strangers has a new richness and clarity.  Jon’s organ is deep and gorgeous, but Ian Paice’s drum sound is monstrous.

The opening track “Knocking at Your Back Door” (hah hah hah) commences with ominous keys from Jon, sounding at first like the pipes of doom.  Then Roger begins a quick pulse, and Paice crashes that cymbal, and my God, Deep Purple is back!  Ritchie and Ian join them for the first Deep Purple epic of the album — and on the first track, no less!  “Knocking at Your Back Door” may be a joke lyrically, but it’s dead serious musically.  It’s Deep Purple, but streamlined.  Extraneous things have been discarded; others are sleeker.  The only disappointment about the song is actually the guitar solo, which just slightly does not fit.  Glover once said about this album that Ritchie struggles with solos in the studio more so than live.  Something about when the red light goes on, he gets cold feet.  There’s some incredible playing in this guitar solo, but parts of it feel out of place and overdone.

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That one minor complaint is probably the only quibble you’ll read here about Perfect Strangers.  The album continues to impress as it plays.  “Under the Gun” is a song that would sound so great live today; shame that it hasn’t been played live in 30 years.  I can’t imagine why.  “Under the Gun” demonstrates the streamlined groove that Purple were going for in the 80’s.  Listen to Paicey’s drums.  They are relentless and powerful, but he’s also playing it simpler than he used to.  This is intentional.  When I say “streamlined”, that doesn’t mean there aren’t long solos, because Ritchie’s here is over a minute long (in a 4:34 song)!

“Nobody’s Home” gives Jon Lord a change to stretch out a bit on the synths, but it’s just a feint.  This track re-writes “Black Night” for 1984, and ties it all up with a little bow in under four minutes.  “Your lights are burnin’ bright, but nobody’s home!” sings Ian, for once not speaking of Blackmore!  Jon takes the spotlight with a nice quick solo on the Hammond, a sound not often heard in ’84.

Side one was closed by the nasty little “Mean Streak”.  It has one of those quirky Gillan lyrics that I like so much. “She came home last night, rockin’ rollin’ drunk. She talk no sense but she sound good so she thunk.”  It’s a cool rock track with a chugging riff; always a deadly combination when wielded by Deep Purple.  It boasts one of Ritchie’s coolest solos on the album.

I will never forget seeing this video on MuchMusic, introduced by Bruce Dickinson.  Of Deep Purple he said, “Well, they’re very good. But not as good at football as they appear. No. They’re not.” The VJ (Erica Ehm) asked, “Why not?”  Dickinson simply responded, “Because they’re not! What a silly question.”

Of all the songs on Perfect Strangers, only one has been consistently played live every tour:  the title track.  This epic, like its  side one counterpart “Knocking at Your Back Door”, opens with Jon’s ominous keys.  This time it’s the old trusty Hammond, and then the band crash in with the riff to kill all riffs.  I think in some respects, this song has become Deep Purple’s “Kashmir”, especially when played in concert.  It has evolved to become more exotic since it was first recorded, though it does contain those flavors here.  The lyrics are ambiguously beautiful.  Back in the Record Store days, I talked to a guy once who thought the lyrics were about God.  I’ll leave it up to you.  Blackmore called it his favourite Deep Purple song.  It’s a tough call, but Top Five for sure.  I cannot survive without this song in my life, period.

Then WHAM! “A Gypsy’s Kiss,” right in the kisser.  If any doubters had thoughts that Purple had lost anything in the past decade, this song proved them dead wrong.  Blazing pace, blazing Paice, the whole place is ablaze!  Again, Ian’s lyrics are awesome, and I love the self-referencing.  “Space truckers free and high, Teamsters get ya by and by.”  I also really like this verse, because, hey. John Wayne, man.

John Wayne, the Alamo,
Crazy Horse, Geronimo,
I’ll smoke a piece with you.
Mind, Body, Heart and Soul,
We got Rock and Roll,
And there’s nothing they can do.

A good Deep Purple album rarely has a slow blues buried deep within.  “Wasted Sunsets” is the album’s heavy blues track, like “When a Blind Man Cries” was to Machine Head (though it was relegated to a mere B-side).  Jon’s organ sets the mood stunningly, and Ritchie absolutely nails it.  I get the feeling that Ian is baring his soul in the lyrics, although he doesn’t seem too regretful of all those one night stands.

