It was the early nineties and for legendary act Deep Purple, the battle raged on. In the transition to middle decade, The reformed Mark II lineup was on tour with a remaining set of dates scheduled to proceed in Japan. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left for what would be the final time. This forced the band to recruit another guitar legend in Joe Satriani to help complete the Japanese dates.
With the Japanese tour completed and smoke cleared from the battle of Blackmore and Gillian, Deep Purple set out finding a new guitarist. No one could predict that Steve Morse would go on to serve a long duration in the band that continued with the release of 2021’s album of covers “Turning to Crime“.
Purpendicular would be the first album from the Mark VII lineup of Morse, vocalist Ian Gillan, keyboardist Jon Lord, bassist Roger Glover and sole remaining original member, drummer Ian Paice. Any skeptics concerned about how Morse’s virtuosity might work within the Purple structure may have been right to be concerned. Ritchie Blackmore’s stamp on the majority of the Purple discography gives pause for hesitation. The same hesitation that came with Tommy Bolin’s appearance on 1975’s “Come Taste The Band”.
Twenty-Six years later, Purpendicular remains one of the most criminally underrated records in heavy rock history. Lyrically and musically it has diverse sounds thanks to diverse performances. Lord, Paice and Glover deploy a wide range of melodic punctuations throughout to give each track an extra layer of heaviness and heart where it is needed.
The album’s opener “Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic” has Ian Gillian crossing lines between rapping and vocalizing. It is a well-placed composition that takes listeners up some heights. My initial reaction to the track was one of surprise given Gillan’s vocal delivery. The punchy performances from the rest of the band made it more interesting leading into the rest of the album. I believe starting with a song like this worked so well that it was the reason the follow-up “Abandon” starts out with a similar styled track with “Any Fule Kno That”.
“Loosen My Strings” starts with a set of pinch harmonic riff work from Morse. When the rhythm section enters, Roger Glover dresses the background the whole way through with a delicately laid line. It is a great example of a bass part hitting a root anchor note, then filling in the space with an ascending and descending lines. The track takes on an almost orchestral-like feel through to its’ fading finish.
“Soon Forgotten” is a jump-start with a heavy-laden Hammond Organ section, then tearing into a combination of crunching chords and heavy lead notes. Ian Gillan’s many vocal overdubs serve to amplify the song through an otherwise on-level mix.
“Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming”. Sounds like a good title reflecting these last few years during a pandemic. This track has a smooth vocal delivery from Gillan against the backdrops of intricate guitar work from Steve Morse. It’s riff is a memorable one with acoustic and electric guitars working it through in the track.
“Cascades: I’m Not Your Lover”. This track is a mysterious poetic tale open to wide interpretation. It’s another fine track heavy on Hammond Organ legato rolls combined with short staccato stabs. One of the many beautiful and badass characteristics about Lord’s technique and tone is the orchestral arrangement approach in tracks. Whether it is one keyboard track or many, it all sounds super-symphonic. Cascades fits well as a lead-in to the next track on the album.
“The Aviator” was an early favourite track of mine and remains a standout track from this album. It shines with musical guitar work with a marching, rolling feel before going into the chill AOR friendly vocal. The lyrics build up to a finale where Ian Gillan talks the frustration and fed-up feelings many currently have with life in general. People are tired of hatred, tired of violence and tired of the mental exhaustion the never-ending news cycle drives through. People are tired of the con-artist communicators who have managed to fool so many into believing little of anything that resembles the actual truth.
“I’m tired of the bombs, I’m tired of the bullets, I’m tired of the crazies on TV.”
“Rosa’s Cantina” is my current favorite on the album. The catchy percussion, guitars and chugging bass line are a foundation leading up to one of Jon Lord’s finest keyboard/organ solos since the early Mark II lineups. Roger Glover leaves very little space to be filled throughout this song.
“A Castle Full of Rascals”. The intro is a condensed mix of sounds setting up another catchy riff from Morse and Lord. It’s breezy bridge section contains small doses of jazz and R&B guitar and singing, before slamming into a drum-heavy crescendo, then easing back into the songs main riff.
“A Touch Away” is (like The Aviator), a very AOR-friendly track. It is not what people might expect from the Purple catalogue. It’s a tremendous vocal performance from Ian Gillan where he tells a positive and poetic upbeat story.
“Hey Cisco” had to be an recording and rehearsing workout for the entire band. A quick-tempo drum foundation eases in, with Morse plucking a melodic chordal section over top as the volume increases. Then superb riff doubling from Morse and Jon Lord take center-stage throughout. The verses are punctuated with more sharp staccato stabbing from Lord’s Hammond keyboards. The chorus brings Roger Glover’s bass forward as he carries a great ascending and descending bass line before settling back in the pocket with lines that never lose the songs root notes. Morse’s guitar solo in this track may be one of his finest as a member of Purple.
“Somebody Stole My Guitar” is a fun heavy track with a great sounding story. The solo section is particularly fun with Steve Morse trading off on very short leads with himself. Morse again combines melodic sensibilities while ensuring his dazzling fretwork clicks within the track’s structure and substance.
“The Purpendicular Waltz” likely earned part of its’ name from the time signature. It is a heavy, sound-rich 3/4 time song that closes the starting chapter of Deep Purple’s history with Steve Morse.
I do not believe anyone could have predicted Steve Morse to have been part of Deep Purple for as long as he has been. In fairness, that is because many predicted Deep Purple would have went into retirement within 5-10 years after the century drew to a close. The catalogue with Steve Morse is a diverse display of Deep Purple’s range and reach. While I believe there are weak moments of this era (such as 2003’s “Bananas”, I’ve come to appreciate much of the Morse era than some of the earlier lineup albums. 2017’s “Infinite” and 2020’s “Whoosh!” are standout records proving that the entity of Deep Purple is a powerful and influential force. 1998’s “Abandon” (the last to feature Jon Lord) was a superb follow-up to Purpendicular, that should have put critic concerns about Morse’s suitability in Deep Purple completely to rest.
Whenever Deep Purple does call it a day, this era of the band should be looked at with greater respect and revere than it currently receives. Purpendicular was the start of a chapter that continues to be written twenty-six years after its’ release.