CD Review: Deep Purple – Now What?! Gold Edition

CD Review: Deep Purple – Now What?! Gold Edition
Eagle Rock Entertainment/earMusic
All Access Rating: B+

Deep Purple - Now What?!
Gold Edition 2014
At least there's still some gas in the tank. If nothing else, 2013's Now What?!, their 19th studio album, made the case that today's Deep Purple is not at all devoid of fresh musical ideas, even if they seem incapable of crafting something as instantly gratifying as "Highway Star" or "Smoke on the Water."

Shape-shifting intoxicants such as "Weirdistan" and "Apre Vous" were elaborate mazes of epic prog-rock construction, while "Out of Hand," with its sweeping strings and its exotic atmospherics, kept building and building into a majestic piece of sonic architecture. As they did in the old days, when the Mark II lineup were hard-rock royalty, Purple charged into the breach of "Hell to Pay" with youthful vigor and industrious riffs and funked up a driving "Bodyline," before falling back into the shadows with smoky, jazzy fare like "Blood From a Stone," the bluesy "All the Time in the World" and the grumbling, gnarled tribute to a horror movie icon delivered in the dark, spooky camp of "Vincent Price."  

All of these tracks made Now What?! a stylistically diverse listen, full of intriguing and dynamic instrumental passages – especially from guitarist Steve Morse, the former Dixie Dregs' six-string wizard, and keyboardist Don Airey, the two additions who weren't there in Purple's heyday. Packaged with new bonus tracks and a second disc of live recordings, a Gold Deluxe Edition of Now What?! has recently been issued, and it's available in a double CD version or a more lavish boxed set that includes a DVD with a 20-minute interview, a t-shirt, poster and sticker, and all the singles from Now What?!

The real prize here is the 70 minutes of unreleased concert performances stuffed into disc two. Also known as the "Now What?! Live Tapes," it's a rousing collection of Purple classics and newer material, played in European locales like Milan, Italy, and Rome, among others, with improvisational brilliance and high-flying musicianship that hammer these songs into sharpened weapons. Here's where the spirited gallop of "Hard Loving Man," enveloped by Airey's mushrooming keyboard spells, gathers terrific momentum, as does a driving, rollicking rendition of "Strange Kind of Woman," Ian Gillan belting it out to the back row with rawness and urgency. And it's where the slow burn of "Smoke on the Water" grows into a four-alarm fire, and a slithering "Perfect Strangers" hisses and strikes out at its prey, while "Vincent Price" turns into something more sinister and fun.

The sound is warm and clear, as Morse really struts his stuff in these live recordings, showing how adept he is at seamlessly changing character, this chameleon who can master the blues and jazz, while also riffing like a metal madman and soloing into the stratosphere. All pulling together as a powerful unit, Purple still performs with feverish enthusiasm and stunning chops. Age hasn't diminished their skills, although their bland bonus take on Jerry Lee Lewis' "It'll Be Me" may be thrown away as carelessly as expired milk, and the rare, but ultimately lackluster, B-side "First Sign of Madness" doesn't argue for being deserving of greater attention than it's already been given. There are riches to be found in this Now What?! Gold Edition, although some of its luster's been worn away.
– Peter Lindblad

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