Normally, when I learn about reissues of classic material and the only difference between the new versions and those that came before is the packaging, I don’t get too excited. However, when I saw the description for Deep Purple’s The Audio Fidelity Collection, I was quickly intrigued.
Yes, In Rock (1970), Fireball (1971), Machine Head (1972), and Who Do We Think We Are (1973) have already received the Audio Fidelity treatment and been remastered by engineer Steve Hoffman. However, the four remastered discs, issued signally the first time around, have been unavailable for five years now. Audio Fidelity could have simply brought them out again as such to capitalize on the news that Deep Purple at long last is likely to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. But such news is the very sort of motivation to bundle these four studio albums together in a box set, especially for collectors to commemorate the overdue induction.
What’s different in this release is that the four studio albums from the line-up of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, vocalist Ian Gillan, keyboardist Jon Lord, bassist Roger Glover, and drummer Ian Paice are presented as 24K Gold CDs in a new limited edition set in an embossed metallic container. Each disc is engraved with a unique edition number. Beyond the collectors this box is marketed for, hopefully newer Deep Purple fans will also be interested in the set. That’s because, while metal heads have been drooling over Machine Head for decades, Deep Purple offered other delights in the early ’70s.
Yes, Machine Head included a little ditty called “Smoke on the Water” which has garnered far more airplay and attention than it’s due. I realize I’m in a minority of one on that point. But I always thought the album’s high points were “Highway Star” and “Space Truckin’.” Hearing Machine Head again, I think I’ve given “Pictures of Home” short shrift. Whatever your favorites, all in all, without question Machine Head is a rock milestone worthy of the many tributes given it over the years.
But if you’ve missed the two studio albums that proceeded it, In Rock and Fireball, you don’t know Deep Purple. Discounting the live Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1969), which was essentially a Jon Lord orchestral project, In Rock was the new Mark II line-up’s coming out party. The fourth Purple album, now with Gillan and Glover replacing earlier singer Rod Evans and original bassist Nick Simper, was also one of the first true heavy metal collections in a year when metal was making its presence known as in bands from Mountain to Vanilla Fudge. The first song alone, “Speed King,” demonstrated the pioneering integration of the vocal, guitar, and organ drama this version of Purple was the master of. Speaking of dramatics, while the studio incarnation of “Child in Time” might not have the power of live interpretations of the song as captured on such albums as Made in Japan (1972), it was still among the numbers demonstrating the versatile musicianship of the MK II quintet.
Next, there’s Fireball, then and now among my all-time Purple favorites. What can you say about an album with the rockers “Fireball,” “Strange Kind of Woman,” the psychedelic “The Mule,” and the humor of “Anyone’s Daughter” and “No One Came”? Again, I may be in a minority in my appreciation. Word has it most of the band didn’t think highly of a record they apparently threw together in the studio. Well, I wore out the analog grooves when I played the original Warner Brothers vinyl version back in the day and find it just as enjoyable now. Perhaps I knew too many strange kinds of women.
I will admit, after “My Woman from Tokyo,” the story songs on Who Do We Think We Are were not the stuff of which legends are made. I know I’m not a minority on this one; most reviews I’ve seen agree that this collection, drudged out during internal strife in the band, sounds workmanlike and uninspired. The stories behind the compositions are more interesting than the results. For example, “Mary Long,” a composite name taken from Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford, is a comment against these self-appointed guardians of public morality. Okie dokie—worth doing—but how many times is it worth hearing?
To be fair, to get the full Purple experience from the MK II era, you’re probably better off with the 25th Anniversary editions that include a nice assortment of bonus tracks. If you have these, the only reason to purchase the new Audio Fidelity box is to enjoy the packaging. That is, if you’re only thinking of yourself. ‘Tis the season to pass along classic music from one generation to those who weren’t around when heavy metal was being played on those shiny black things with the very small hole in the middle. This Christmas, give the gift that keeps on riffing in black, gold, and purple.