There's a tendency with long-established bands – especially those who were releasing albums decades before the 21st century came into view – to assume that the their early days material is always going to be their best.
There's a compelling enough case behind that assumption: the members were usually in their primes, long before the effects of any particular vices began to take hold. Members hadn't had as much time to fall out and depart. More often than not, the bands had little to lose – modest fanbases, little in the way of money – so creativity came first.
Sure, it makes sense. But it's never been the case for Deep Purple. We all know the story – how MK I became MK II, III and onwards. But the current Purple line-up – singer Ian Gillan, drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover, guitarist Steve Morse and keyboard player Don Airey – have not only enjoyed many years of stability, but have also produced some of their best music in the years that followed their union (and the turn of the century).
Here, Deep Purple's finest moments from the mid-90s onwards.
Loosen My Strings (1996)
Ritchie Blackmore’s exit following the sub-standard The Battle Rages On rejuvenated the band. Purpendicular was their finest album in years. Loosen My Strings bristled with elegant confidence, and new boy Steve Morse played like a man with a point to prove.
Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming (1996)
Seven and a half minutes of Purple majesty. Jon Lord’s graceful keyboards, Ian Paice’s rock-steady backing, and Ian Gillan delivered a vocal performance that was the equal of anything he recorded in the 70s.
Although 1998’s Abandon fell short of Purpendicular’s heights, it was still a creditable collection of songs. ’69, buried towards the back of the album, was a playful, buzzy number that looked back towards the salad days of youth, tempering its rosy nostalgia with knowing irony.
Walk On (2003)
Jon Lord’s departure rocked the band way more than Ritchie Blackmore’s did 12 years earlier, and 2005’s Bananas found them struggling for purpose. The slowly unfolding Walk On was a rare highlight – eight minutes of slow-burning blues that allowed Don Airey to show he was the right choice to fill Lord’s shoes.
Clearly Quite Absurd (2005)
Purple have never been celebrated for their ballads. Which is shame, because when they do slow things down the results are frequently stellar, as with this stately highlight from 2005’s Rapture Of The Deep.
Vincent Price (2013)
The death of founder member Jon Lord and bringing in producer Bob Ezrin galvanised Purple into action after an eight-year break from the studio. Their comeback album Now What?! bristled with renewed vigour: the winking Hammer Horror grandeur of Vincent Price masked the sound of a band reborn.
Above And Beyond (2013)
Purple rarely deal in unvarnished emotion, but they do on Above And Beyond, a tribute to the late Jon Lord that forgoes mawkishness and instead delivers a mix of heaviness and grave. A serious contender for the greatest Purple song of the past 30 years.
Time For Bedlam (2017)
The opening track from Infinite, their second album recorded in collaboration with Bob Ezrin, gallops out of the gate like the work of a band half – well, two-thirds – its age. Gillan’s on spiky form, taking pot shots at ‘the system’: ‘Sucking my milk from the venomous tit of the state/This clearly designed to suppress every thought of escape.’
The Surprising (2017)
A song that crams multiple shifting moods into a punchy six minutes: evocative balladry, rat-a-tatting heaviness, blissful ambience. Exactly 50 years after Purple started, there was still life in them.
Man Alive (2020)
Retirement, schmetirement. The high point of new album Whoosh! conjures the kind of sunset majesty that marks their best work, although the song’s barbed lyrical content takes aim at humanity’s endless stupidity and capacity for self-destruction.
Deep Purple's new album Whoosh! is out now via EarMusic. This article originally appeared in Classic Rock issue 278 – read our full, in-depth interview now.