Musical chairs is a frequently played game in the rock biz, giving rise to the notion of a “classic line-up” – ie the point in a band’s career when the personnel was settled long enough to produce something truly worthy of celebration. In the case of Deep Purple, the quintet responsible for 1972’s Machine Head is commonly regarded as the best of the best.
The roar of Ian Gillan’s voice, aligned to the inspired dexterity of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboardist Jon Lord – kept firmly in place by the rhythm section of Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) – conspired to make an album that, 40 years on, stands as an all-time great in any genre. The same five men had been responsible for the group’s previous two long-players, but Machine Head was the overwhelmingly potent hard rock statement: a blueprint that would be followed by generations of countless bands.
Highway Star, in terms of subject matter, relies upon those two staples of rock’n’roll, cars and girls, but is delivered with such ferocity that the listener feels compelled to grip tight to the passenger seat while the band negotiates a hairpin bend at top speed. The deceptively titled Lazy, with its driving blues and rasping harmonica, harks back to earlier beat group sensibilities, a more polite musical form given an ear-shredding makeover for the rock age.
Curiously, the track chosen as a single, Never Before, is the most subdued, perhaps mindful that the sonic blast of the rest of the album might struggle to find radio play (Smoke On The Water wouldn’t be a UK 45 until 1977). For sheer thump and bravado, though, it’s hard to beat the rage of the closing Space Truckin’, with Blackmore paradoxically at his heaviest and most eloquent.
Beyond the new remaster on the first disc of this bumper release, a 1997 remix overseen by Glover on Disc Two is presented in such a way that the listener is drawn deeper into the music, instrument levels altered to reveal nuances in the playing not immediately evident on the original mix. Disc Three’s Quad SQ mix features different Blackmore solos on Maybe I’m A Leo and Lazy, plus Smoke On The Water edited for US single release.
Disc Four presents the album live, in sequence, the tapes remixed from a show at the BBC’s Paris Theatre in 1972 and originally broadcast by Radio 1, the setlist bolstered by Strange Kind Of Woman and possibly the heaviest version of Little Richard’s Lucille ever attempted. The fifth disc is for your DVD player – but audio only – collating 18 tracks presented in varying sound formats (DTS, LPCM, etc).
That last one may be overegging the pudding, but it’s admirable that so much thought and attention has gone into this anniversary package. Ultimately, though, Machine Head cemented its reputation decades ago, courtesy of seven vital songs played in under 40 minutes that made for the definitive portrait of a rock powerhouse.