‘C’mon, man, fill your boots,’ urges Ian Gillan during Après Vous, track nine of 12. For dyed-in-the-wool Deep Purple fans, the singer’s invitation is going to be hard to resist. In fact, said fans are likely to be sloshing around in waterlogged wellies for the foreseeable future, judging by the top-notch quality of this, the Purps’ first full-length since 2005’s Rapture Of The Deep.
NOW What?! promises to combine the timeless elegance of 1984’s Perfect Strangers (which reunited the classic Machine Head line-up) with the feral freedom of pivotal 1972 double-live album Made In Japan. It does – and a whole lot more besides. You know you’re onto a winner as soon as opener A Simple Song kicks in with a flurry of gentle notes by guitarist Steve Morse and cymbal sweeps from Ian Paice. There’s a crackle of electricity in the air – and it ain’t just coming from overheated speakers.
The production, by the legendary Bob Ezrin, is open and spacious – it’s like a living, breathing thing. No doubt about it, Purple have never sounded so good. NOW What?!, we hear, “was recorded with no musical rules”. That becomes abundantly clear on second and third tracks Weirdistan and Out Of Hand, both of which are looser than a charity-shop turtleneck.
The former is built on Roger Glover’s grumbling bass and contains a Don Airey keyboard solo that strays into Tarkus territory; the latter does indeed recall the strutting sophistication of Perfect Strangers, Morse contributing a spectacularly fleet-fingered, free-form solo. Meandering? Yes – but not in the way a confused old uncle pushes a shopping trolley, more like a Formula One racer darting and weaving his way into pole position.
Purple put their songwriting hat back on for the stomping Hell To Pay, complete with shoutalong chorus, and the lascivious Body Line, the 67-year-old Gillan proving his libido is still intact with the lines ‘I been watching you dancing all night long – your legs go on forever.’ There follow some proggy moments in Above And Beyond and Uncommon Man. From Concerto For Group And Orchestra to The Mule (from their Fireball album), Purple have always flirted with prog but NOW What?! really does bring that aspect of their music to the fore.
The record peters out somewhat with its closing three tracks (uneventful ballad All The Time In The World, the throwaway schlock-horror of Vincent Price and hoary old rock’n’roll standard It’ll Be Me). But given the preceding greatness, you shouldn’t give a damn.