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PERFECT STRANGERS

Deep Purple

 

Proto-Prog

3.40 | 423 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Eight long years after one of the planet's most successful and respected arena rock bands tragically sank and dissolved into a fetid cesspool of runaway egos and petty squabbles, the glory days of the early 70s began to look nostalgically good to the "Smoke on the Water" MK2 lineup of Deep Purple and a reunion seemed like a stupendously profitable idea. None of the members' individual projects (like Blackmore's Rainbow and the Ian Gillian Band) had set the music world on fire, exactly, so why not just round up the guys, go into the studio and recreate the magic that produced landmark albums like "In Rock" and "Machine Head." Simple, right? But, as the sage of satire Randy Newman puts so succinctly, "Everything I write all sounds the same/each record that I'm making/is like a record that I've made/just not as good..." That pretty much sums up "Perfect Strangers."

Gotta hand Jon Lord and the boys one thing, though. They were at least true to their sex, drugs and rock & roll roots, avoiding lowering themselves to the crass phoniness and stupid New Wave commercialism being instigated and sustained by the despicable "empty vee" virus that was running unchecked throughout the industry in '84. In other words, this could have been much, much worse despite the fact that these men were in or near their 40s at the time and any cute young lass could see these disillusioned swingin' Richards for what they were. Not as sinewy, virile rock stars but as lecherous louts in desperate need of new coifs. Too bad someone didn't make them act and look their age.

They wisely start out with one of their better tunes, the appealing "Knocking at Your Back Door" with its mysterious, undeniably cool faux cello synthesizer setting that makes the prog monkey in me stand and salute involuntarily. The whole ensemble then falls right into step with one of their signature, user-friendly riffs that identifies the culprits responsible immediately. It's the one and only Deep Purple. No doubt about it. The song mixes their old drivin' balls-to-the-wall attitude with an updated, 80s hair band-inspired, seamlessly slick chorus while Ritchie's guitar lead is both ferocious and furious like it should be. Yet no amount of energy can make up for the atrociously vapid lyrical content. Ian's cocksure posturing via silly phrases like "so we put her on the hit list/of a common cunning linguist" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) is inexcusably lame. And the not-so-hidden anal-retentive innuendo expressed in the tune's title is juvenile, at best. Come on, Gillian, if "Sweet Lucy" is nothing short of a 5-star hotel then why would you want to go in through the alleyway entrance where the dumpsters and the grease pits are? It stinks back there. I mean, strolling confidently into her elegant lobby makes for a much more impressive arrival. She can take care of your luggage, the soft pillows on her sofas are to die for and her plush carpet at the check-in desk is genuine Chinchilla. I'm just sayin'. Anyway, they do let Blackmore shred brilliantly during the extended fadeout and that, along with the always- tight rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover, makes this number a true keeper.

The Hammond-heavy "Under the Gun" is next and it more than fulfills its purpose for being in that it rocks hard and heavy for four and a half minutes with no funny business involved. Unless, of course, you pay attention to the inane words IG spews out aka "I've got a feeling that it's never right/there was a reason but it's out of sight/it's going down somewhere tonight." What a blight. Better to just zone into Blackmore's hot guitar solo and not search for any trace of deep insights into the human condition. "Nobody's Home" offers more of the same riff-based rock (and by now the formula is getting stale) but at least Ritchie throws Jon a bone and lets him crank out a screaming organ ride. It's a put-down ditty that could be applied to any number of exes, former managers/record executives, warring members of Deep Purple's past or present or, for that matter, the group as a whole and no one will ever know for sure. "A legend is dying/the seeds have been sown/your lights are burning bright/but nobody's home" Gillian snarls. "Mean Streak" is an up tempo but thoroughly boring shuffle that doesn't bravely investigate new areas of progressive rock if you know what I mean and I think you do. It's got filler written all over it and even Blackmore's normally fiery lead is obligatory and predictable. However, I'm pretty sure they wrote the scathing lyrics about one of my old girlfriends in particular. Had to have been. She was a rattlesnake.

Lord's growling Hammond leads you into the album's namesake and most satisfying cut and even though there's an obvious Led Zep "Kashmir" vibe running through the song it still somehow manages to retain its own identity and avoid being a rip-off. It's just a great tune. The hypnotic, thematic guitar line in 9/8 is irresistible and the subtle synth noodling going on in the background during the long ending gives it a unique character unlike anything else on the disc. And somehow they convinced Ritchie to not take a solo! I guess it's about a discrete lover who must remain anonymous to protect the innocent. The words are so odd and indecipherable that it's safe to say that the secret is safe and secure for all time to come. "A Gypsy's Kiss" is a good news/bad news deal. The front and back sides of this high octane rocker sound like something they threw together in 5 minutes of rehearsal time to bookend the intricate and complicated instrumental interplay between Lord and Blackmore that occurs in the middle segment. Methinks they should have put in a few more hours to make it work better as a unified composition. Needless to say, the lyrics (i.e. "Ya who' Jumme gae bile ya heed") are unintelligible nonsense.

"Wasted Sunsets" follows and it's a total waste of time. The track is a power ballad typical of that woebegone decade and it sounds like any one of the thousands of spandex- sporting, makeup-smeared rock outfits that writhed and sneered through their garish videos like lobotomized vampires while singing about some personal paradise lost. Jon's organ and piano combination provide a deep, dense backdrop and Blackmore's solo is passionate but Ian sounds like he was forced to come in and sing it on his day off. I won't even try to tell you what it's about because I don't have a clue. "Hungry Daze" is the finale and there's a palpable "no riff left behind" mentality in play here except that the riff in question is annoyingly repetitive to the nth degree and Gillian's sorry Robert Plant impression is downright embarrassing. "We all came out to Montreux/but that's another song/you've heard it all before," Ian sings. No shucks, Sherlock. Tell us something we don't know. They attempt to throw in a semi-psychedelic breakdown at the midway point but it goes nowhere and displays an appalling lack of imagination. Maybe they were facing a deadline or maybe they were already sick of each other. Again.

"Perfect Strangers" is an example of a once-invincible band reuniting for the glory and attention such an occasion invites but not investing enough time, energy and commitment to do their legacy justice. There's two really good cuts on the album but the rest is so run- of-the-mill rock & roll that they would've done all their fans a big favor by taping a half hour studio jam of "Further On Up the Road" or some other blues standard and left it at that. I do realize that I've put way too much emphasis on the lyrical content in the case of a group that will never be mistaken for Bob Dylan in that department but I had hoped for more perspective and wisdom stemming out of their combined years on the road and their collective experiences in the "biz." Then again, maybe it's all just a blur to them. Whatever. In the final analysis it simply comes up short much more often than not. 2.3 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |

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