WHITESNAKE – The Purple Album (2015 Frontiers, Japanese & deluxe editions)
One old school buddy of mine, Rob Vuckovich, was a huge David Coverdale fan back in the 1980’s, but mostly a Deep Purple fan. He took great pride in telling me that he went to see Whitesnake on the 1987 tour. He held aloft a sign that said “PLAY PURPLE”. David reportedly acknowledged his sign by saying, “We’re not doing any of that!” What changed?
Jon Lord’s dying wish to his friend David Coverdale was to somehow reform Deep Purple MkIII. “Life’s too short and too precious to hold any animosities,” learned David after Lord’s passing. He reached out to Candace Night, wife of Ritchie Blackmore, and eventually spoke to the Man in Black about a Lord-less reunion. Blackmore was intrigued and David started working on updated arrangements for the tunes. He didn’t want to sing them in the same way that he did in his 20’s. The situation with Ritchie didn’t work out, but David did not want the work he had gone to on the new arrangements to go to waste. He approached his band and asked them what they thought about a Deep Purple covers album. The response was instant. Joel Hoekstra (guitar) in particular was pumped.
The result is The Purple Album. Sourced from Coverdale’s three albums with Deep Purple (Burn, Stormbringer, and Comes Taste the Band), 15 songs were selected. It’s hard to argue with the selection, either. There are chances taken. “Holy Man” is a damn hard song to sing, and it was originally performed by Glenn Hughes, not David. And four, count ’em, four songs (on the deluxe) from Come Taste the Band, perhaps the most underrated album in the Purple canon.
The sound is “Snaked up” as David says, which means modern guitars and technical shredding. To his credit, David really let his band play instead of copying Deep Purple. Joel Hoekstra is a hell of a guitarist, able to shred. He has brought some soul back to Whitesnake that I felt was missing from their two studio albums with Doug Aldrich. Other songs are stripped down, such as the now-acoustic “Sail Away”. This song is dedicated to Jon Lord and it’s certainly among the best songs on The Purple Album. It’s very “live” in the studio.
Is it necessary? Hell no, but David’s entitled to do what he wants. Nobody else is keeping these songs alive except for Glenn Hughes now and then. Jon Lord would be delighted with the quality of it, but he would surely be saddened that Deep Purple MkIII has never reunited. Since that was indeed the case, David and Whitesnake worked very hard on plenty of new parts and licks for their own arrangements. Reb Beach sings many of the Glenn Hughes lead vocal parts (quite well), and finally Whitesnake feels like a real band again. It’s odd that it happened on a Deep Purple cover album, but the band sound like a real band, on album for the first time in ages. Hopefully the injection of passionate young blood in Hoekstra and new bassist Michael Devin will result in new music some day.
The deluxe edition of The Purple Album comes with two bonus tracks and a loaded DVD. “Lady Luck” and “Comin’ Home” from Come Taste the Band are actually two of the best selections. It’s rare that bonus tracks are album highlights, but just because these songs are not as world-renowned as “Burn” does not mean they are not as good. They’re awesome. “Comin’ Home” is very different from the original, having a new and very Whitesnake (circa Slide It In) riff installed.
Japan usually get exclusive bonus tracks and this time it’s a different mix of “Soldier of Fortune”. The reason for the alternate mix (according to the documentary DVD, which we’ll get to) is that David was somewhat torn on which version he liked best. The original concept was a straight acoustic version, with just David’s voice and an acoustic guitar — one guitar, like in Deep Purple. That version didn’t make the album. In a last minute decision, David chose to record bass and other embellishments, and that is what you hear on the standard album. The lucky fans in Japan (or those who wish to shell out for an import!) get the original concept as a bonus track. Delightful.
The bonus DVD is a nice treat, for the 30-minute “Behind the Scenes” feature. It’s great to see the band get so much face time, talking about their love of Deep Purple. Things like this aid in your appreciation of the final album. Observations: Reb Beach does a hilarious Coverdale impression. Tommy Aldridge is still an unstoppable beast of a drummer, even today. Indeed, the new Whitesnake lineup comes across as an inspired band. It is a brand new era for Whitesnake, according to David. He is happier with their sound than he has been in years.
Then there’s the fluff, the Whitesnake EPK (electronic press kit) which is just a condensed version of the main feature. Added to this are four music videos. It’s almost amusing that Whitesnake made music videos today, but again the band get a lot of face time and that’s cool. In the music videos, it really seems like Whitesnake are a band regardless of the lineup changes. The videos are glossy, a little cheesy, but a nice little add-on.
The original rating for this album was going to be 3/5 stars. Cover albums just can’t be judged by the same yardstick as an album of original material. Having seen and heard how much passion and work Whitesnake put into The Purple Album, I’ve grown to appreciate it more. Therefore: