Music Review: Deep Purple - The Audio Fidelity Collection (Box Set)

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Deep Purple are one of the founding fathers of heavy metal, and by all rights should already be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were nominated for inclusion this year, but did not make the cut. The fact that they are still waiting is a travesty, but they have been honored in other ways. The most recent example is from the premiere CD company Audio Fidelity, who have just released The Deep Purple Audio Fidelity Collection. The set features remastered editions of the band's four greatest albums on 24K Gold CDs, housed in a numbered, limited edition box. It is a beautiful set, and sounds fantastic.

Deep Purple first got together in 1968, and had a number of lineups, but the "classic" grouping began in 1970 and featured Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Jon Lord (organ, piano), and Ian Paice (drums). The Deep Purple Audio Fidelity Collection features the albums In Rock (1970), Fireball (1971), Machine Head (1972), and Who Do We Think We Are (1973).

The aptly titled In Rock kicks off with the screaming feedback of "Speed King." The blues-based "Bloodsucker" follows, and features a powerful guitar and organ duel. We are off to a great start, and then comes "Child in Time," the album's masterpiece. In the '70s, the best cut was usually the longest one, and at 10:12, it is "Child." But it is not the length that makes the song, it is the incredibly haunting groove combined with Gillan's anguished vocals that make this vaguely sci-fi epic so unforgettable.

Next up is "Flight of the Rat." Forget the goofy lyrics and listen to Lord's organ solo, and the way Paice's drums finish things off. "Into the Fire" features a very strong solo from Blackmore, and "Living Wreck" is almost all Jon Lord. Having someone like Lord, who rocked his Hammond organ as hard as any guitar-slinger made Deep Purple something very special. The chugging "Hard Lovin' Man" closes the album, and Gillan's vocals are the perfect vehicle to deliver the swaggering tale.

A comet carrying the band into space is the cover image of Fireball, the follow-up to In Rock. The title track is the opener, and is a nod to the bluesy "boogie" that was all the rage at the time. "No No No" keeps up the boogie feel until the break, where Blackmore's takes a solo. "Strange Kind of Woman" has always been my favorite track as it seems to best capture everything the band were trying to do with this album.

The country-fied "Anyone's Daughter" sounds like Purple's nod to Bob Dylan, and is one of their weirdest moments. Thankfully, "The Mule" takes us back to more familiar hard rock territory. At 8:15, "Fools" is the longest Fireball track, but it is not exactly "Child in Time." What the song is missing are the pyrotechnics. Whether it is Gillan's vocals, Blackmore's guitar, or Lord's keyboards, the fireworks are what make a good Purple song a great one. "Fools" is just kind of a long lament, although it does have some interesting musical passages in it. The final "No One Came" picks up the pace a bit, and it is nice to hear Blackmore and Lord trading solos again.

If Fireball was a bit of a let-down, Machine Head more than made up for it. This is such a classic that a band actually named themselves after it. But that is the least of Machine Head's attributes, it is one of the greatest rock albums ever made. The killer "Highway Star" opens, and sets the bar high. All of the flash that made In Rock so good is back, but now they know how to control it for maximum impact. "Maybe I'm a Leo" is second, and shows that "Highway Star" was no fluke. It is another blues tune, and Lord really makes his keyboard sing. 

Ian Paice's drum flourish announces "Pictures of Home," and continues the winning streak.  "Never Before" ended the first side of the vinyl LP in fine style. But it got even better, with the side two opener  "Smoke on the Water." Is there anything more that can be said about this song? Like thousands of other would-be guitarists, it was the first riff I ever learned. And probably also like thousands of others, I had no idea of what it was actually about for a long time. Not until I finally bothered to listen to the lyrics, which describe a big fire where the band were recording the album, at Montreux in Switzerland.

"Lazy" is perhaps the most unheralded track of the record. Being sandwiched between "Smoke on the Water" and "Space Truckin" is the only reason I can think of, because it is excellent. If "Lazy" had been on any other album it probably would have stolen the show. Closing with "Space Truckin" was genius. The whole "road fever" theme that began with "Highway Star" is brought full circle, and into space. Machine Head is simply one of the greatest rock albums ever made.

The one-two punch of Machine Head and then the live Made in Japan turned Deep Purple into one of the biggest bands in the world. Their next studio album humorously references their new-found status with the title Who Do We Think We Are, but tellingly leaves out the question mark. The title was appropriate though, because this band would never be the same again.

Things get off to a great start with "Woman From Tokyo," one of the catchiest songs they ever wrote. As good as it is though, the track did mark a shift from their earlier hard-nosed blues-based music. As would only become clear much later, where they were headed musically is best reflected in "Mary Long," a song that would not have sounded out of place on their 1984 "comeback" album Perfect Strangers. Both "Super Trouper" and "Smooth Dancer" have a transitory feel. There are elements of the classic Purple sound in them, along with the new, tighter style.

"Rat Bat Blue" is especially notable for Lord's organ solo, where he kicks out the jams old school. "Place in Line" is a heavy blues number, with a very tasty turn from Blackmore. The final track is "Our Lady," in which Deep Purple harmonize on their first power ballad.

Seven must be the magic number for Deep Purple, because that is the number of songs on each of the four albums. They all sound spectacular on these 24K Gold CDs, far better than my old "regular" discs. One big difference is that the surface of a standard CD is made of aluminum, while these have a gold surface. Another factor is the tremendous job Steven Hoffman did in remastering the albums.

The early '70s were a golden time for hard rock, but not even such heavyweights as Led Zeppelin could touch the innovative guitar and organ attack of Deep Purple. The Audio Fidelity Collection contains the band's best, and the albums have never sounded better.