Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #18

Deep Purple – Made in Japan

I’m not the biggest fan of live albums. Live music is great, and when your favourite band takes a tight 5-minute tune and stretches it to 19:28, you are there for every repetitive second of it. On record, not so much: on your (hopefully) comfortable couch or behind the wheel of your (maybe) comfortable car, you sort of just want them to get on with it.

So, we have another Deep Purple record, with a fair bit of overlap with “Machine Head”: four of that album’s seven tracks get the live treatment. This time around it’s a seven-track double album, so you know there is at least one ridiculously long song that meanders with no apparent purpose. On this record it is “Space Truckin’”, a not very memorable “Machine Head” cut that came in at 4:31, now stretched to an almost unbearable 19:42. I lost interest long before the end, and it seemed the band might have, too, and as I strolled along the boardwalk, I stopped paying attention to the song and started thinking about what I was going to have for breakfast.

Otherwise, I liked the three tracks that were new to me – the Deep Purple canon being a mostly blank spot in my music listening history – and the length didn’t seem overdone even though each tops nine minutes. Blackmore’s playing still shines, and “Smoke on the Water” remains an unassailable classic. I just have a hard time accepting there wasn’t another record more worthy of the slot.

For my money, if you limited yourself to just picking another album that rocks, this spot in the Top 20 would’ve been much better allocated to Black Sabbath’s “Vol. 4”, in which Ozzy Osbourne and company answer the question, “Is there a limit to how much drugs you can take and still make a kick-ass metal record?” with a resounding “No!” Favourite tracks include “Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener” and “Laguna Sunrise”. But the peak for these ears is “Changes”, which I knew from a soul version that serves as the theme song to the hysterical and obscene Netflix animated series “Big Mouth”. If, like me, you are mostly aware of Ozzy as the greatly dissipated force that became a TV star in the early 2000s, the grace with which he sings this gentle tale – written by a band member about the end of his marriage – will knock you off your feet. I doubt I’ll encounter any other Black Sabbath records on the formal portion of this journey, but I’m curious enough that I might check them out anyway.

(Originally posted on Facebook, August 25, 2021)

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)