Deep Purple – The Audio Fidelity Collection – Limited Edition 4 CD Box Set AFZB 019 ****1/2:
(Ritchie Blackmore – guitar; Ian Gillan – vocals, harmonica; Roger Glover – bass; Jon Lord – keyboards, organ; Ian Paice – drum, percussion)
Like many British bands in the late sixties, Deep Purple seemed destined to be part of the burgeoning progressive rock movement. Along the way they became a pioneer (along with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin) of heavy metal. The original lineup of the band had some success (including singles like “Hush” and “Kentucky Woman”), but it was their next reincarnation (known as Mark II) that produced their essential work. The hard-rocking rhythm section (Roger Glover/bass, Ian Paice/drums) provided a solid anchor to the searing guitar of Ritchie Blackmore and the classical organ flourishes of Jon Lord. Singer Ian Gillan and his hard-edged vocals sealed the deal. In 1969, Lord had composed Concerto For Group And Orchestra a three-piece opus, paving the way for the fusion of metal and classical music. This hybrid style would define the group for the first half of the seventies.
The Mark II albums have been re-mastered and released as Deep Purple – The Auto Fidelity Collection. Comprised of the four studio albums (with group writing credits) from this period, the anthology is a qualitative representation of a dynamic band. In Rock (1970, with the unforgettable Mt. Rushmore cover) was the initial release by this quintet. And they announce their presence with grit and attitude on “Speed King”. After an explosive distorted guitar opening (Blackmore), Lord spins a moody organ line that launches Gillan’s rowdy vocal. Deep Purple is in the house (“Saturday night and I just got paid”…) and the interplay between Lord and Blackmore is exceptional. On “Child In Time” Blackmore delivers a blistering solo in the middle of this psychedelic jam. The piece has different movements and Lord finishes with a strident flourish. “In The Fire” feels like a primer for head- rocking metal. Back to basics, “Living Wreck” goes to hard blues with more explosiveness from Blackmore and Lord. Deep Purple evolves into a bona fide “jam” band on the ferocious “Hard Lovin’ Man”. The sound is relentless.
Fireball (1971 improves on the existing formula. The title cut opens up with a blistering rock tempo. Blackmore’s guitar lines are crisp and succinct. Lord’s frantic organ riffs liven up this “love” song. Social dysfunction is at the core of “No No No”. The slower tempo gives Blackmore a chance to deliver a groove lead and solo. Ian Gillan’s voice is strong, but not shrill. Lord contributes a jazzy Hammond solo and the tandem of Glover and Paice drive this well constructed song. Drawing on blues, “Strange Kind Of Woman” is standard until the spacey break. Unpredictably, “Anyone’s Daughter” has a country vibe with Gillan doing a Bob Dylan talking/singing thing. Lord switches to piano for a barrelhouse romp. Blackmore and Lord exhibit chemistry in unison or harmony. “Fools” is another highlight with a meditative classic organ intro. But the hard-rocking vibe on “No One Came” captures the spirit of the band.
Machine Head (1972) took the band to a new level. “Highway Star” is a cohesive, propulsive gem. The studio acoustics are polished, and the band is stretching instrumentally. Lord executes a brilliant solo, mixing classical descants and rock grooves. He and Blackmore are experimenting with sonic distortion. “Pictures Of Home” features intense rock with another stupefying organ run. And then, there’s “Smoke On The Water”, the song that launched thousands of teenage guitarists, and incited the anger of neighbors. It remains a catchy song with simple melody lines. Gillan turns in his finest vocal work. Again, their longer jams are more compelling. “Lazy” begins with a crazed toccata-inspired organ piece that flows into a muscular blues structure that Blackmore simply nails. Lord also rocks out with scintillating riffs.
The final album (Who Do We Think We Are/1973) completes the snapshot of Mark II. “Woman From Tokyo” might be Deep Purple’s greatest single. In addition to the signature rock pyrotechnics (with cool organ and piano), there is an unexpected quiet interlude. On “Mary Long”, they are pure rock, but throw in a tempo shift or two. Lord is a fearless organist, in the class of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. His classical fury on “Rat Bat Blue” is unique, elevating it beyond genre. The group is never too far from its bluesy roots. They click perfectly on “Place In Line”.
Even though these four albums had been previously released as individual twenty-four-KT gold discs, this limited edition collection is outstanding. No superfluous outtakes, alternate versions or “new material” dilute the inherent musical prominence. The packaging is top notch with high quality jewel cases and individual booklets containing original artwork. The overall engineering and mix is better than standard compact discs. You don’t have to be a metal head to appreciate Deep Purple.
CD 1 – In Rock (AFZ 051): Speed King (Long Version); Bloodsucker; Child In Time; Flight Of The Rat; Into The Fire; Living Wreck; Hard Lovin’ Man
CD 2 – Fireball (AFZ 098): Fireball; No No No; Strange Kind Of Woman; Anyone’s Daughter; The Mule; Fools; No One Came
CD 3 – Machine Head (AFZ 065): Highway Star; Maybe I’m A Leo; Pictures Of Home; Never Before; Smoke On The Water; Lazy; Space Truckin’
CD 4 – Who Do We Think We Are (AFZ 027): Woman From Tokyo; Mary Long; Super Trouper; Smooth Dancer; Rat Bat Blue; Place In Line; Our Lady