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Deep Purple - Fireball CD (album) cover

FIREBALL

Deep Purple

 

Proto-Prog

3.72 | 550 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars This oft-overlooked album, wedged in between two highly influential landmark LPs ("Deep Purple In Rock" and "Machine Head") shows the band to still be searching for their true identity while continuing to crank out powerful, cutting-edge songs. There are considerable amounts of their 60s proto-progressive style mixed in with the slicin' & dicin' hard rock streak they had showcased on the previous album as well as some quirky, out-of-left field moments that give it a real potpourri atmosphere I find unique among their many recordings.

Starting with what sounds like some kind of huge electrical generator firing up, underrated drummer Ian Paice leads you into the title cut that might be a leftover track from the "In Rock" sessions. You can't help but notice that Ian Gillian's voice seems a bit ragged, probably from hitting the stratospheric notes on "Child in Time" night after night while touring so that's not a revelation. Yet in the midst of this churning pre-metal song Jon Lord injects a classical-tinged organ solo that harkens back to their earlier days. There are some great one-liners scattered throughout the lyrics on this album beginning with this tune's "You're a Gemini and I don't know which one I like the most." Their usually-downplayed humor has never been so up front and it adds a real charm to the proceedings. The next number, "No No No" seems like they were trying to write a trendy, topical protest song but it's one of the weakest cuts on the album. Despite Ritchie Blackmore's cool guitar licks and slide solo and Jon Lord's growling organ ride the verse and chorus repeatedly go nowhere and, at 6:40 in length, it could have benefited from some intelligent editing.

"Strange Kind of Woman" is a prototype, bluesy rock and roll shuffle that was custom made for Blackmore to strut his guitar prowess and he does that without a hitch. Lyrically, however, this is a strange kind of story as it tells the tale of the protagonist pursuing a hooker named Nancy relentlessly until she agrees to marry him. The curious kicker to this narrative comes when he announces to the world with pride that "I won my woman just before she died." Kinda weird. And, speaking of weird, the odd duck that is "Anyone's Daughter" follows. It has an uncharacteristic but intentionally loose beginning before the band stumbles into a country-style ditty with some Delta blues slide guitar that brings to mind The Rolling Stones' interesting forays into that genre. (I like Mick and Keith's "Dead Flowers" as much as the next guy but this is Deep Purple, for heaven's sake!) Here Ian assumes the character of a rogue Casanova who finds out too late that he has deflowered/impregnated the daughter of a vindictive judge but, making lemonade out of lemons, gets the last laugh when he realizes that he's now married into a family of wealth. Lord's honky-tonk piano is decent but Ritchie proves that he couldn't pull off country picking if his life depended on it (and he'd probably be the first to agree with that observation). It's not an embarrassment but this song is an anomaly if there ever was one.

"The Mule" shows that the group still had a foot planted firmly in the progressive rock river. Gillian's input is limited to just a few lines where the mule is identified as Lucifer and he tells us that he has tragically become his slave, but it's the stirring, regally melodic theme that drives this turbocharged, quasi-psychedelic tune. It's a fun ride and both Lord and Blackmore turn in some blistering solos before the song dissolves into cacophony. "Fools" is another surprise, featuring an almost Doors-like, mystery- shrouded intro that floats around for a while before the jarring verse bursts in like a thunderbolt out of nowhere. On this one Ian relates a chilling story of a self-hating sociopath who doesn't allow himself to feel emotions because "rocks and stones can't bruise my soul/but tears will leave a stain." But it's the inspired, ethereal breakdown in the middle that is so unexpected as Ritchie, working his guitar's volume control expertly, creates a mournful cello sound that is breath-takingly beautiful. It's a magic moment.

The closer, "No One Came," (from miles around) is one of my all-time favorite rockers. Not only does it have an irresistible, driving groove that won't quit but Ian's ironic, sarcastic, self-effacing words and smart-ass delivery are not to be missed. I think Blackmore's biting guitar lead here is one of his best and Lord delivers another snarling organ solo but you've got to crack a grin at some of the zingers Gillian spouts along the way. "Well, I could write a million songs about the things I've done/but I could never sing them so they'd never get sung/there's a law for the rich and one for the poor/and there's another one for singers/it's die young and live much longer/spend your money and sit and wonder." Who can argue with that logic? Here's another doozy. "I believe that I must tell the truth/and say things as they really are/but if I told the truth and nothing but the truth/could I ever be a star?" Gotta love it. Ritchie's backwards guitar licks take the album out on a fitting, trippy note.

While some of the group's fans seem want to treat this as an album that can be easily ignored, I find it to be very enjoyable and entertaining. I dare say they never made another one with this much variety or tongue-in-cheek perspective. Deep Purple was still building their empire at this point but their musicianship was never in question and you get a strong dose of quality rock and roll with a dash of prog from beginning to end. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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