Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #7

Deep Purple – Machine Head

I’ve never been a fan of metal, so I can say with absolute certainty I never would have played a Deep Purple record (or a lot of other things I’ve listened to thus far) if I hadn’t set out on this journey of discovery. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this – every day, we are forced to make choices about what we consume, and since we can’t do it all, we rotate back to things we already like: I play Costello albums, watch superhero movies and read Murakami novels, and my wife and I always order the same meal at Mi Mi. If you already know you love something, why shouldn’t you enjoy it again?

Of course, I set out to do the exact opposite of travelling the known path. Which brings me to this record. It’s odd that I never checked out Deep Purple, since my high school pal Alan Sutherland was, at least in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, a Ritchie Blackmore disciple. Even the most casual rock listener knows “Smoke on the Water” and that chugging riff. For guitar fans, this record is pure crack, and you really have no choice but to crank it up (my poor aging ears) if you want the true Deep Purple experience. It’s a bouncy album, which was surprising since I’ve always had in my mind the image of a rather plodding dinosaur of a band. Even the label “heavy metal” feels like a misnomer: there are blues elements here, but also pop and improvisational jazz, so it’s enough to just call it “rock” and leave it at that. 

The speed at which Blackmore plays inspires awe: the guitar in “Highway Star” races along, sounding almost like a sitar at one point. Organ is also prominent on many tracks, although it sometimes feels like it’s a guitar being made to sound like an organ. “Never Before” opens with a funky jam band feel, before becoming a more conventional bluesy rocker with a get-up-and-dance vibe. “Lazy” is not so much a song as a collection of solos wrapped around a bare set of lyrics, though some of those solos are among the more interesting things on the album. Overall, I enjoyed this record, but it probably won’t readily come to mind when looking for something to play down the line. We can’t love everything.

(Originally posted on Facebook, June 19, 2021)