Deep Purple have long been a favourite band of mine, and what has helped to keep them fresh is that their various versions all offered different visions of the Deep Purple blueprint without ever straying too far from what made the band great. Whilst fans will forever argue over the band’s best line up, there is no question that the Mk 3 line up (ushered in with remarkable album ‘burn’), which saw both Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale join the band, was a fine line up which more than earned its place in the annals of rock history. What a debut! Funky, bluesy, hard-hitting as hell, ‘burn’ still sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released in 1974 (especially since the 2004 re-master breathed new life into it) and tracks from the album remain showstoppers today. It is to this line up that David Coverdale, alongside the current iteration of ‘Snake (Reb Beach, Joel Hoekstra, Michael Devin and Tommy Aldridge) pays tribute, earlier plans for a full-blown reunion having fallen through, and the result is a thoroughly energized Whitesnake take on classic songs that both pays tribute to the originals and reworks them according to the strengths of the band. It’s a rip-roaring, hard-rock ride that will have hard rock fans in raptures and which will undoubtedly have fans reaching for their battered LPs having been reminded of the quality and power of the originals.
The album opens, unsurprisingly, with the supercharged blues of ‘burn’, a song that also recently found its way into the Black Country Communion live set, and there’s no mistaking David Coverdale’s intent in reclaiming these songs. It’s as if he, and the whole band, have been shot up with adrenalin and his vocal take on ‘burn’ is nothing short of astonishing, delivered with furious energy, David sounds like a young man as he charges through the song whilst Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra work their magic on lead guitar, tearing through the song as if their lives depend on it (which, given the unerring commitment of Deep Purple fans, you could argue that they do). As David Coverdale stated in the press release accompanying the album “there was absolutely no intention to compete, or compare with the original recordings. We just wanted to play these songs the best we could and this is how we wanted to play them”, which only goes to highlight further the fact that this album is a love letter to Deep Purple, to Deep Purple fans and also to Whitesnake fans. It is the sound of a thoroughly professional band breaking the façade to have an absolute riot in the studio, and that sense of fun and excitement shines through in every aspect of the album. Things take a wild and bluesy turn on ‘you fool no one’ (also from ‘burn’) which is delivered in a manner that sets the adrenalin flowing as David moves from soulful croon to full-on rock-god mode and the guitars pile up behind him. Heading off to the perennially underrated ‘come taste the band’ (from which we only get two tracks) we get the funky ‘love child’, a track which takes a hot-wired heavy metal link and fuses it to the sort of sleazy hard rock that made Whitesnake a household name. It sounds brilliantly fresh and if it succeeds in getting people to dust off their ‘CTTB’ LPs then it will have been a more than worthwhile exercise. Whichever way you look at it, however, ‘love child’ feels tailor-made for Whitesnake and David Coverdale is all over the track, unleashing that famous wail as the band head into some beautifully brutal solos. It’s back to ‘Burn’ for ‘sail away’ and it’s also the first tie the band take their collective feet from the pedal as acoustic guitars are unveiled and David Coverdale suddenly sounds as if he’s singing directly to you. Beautifully produced, the acoustic work and harmonies are perfectly rendered and it’s a heart-stopping moment amidst all the electric jolts on offer here.
We’re off to Stormbringer next (represented with five tracks here) for a gruelling version of ‘the gypsy’, the monstrous central riff of which is given even greater weight in this updated version. Similarly ‘lady double dealer’, which opens with a heartbeat, feels like it’s been zapped with a defibrillator as Tommy Aldridge is given free-reign to unleash hell upon his drum kit and the band match his pace with wide-eyed enthusiasm and unholy abandon. It’s back to ‘burn’ for a beautifully bluesy take on ‘mistreated’ which simply underscores the fact that no-one can do sleazy, hard blues like Whitesnake can. Another offering from ‘stormbringer’ appears next in the form of the beautiful, acoustic ‘holy man’ and it does much to remind the listener just how powerful a grip David Coverdale has when it comes to creating memorable melodies. Mixing elements of the Beatles (in the delightfully woozy solo) and classic rock, ‘Holy man’ is an unassailable highlight and the perfect choice for a single. It’s ‘burn’ again with ‘might just take your life’, a slide-guitar led workout that Jon Bon Jovi would gladly have sold his soul at the crossroads to have written. Pure driving rock, ‘might just take your life’ is hard rock at its best and Whitesnake’s take on it manages to retain the power of the original whilst adding a little something extra that is all the Snake’s own. The one other song from ‘CTTB’ appears next in the form of a slow, hypnotic take on ‘you keep on moving’ which revels in its own psychedelic atmosphere before we get a stunning acoustic rendition of ‘soldier of fortune’ (stormbringer). The band deliver one last taste of ‘burn’ with the fret-board burning ‘lay down stay down’ which is delivered with all the power of a band playing in front of a sold-out crowd rather than in the oft-sterile environs of the studio. The album closes with the almighty ‘stormbringer’ which proves to be a fittingly epic album closer
It has to be said that I have rarely been a fan of covers albums. All too often they amount to rock follies with occasional highlights and on some occasions they can be truly execrable. However, ‘the purple album’ benefits from the presence of original Deep Purple singer David Coverdale and the fact that it is a project born of a passion to pay tribute to one of the finest rock bands of all time, by another of rock’s greatest bands. The current iteration of Whitsenake are truly masterly musicians and their performance is fuelled by a joy to be playing these classic songs and there is no sense that this is anything other than a rare glimpse of Whitesnake really cutting loose and having a whole lot of fun. As well-intentioned and as impressive as the Deep Purple tribute album, ‘re-machined’ was, ‘the purple album’ is a far better album, and it is a non-stop, heart-stopping ride from the opening bars of the classic ‘burn’ to the closing ‘stormbringer’.