Change was in the air for Deep Purple as the new millennium progressed. Original member Jon Lord decided to retire from the group, so veteran keyboardist Don Airey officially replaced him in 2002. This Mark VIII version of Deep Purple remains intact to the present day.
Airey was a long-time veteran of the hard rock scene. He had played with such bands and artists as Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne, Colosseum II, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, Whitesnake, and Judas Priest. His musicianship and personality fit smoothly into the Deep Purple line-up and sound as the band moved seamlessly into the future.
Even though Airey was new at the time, his presence didn’t change the fact that Deep Purple’s music revolved around Steve Morse’s guitar work and Ian Gillan’s vocals. Airey could play Lord’s parts in a concert setting but did not have his history with the band to be a force in the studio.
Bananas was released in September of 2003 and was representative of their modern day albums. It contained a few very good songs and a number of what can be best described as professional hard rock tracks. The commercial success was limited but many of the songs translated well to a live setting, which was important as Deep Purple remained one of the top concert attractions in the world.
There were three-and-a-half stand-out tracks on it, including “House Of Pain,” which was a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll track that Deep Purple was so good at producing. “Walk On” was a haunting ballad that featured outstanding bass work by Roger Glover. “I Got Your Number” was the album’s longest track at just over six minutes. It was a song made for the concert stage as the bass, guitar, and keyboards all traded riffs. The half-song was “Contact Lost,” which was a sad 90-second Steve Morse instrumental composition honoring the seven Columbia astronauts who perished earlier in the year.
Two other tracks were interesting, as the band added some unusual elements to its sound. “Haunted” was a moody track with a creative Morse solo and strings to fill out the sound. The middle of “Sun Goes Down” contained a drum/vocal break which was unique and striking.
Deep Purple did not reinvent the wheel with Bananas, and at this point in its existence, it is doubtful the band will change very much. In the final analysis, it was a competent hard rock album and at 45 years into their career, that will have to do.