Along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple invented heavy metal. Their 1970 album, In Rock, along with Sabbath’s Paranoid from the same year and 1969’s Led Zeppelin II set the blueprint that the genre has been building upon ever since.
Unfortunately, unlike Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple doesn’t get the mainstream recognition it deserves. Everyone knows “Smoke on the Water,” and hard rock and metal fans know “Highway Star,” but otherwise there’s not a ton of acknowledgement.
Fortunately, unlike Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, the band is still around and recording music. Its latest album, Whoosh!, is right up there with what Deep Purple has been doing for the last 50 years.
Whoosh! wouldn’t have sounded out of place in 1974. Usually that’s a bad thing—evolution is crucial for bands to stay relevant in changing times—however in this case, that’s its greatest strength. Whether British heavy metal of the early ‘70s was decades ahead of its time or if music hasn’t evolved as much in the last 50 years as it did in the half century before, 1972’s Machine Head still sounds remarkably modern, so not a lot had to change to keep up.
Despite four of the five band members being in their 70s or older—66-year-old Steve Morse is the baby of the group and is a former member of Kansas—the bulk of the album sounds very much like it was made by a contemporary of 21st century hard rock band, like Queens of the Stone Age or Ghost. You would never know listening to Whoosh! that you’re hearing a group of septuagenarians rocking out, an impressive feat as any in music.
The best example is the first track, “Throw My Bones.” Deep Purple was originally a prog-leaning psychedelic rock band before shifting gears to proto-metal hard rock. Like its old stuff, it has welcome glimmers of psychedelia underlying the heaviness, but otherwise very easily fits in the canon of contemporary hard rock.
That energy is continued on the next two tracks, “Drop the Weapon” and “We’re All the Same in the Dark,” with varying levels of success. Morse’s guitar solo on “Drop the Weapon” is especially a highlight, but putting the album’s best song right up front was a bold move.
“Nothing At All” brings the tempo down quite a bit, serving as the album’s power ballad. On that old hard rock standby, the band, ironically, however, sounds old. The mistake most rock musicians make as they get older is not adjusting to their new limitations. Lead singer Ian Gillan sounds just fine, however. In Deep Purple’s case, the trick is to not lose momentum.
Fortunately the band regains that speed with “No Need to Shout” which, like “Highway Star” half a century ago, is a song that seems specifically designed for driving.
While the first few tracks are clearly in the same ballpark as Ghost, “Step By Step” is so similar to the Swedish theatrical metal band that it could be that band’s deep cut. The vaguely sinister tone, the keyboard made to sound like an organ—it has all the hallmarks of the horror-influenced sub-genres Deep Purple helped to inspire. That give-and-take, the willingness to take influence from the bands the band influenced, is likely one of the reasons the album seems fresh despite sticking largely to the old formula.
The middle section of the album is full of these genre explanations. “What the What,” is a throwback to ‘50s piano-driven rock and roll. “The Long Way Round” has an almost Bruce Springsteen vibe to the lyrical pacing. “The Power of the Moon” has an underlying melody that’s somewhere between the theme from “The Exorcist” and “The X-Files,” but with a soaring Sabbath-esque bridge.
Then we come to the prog-like “Man Alive,” at five and a half minutes long, with multiple meandering guitar solos and spoken-word interludes. The album closes out with the instrumental “And the Address,” and an oddly electronic-influenced “Dancing in my Sleep.”
Whoosh! is a success in several different ways. It’s a welcome dose of nostalgia for people who insist “they don’t make music like they used to,” it’s a taste of hard rock’s roots for modern fans without coming across as dated, and most of all, it’s an inspiration to us all. May we all still be rocking in our 70s.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.