For self referencing, no lyric on the album beats out “Hungry Daze”:

The mountain’s getting cold and lonely,
The trees are bare,
We all came out to Montreux,
But that’s another song, you’ve heard it all before!

Regrets?  Hell no.  “Different girls, laughing girls, forever girls and it was loud!”  Gillan has a talent for making cheeky lyrics like this work with serious music.  “Hungry Daze” has that modern Purple groove with the same kind of chugging exotic riff that powers “Perfect Strangers” — but faster!  There’s even backwards tapes (Jon’s organ), a sound unheard on a Deep Purple album since 1969, but back in style in 1984.

Lucky cassette and compact disc buyers got a bonus track: “Not Responsible”.  When I first got the album (on cassette) I wondered, “Why is this song a bonus track? It’s one of the best songs!”  Good question!  (Perhaps because it’s the only song on which Gillan dropped an f-bomb.)  I think it closes the album even better than “Hungry Daze” does.  Lyrically it’s more drinking and debauchery.  “So I’ll raise a glass to you, the foot is on the other shoe.”  I consider “Not Responsible” to be of equal value to any of the better tracks on the album proper, so if you only own this on LP, consider getting this song (legally) to complete the picture.

PERFECT STRANGERS 12 INCHWant more?  There’s one more, but you’ll have to do a little research to get it in full.  “Son of Aleric” is a killer slow groove 10 minute instrumental, with all the flavor of the album.  It was released on the B-side of “Perfect Strangers”.  If you bought the 7″ single, you got the 5:28 edit version.  If you bought the 12″ single, you got the full Monty at 10:03.  The full version was rarely issued on CD.  I have it on a compilation CD with the cumbersome title of Knocking at Your Back Door: The Best of Deep Purple in the 80’s.  But “Son of Aleric” is only on the UK version!  (Other territories just got a live version of “Child in Time” from the live album Nobody’s Perfect.  Bummer.)  This is the kind of open Deep Purple jam that you just want to melt into.  It’s magic.

If you like Deep Purple, but do not own Perfect Strangers, then I advise that you remedy that situation at your earliest convenience.  I am no stranger to this album; I have played it hundreds of times, often more than once in the same day.  I have never grown tired of it.  For that reason, and many more, Perfect Strangers earns the coveted:

5/5 stars

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29 comments

  1. Some folks say day time is a fine time but the EPIC REVIEW TIME is the RIGHT TIME.

    5/5 from me too. I’ve got a CD edition with Not Responsible and Son of Aleric as bonus tracks. Great stuff. Love the concert recordings from this era too. They seemed so happy to be back together… didn’t last long!

    Glad you focused on some of big Ian’s lyrics on this, he totally excelled himself on this album. He’s quite the cunning linguist.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ll tell you something, this place looks like a damn zoo. Let me see all the animals!

      Very good that you have Son of Aleric. I asusme the full 10 minute version too? I think it’s a lovely add-on.

      Ian’s lyrics have gotten better over the years, I think. Purpendicular for example is a lyrical highpoint too.

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        1. Good to know we agree on such critical world issues, Scott! ;) But that’s a good one to have, fer sure. And thanks for confirming it was the full length version included. That’s important!

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  2. Fantastic. I have this album on cassette. Actually, I think I have two copies of it on tape. Why? Who knows. But I’ve played it, and I quite liked it! I appreciate all of the perspective and info. Right on, man.

    Also, I dunno, that probably wasn’t the first time somebody waved a chainsaw around on stage at a show in Montreal. I lived there 1999-2000 and saw some pretty weird stuff on stage (including a girl screaming into a mic while drilling into a piece of sheet metal. Yeah, anything goes!) and it sure felt like a long-established habit in that town.

    C’mon folks, let’s use the power of community and the internets and get us some copies of Blood Blister and Brum Doogie. I’ll bet they’re AWESOME!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I too bought this album on cassette, first. A little clear shell tape that sounded awful and muffled Ian’s crisp cymbal sound. I so love the CD!

