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Some brief history for you:
Deep Purple, that hard rock institution that formed back in '68, has been at it non-stop with critically acclaimed albums and tours since reforming back in '84. Lineup changes ensued, but by and large the band has retained its integrity even if only one member of the original '68 lineup remains (drummer Ian Paice). However, this lineup of Purple is still 3/5 of the version that reformed in '84, and is chock full of rock royalty.
Vocalist Ian Gillan is intact, his voice no longer screaming, but still unique and recognizable as a one-of-a-kind. His partner in crime, bassist Roger Glover, is here, joining drummer Paice to complete the legendary rhythm section. On guitar is Steve Morse (ex-Dixie Dregs), first joining Purple in '95 and now on his fourth studio album. Newest in the band is keyboardist Don Airey, celebrating his second Purple album here, but no stranger to these guys from his work in Rainbow and other assorted projects.
Airey's first album with Purple, 2003's Bananas, was a reboot of sorts. Gone was original member (and legend on the Hammond) Jon Lord, for the first time ever in Purple's history. Also new on board was producer Michael Bradford, who was very much a collaborator. Bananas was an excellent album, but perhaps a little too commercial for Purple in the long run? Rapture Of The Deep is an attempt to steer Purple back to the sounds of '71 while still retaining what they gained with Bradford. It is raw and uncompromising, not slick at all and definitely Purple.
Purple and Bradford have produced here an album that is not an easy first listen, but a very rewarding 6th or 7th listen. If you give it a chance it will become a favourite. Keep in mind, these guys are musicians of the 60's and 70's. Back when people still had attention spans, you were supposed to listen to an album 6 or 7 times, usually in one night!
Money Talks kicks off the album with the growl of a Hammond B3, that's how you know this truly is Deep Purple. Morse's guitar, very different from Ritchie Blackmore's, leaves a lot of space between the chords. It's a different kind of riffing, staggered and awkward, fast and genius. Gillan's lyrics are, as always, witty and full of humour. Only Gillan can chuckle in the middle of a lyric and make it sound like it's suppose to be there, and he does.
Girls Like That, the second song, is a bit more melodic and comercial. A little bit more "Bananas", and exactly what the album needed after the viscious Money Talks. Track 3, Wrong Man, has one of the most powerful Morse riffs on the album, and it sounds great live (more on that later). Fantastic song, great chorus.
The centerpiece of the album is the title track, Rapture Of The Deep. The guitar part sounds like a Morse trademark, slightly arabic, rhythmically odd; just an entrancing song and worthy of the Deep Purple canon. As if this wasn't enough, the next song Clearly Quite Absurb is simply one of the best ballads Purple have ever done. This is thanks to another fingerpicked Morse guitar melody and some wonderful singing by Gillan. It sounds a lot like material from the wonderful Purpendicular CD, and keep in mind this is a band that doesn't do a lot of ballads. There's only this one ballad on Rapture Of The Deep.
Other standout tracks on the album includes MTV, and I simply must share with you this wonderful lyric from that song:
"Mr. Grover n' Mr. Gillian, you must have made a million, the night Frank Zappa caught on fire."
A wry stab at the state of music today, MTV is a bitter response to the fact that the previous album, Bananas, never got any airplay and all these radio stations ever want to play is Smoke On The Water.
Junkyard Blues is anchored by a solid Glover bassline, simple but metronomic, and then that takes us into the final track, the atmospheric Before Time Began. At 6:30, Before Time Began is not for people with ADD!
The bonus disc here is a treasure, and I am so glad I re-bought this album to get these songs!
The "new version" of Clearly Quite Absurd sounds like a remix to me, with more orchestration. Yet even with a great song like this, Purple can't get their new material on the radio! What a crime! Things I Never Said is a great song with another busy Morse riff, originally from the Japanese release of this CD. Next up, finally released in its studio version (recorded during the Bananas section) is The Well-Dressed Guitar. You may remember this one from Deep Purple tours and live albums circa 2002 (check out the Royal Albert Hall CD). Then, five live tracks, the first ever official live tracks with Airey on keyboards! Two from this new album (Rapture and Wrong Man), and three classics including -- yes -- Smoke On The Water. These tracks prove that no matter who is in the band these days, they still sound like the Deep Purple of old. The other two live tracks are Highway Star and Perfect Strangers.
It truly is a shame that Deep Purple can come up with an album this strong, and nobody seems to care. Of the Morse-era records, Rapture is second only to Purpendicular. It is worth every penny, and worth every minute you devote to listening.
However, do please give it multiple listens. This is, after all, Deep Purple, and even an album like Fireball or In Rock needed multiple listens to appreciate.
4 stars. A wonderful return, can't wait for the next one.