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MACHINE HEAD

Deep Purple

 

Proto-Prog

4.27 | 785 ratings

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3 stars There's hard rock, and then there's Deep Purple - at the head of the hard rock machine. A legendarry album from a legendary band, and essential listening for anyone who appreciates the 1970s sound.

What was side 2 of the vinyl (Smoke on the Water onwards) is the most progressive part of the album. Although this would make an excellent addition to any rock collection, never mind Prog Rock, I can't bring myself to call it essential for Prog-heads. Besides, you've probably already got it.

Only here would I award it 3 stars - anywhere else it would be 4.5. Not quite a masterpiece as a whole, but with tracks that are mini-masterpieces in themselves.

From the opening chugging riff that has to be familar to just about everyone and their cat, "Highway Star" begins an intense rollercoaster ride through the seeds of heavy metal - but with keyboards, as was de-rigeur for the time. The amazing engine sound kicks off a rock keyboard solo par-excellence from Lord - every carefully planned transistion providing drive and momentum down the fast lane. This might not be speed metal, but the energy is tremendous. Blackmore's second twin-barrelled solo is perfectly and carefully worked out with impossible layers (thanks to studio trickery) and immaculate execution sometimes turning around cycles of fifths, but mainly sticking around pedal-driven grooves giving a space-rock feel reminiscent of Hawkwind.

"Maybe I'm a Leo" is deeply Spooky Tooth inspired - the major difference is in Gillan's surprisingly uninspired vocals. The band get into a smooth groove for Blackmore's solo, a pure blues number. Lord tries to save it with a Ray Manzarek styled solo, and Paice puts in some nifty upside-down licks - but, it the truth be told, this is just a workman-like piece of filler.

"Pictures of Home" features riffing that should be familiar to Iron Maiden fans - that kind of dum-digga-da-dum thing, reminiscent of the Dr Who theme tune that pervades Maiden's work. Blackmore puts in some real air guitar-worthy soloing, and Lord follows up with some magnificently scrunchy keyboard work featuring a hammer horror run in 3rds that's not to be missed! Glover even manages a bass solo in here - really you've got the lot!

"Never Before" begins with one of those "chicken-clucking" riffs that I'm really not keen on. Luckily this soon passes, and Blackmore delivers a trademark riff par excellence, which is followed by some cool piano-driven boogie. The bridge vocal passage is fascinating for its complete change of mood into a somewhat blue Beatles-esque world. Blackmore shows that there are several strings to his bow with the ensuing solo that wanders off into Chuck Berry territory.

There can't be a nomadic hermit's camel in outer Mongolia that isn't familiar with the dan- dan-dan song (as Ian Gillian once referred to it during an interview). While it is undoubtedly the most commercial song on the album, on the surface, with its catchy melody and hooks, the arrangement is quite stunning, and a departure from the more standard rock of the earlier tracks. Every member of the band has their own role in the great scheme of things, and wanders off to fit their own piece in the jigsaw before bringing everything back home for the choruses. I hope to outrage more than a few by categorically stating that this is the most progressive song on the entire album :o)

From here on, we get even more progressive - Lord's wonderful free-form intro to "Lazy" is magnificent, Rock and Roll, and perfectly crafted too, which is more than can be said for Blackmore's noodling up and down the pentatonic scale. His riffing is way more interesting than his soloing on this track - which really belongs to Lord, who gives both Wakeman and Emerson a few lessons in how to play Rock keyboards. The song itself is a kind of blues standard, with a progressive arrangement - quite amazing given that the instruments are mainly traditional, right down to the harmonica. Blackmore's second solo sounds like something Angus Young would later make a living out of.

"Space Trucking" has always been my favourite Purple track, and that driving back beat is part of the reason why. Paice's immaculately timed (if not immaculately executed) rolls add the perfect detail, and when the chorus kicks in, it's evident that there was simply nothing else around in this kind of vein - and probably never will be again. The groove is like a tsunami - powerful and inevitable, sweeping aside all in its path and smacking you in the face like a brick wall. Gillan is given a much freer rein and gives a commanding performance during which you can prefectly imagine him tilting the mike stand while throwing back his long locks. From here it just gets better and better until the massive change that marks the end of the bridge. Here more than almost anywhere, it's abundantly clear that the band had a terrific time producing this material.

To summarise, an essential rock great, but without enough experimentation - especially in textures and form - to be considered Prog Rock. Nevertheless, it has a good and progressive vibe about it, thanks to Lord's dense keyboard sound and the individual member's freedom to go off and do their own thing every now and again.

"In Rock" comes more highly recommended to proggers - but really, with the four famous tracks laid down here, you can't really go wrong.

If you aren't familiar with "Space Shanty" by Khan or "Spooky Two" by Spooky Tooth, I'd recommend listening to both after or instead of this album.

Certif1ed | 3/5 |

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