      Maybe Deep Purple should write a song that goes, “We all came out to Montreal, on the St. Lawrence shoreline…”

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  3. Can you imagine if Dave Evans had toured as AC/DC with himself and a bunch of studio musicians in 1980?
    Thanks(I think), for posting the link and the youtube clip of the fake Deep Purple. That version of Smoke on the Water was f*cking awful. it reminds me of the 8 track player I have yet to refurbish. It sounds warbly(if that is a word), muffled and slow. However, it does not screw up the lyrics numerous times like Rod Evans did.
    I did enjoy reading the quotes from people that went to the concert, or were in some of the bands that opened the show for them. One guys date asked him after the concert “The show was pretty good, but who the hell were those guys“. Also, a guy from the opening act said Deep Purple asked the opening act if they could borrow some of their gear, and his band refused. During the show the crowd was yelling for the opening act to come back on, and were throwing seats at fake Deep Purple.
    The only thing I can say is at least the crowd didn`t get hosed too bad on the ticket prices. usually $6-8. Around $20-25 today.

    As for Perfect Strangers, some memories from came flooding back. I know the exact date I heard this album. January 1, 1985. This is probably the only non-Christmas present album I can define the exact date I first heard it. My girlfriend and I had broke up the night before, New years eve and I had way too much to drink. On New years day, I had a huge hangover and a pounding headache. I got a ride home with a friend of a friend, and as soon as I squeezed sideways into the tiny back seat area of his little pickup, he popped this cassette in. Normally I would say turn it down when I am in this sad state, but I didn`t care. This was awesome. it was my first real introduction to Deep Purple. WOW. It was as if I got an Alka Seltzer, Tang and a 50. `Cause it was all over. No more hangover.
    5 out of 5 for me for sure. Maybe even 6.
    I very well might put this in my top 100 albums of all time.
    I just wish Ritchie would get his head out of his ass with all of the medieval bullshit. Can you imagine a triple billing with the former members of Whitesnake, Rainbow and Deep Purple. Each night a different band would start the show, perform second, then last. And the encore would feature the entire group on stage. Wow. I would pay to see that show.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brian, thanks for pointing out the incorrect lyrics! “The Rolling Stones truck?” Nope, that ain’t right Rod. You can’t change a line like “The Rolling truck Stones”…it’s too important.

      I gotta say though, I hear a lot of people saying that about Ritchie, but I don’t agree. I think if Ritchie is happy, then so be it. I have a few of the medieval albums and they’re nice. I only need a couple. Here’s a guy who hasn’t been able to keep one band together for longer than a couple albums, and yet now he’s been with Candace Night for like 20 years now. It’s remarkable! More power to him, I sez.

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  4. Great take on such a cool classic album. I have always liked this album even though it was criticized at the time for not having songs that sounded like “Smoke On the Water.” My reaction was, “They’ve moved on you idiots!” Once more, they got better. I saw them on tour of this album and they were truly phenomenal. I didn’t do them justice in Rock And Roll Children.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I just don’t think I captured how mind blowing the concert was, especially Gillian’s efforts on “A Child in Time.” It’s probably me being my own biggest critic. Read it for yourself, I’m sure you’ll relive some great memories of your own.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review. I loved this one too, ‘Knocking at Your back Door’ was one of the first hard rock tunes I ever fell for, the dynamics of the beginning when the guitar comes scything in … man. I haven’t heard this for about 20 years, I should get around to replacing that cassette.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That was always my biggest problem at the KMA. Basically, you could distill all of my reviews down to one word: WAHOO!

        The rest was just me either being a breathless adjective factory or just jibbering along otherwise.

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  6. This is a Purple classic. This belongs beside In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head and Burn in the Deep purple classic section. In my book, this is one of Purple’s finest moments ever. Every song deserves to be a real classic. Fact is, many of the songs on here beats some of their oldies, I think.
    On a funny note, I might add that both Knocking At Your Back Door and Perfect Strangers – well not the whole songs, but much of the music – were written when Ritchie was still in Rainbow. He and Joe Lynn Turner had decided on dumping the pop stuff and go into a heavier direction and Blackmore had the outtakes for those two back then. Then came the reunion. Well, JLT got to sing those songs a few years later anyway…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that Ritchie had those parts while still in Rainbow. ANd yes JLT did get to sing those songs a bit later on anyway, and I DO have a review of Slaves and Masters coming up. Yes my next DP review is Slaves and Masters and it’s another epic review with loads of interview stuff.

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