Back in 1972, Deep Purple’s Machine Head was one of my favorite albums. I defended it from detractors who thought it too much machine and not enough head. I thought it was a step up from Fireball and the band was at the top of its game in the studio and in concert as demonstrated on 1973’s Made in Japan. But in an era when artists like Bowie, Beck, and Pink Floyd were breaking new ground and leaving the tie-dyed ‘60s behind, I thought Machine Head was fantastic, but not any sort of watershed moment in rock history. Then again, I loved “Highway Star,” “Lazy,” and “Space Truckin’” but never did understand why “Smoke on the Water” became so iconic with so many better Purple songs on the album.
Of course, I couldn’t have predicted that 40 years in the future, folks like Eddie Trunk and his compatriots on VH1’s That Metal Show would look back to Sabbath, Purple, and Zeppelin as being the first metal bands to matter. Judging from the TMS shows I’ve seen, nothing recorded before these groups rates in the Top 5 lists they compile every broadcast. From that perspective, Machine Head would certainly seem to be an appropriate choice for a tribute starring metalheads inspired by the Deep Purple line-up of Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), and—to my mind the lynch pin of it all–the late Jon Lord on keyboards.
Initially released as part of a limited edition Classic Rock magazine “fanpack” which included photos and interviews, Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple’s Machine Head is unlike many other tribute collections. Normally, such assemblies offer artists from a cross-section of genres doing re-interpretations of the honored performer or album. For the most part, the bands here are in the direct lineage of Purple and most would sit comfortably on the TMS couch.
The bulk of the contributors pay most homage to Blackmore’s guitar leads. For example, Chickenfoot’s live “Highway Star”—surprisingly not the opening track—is a note-for-note presentation of a classic melody from the “supergroup” of Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony, and Chad Smith. Black Label Society does “Pictures of Home,” Kings of Chaos (Joe Elliott, Steve Stevens, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum) do “Never Before,” and Iron Maiden digs up their version of “Space Truckin’” that they recorded in 2006 and resurrected for this package.
With overdue nods to Lord, Jimmy Barnes and Joe Bonamassa’s keyboard/guitar trades on “Lazy” is an album standout. “Smoke on the Water” gets two incarnations, the first being from Carlos Santana with workmanlike vocals from Jacoby Shaddix originally released on Santana’s own Guitar Heaven. The other, from Flaming Lips, is alternative electronica, a bit of a break from the guitar jams on most of the other tracks. Ironically, Metallica offers the most mellow of the songs with “When A Blind Man Cries,” a tune that wasn’t on Machine head but recorded at the same sessions. Released as the b-side to “Never Before,” I suspect most of us first heard the studio version on a Warner Bros. sampler. If memory serves, the compilation was called Burbank.
The only Purple alum, Glen Hughes of the Mark III grouping, and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot drummer Chad Smith appear together on two tracks, “Maybe I’m A Leo” and the album’s grand finale, a burning reprise of “Highway Star” featuring Steve Vai on the axe. It’s too bad none of the living original Purples could be involved in some way, but then again, we’ll always have the 1972 classic that inspired it all.
While the collection can’t fairly be described as diverse, each selection is distinctive and thus most listeners will find both favorites and songs they can live without. For some, the better they like the original songs, the more likely they’ll like the new covers. For others, if they like the bands doing the new interpretations more so than the Purple versions, they’ll likely check this set out just to hear a new song from Chickenfoot, Iron Maiden, etc.
Whatever attracts you to this tribute, odds are there’s something here for you if not necessarily the entire package. I can’t think of one tribute where the same couldn’t be said. But I did put this one away with one thought: Ian Gillan was in a class by himself. Some vocalists, Glen Hughes and Sammy Hagar being among them, can imitate his range, but “Jesus Christ, Superstar” himself can’t be duplicated. That’s what makes a tribute a tribute. The original set a bar all others can only emulate.