Shades of Whoosh!
Whoosh! is, rather unfortunately in my opinion, the title of Deep Purple’s 21st studio album. It will be available 7 August this year, having been delayed from April due to the Covid-19 pandemic, also unfortunate. Less unfortunate is the release of two singles from the album, Throw My Bones on 20 March and Man Alive on 1 May.
The songs give a taste of what is in store. A notion of what will likely be the band’s huzzah. An idea or a sense of what the they have cooked up. Impressions of an album. Shades of Whoosh!
Throw My Bones — the hit
The song kicks in with a rather simple guitar riff with a slightly (oh, the horror!) poppy flavour, played over a solid beat with that Ian Paice swing. At first, the riff seems almost pedestrian but as soon as the keyboard motif comes in and the rhythm section get their groove on, the picture comes together. The instruments gel and the pieces fall into place. It becomes Purple-worthy.
With that Bob Ezrin production sound, Throw My Bones could have been plucked from either 2013’s Now What?! or 2017’s Infinite. Indeed, in the video on the left (or above, depending on your device), it is revealed that the track comes from a jam session for Infinite. Still, the music feels like a logical step forward, with plenty of Don Airey’s touch on the soundscape. Indeed, his synthwork is prominent throughout the track and one has to assume that he had a big hand in the songwriting here. This is particularly apparent in the chorus chord progression, with its proggy keyboard flourishes.
After opening the song, Steve Morse’s guitar plays second fiddle to Don’s work on the keys. With the bass guitar, it anchors the verse but is nearly inaudible in the chorus. Around the halfway mark there is a guitar solo, quite adequate but really nothing spectacular. With the runs and phrasing, this is recognisable as Steve but it is a subdued piece of work.
Paicey and Roger Glover’s rhythm section propels the song effortlessly, providing a pumping beat for the verses and a languid groove in the chorus. It is one of the things one takes for granted but when you notice how these maestros are utterly in synch it is astounding.
Deep Purple: One Night in Frankfurt
Those two perfect riffs, that heavy groove, the slow and moody beat, those almost drawled cryptic, doom-ridden lyrics…
While Paicey is generally considered one of the greats of heavy rock, Roger rarely gets the recognition he deserves. He isn’t a flashy player but his playing always serves the song, first and foremost, and when you compare the rhythm sections of Deep Purple’s incarnations, you really see how essential he is to the band. Simply put, with all due respect, the Simper/Paice (1968–69) and Hughes/Paice (1973–76) bass/drums combos don’t hold a candle to the symbiotic, elemental force that is Glover/Paice (1969–73, 1984–present).
Ian Gillan’s voice is not what it used to be (no voice is, to be fair) but he has settled gracefully into a lower register over the last two decades. While he doesn’t really sound like he did back in the early 70s, he is still the same vocalist that sang on Perfect Strangers. Importantly, Big Ian remains expressive and retains the swagger he has so diligently cultivated during the band’s Steve Morse era.
The verse vocal melody is quite basic, complementing the ample music of the guitar riff and keyboard motif rather than trying to compete with or augment it. For the chorus, however, it is the voice, supported by the aforementioned keyboard flourishes, that takes the lead:
All I’ve got is what I need
And that’s enough, as far as I can see
Why should I walk into the great unknown
When I can sit here, and throw my bones
It is a simple but effective melody, an irresistible earworm. One of the band’s most memorable choruses in recent years, up there with All I Got is You from Infinite. The words to the chorus, and lyrics in general, are upbeat and reminiscent of All the Time in the World from Now What?! without feeling like a rehash.
Summing up, Throw My Bones is a solid song. It’s one of the catchiest, most fun songs Deep Purple has put out in later years. While not necessarily a latter day classic or a favourite of mine, it is a strong first single for Whoosh!, accessible and easy on the ear, with a great sing-along chorus. When the band hits the road once again, it would not surprise me if they play this one. I, for one, hope they do.
Man Alive — the epic
With crescendoing strings and a chorus of Gillans, the intro to Man Alive recalls that of Uncommon Man from Now What?! Even so, with the guitar’s different and smaller role, a more composed quality, and being only half the length, it is by no means a similar piece of music. Beyond the intro, it is a similar type of song but nothing resembling a knock-off.
The main riff is a triple attack of organ, guitar and bass. While the Hammond does roar splendidly, the guitar and bass are up front. The riff is basic to the point of being familiar but also so simple that it does not recall anything in particular. It’s heavy and muscular. And it works.
Don’s organ and keys are ever-present, adding texture and depth while letting the guitar and bass carry the proceedings. Gillan’s vocals are dreamy but somehow also urgent. Unsurprisingly, per the above, the rhythm section performs flawlessly. However, it is Steve Morse that stands out on this track.
Steve’s guitar work on the verses is splendid, cleverly complementing the vocal melody. After the breakdown, there is the guitar solo. At first I didn’t think much of it, it just seemed yet another solid performance by Mr Morse, but after a few listens I grew fond of it. It’s an emotional piece of music, reminiscent of Contact Lost from 2003’s Bananas but bleak and desolate rather than sorrowful. In keeping with the songs topic, it seems to ask “what have we done?” It is almost a cry for help but somehow there is a faint glimmer of hope in there. Anyone that says that Steve cannot play with feeling should pay special attention.
The lyrics, discussed in the video to the left/above, take on the subject of global warming and its possibly apocalyptic consequences. Over the heavy passages the words paint a vivid picture of impending doom. The quiet parts offer a detached account of our species’ demise, a tick-tocking cowbell driving the point home. It is ominous but fortunately not preachy. A striking and interesting contrast to the carefree and uplifting Throw My Bones.
With only one verse between the quiet intro and equally quiet breakdown, I have to wonder if the single is a radio edit. A second go at the riff and another verse would give the music time to breathe and assert itself better. In particular, that heavy riff bears repeating. It would improve and already thoroughly good song. While less is sometimes more, there is such a thing as less simply being not quite enough.
While Man Alive is not a rewrite, Purple has done a few proggy epic songs of this sort in later years: Before Time Began on 2006’s Rapture of the Deep, the aforementioned Uncommon Man, and most recently The Surprising and Birds of Prey on Infinite. In this category, Man Alive is on par with the first but falls short of the latter three. It is however a great song in its own right.
Very different from Throw My Bones but just as solid.
These two singles are likely among the more accessible, Classic Rock Radio style numbers on the album, it obviously makes sound business sense to put such songs out to promote the album. After all, the band wants to reach the masses.
As is the case on the two Ezrin-produced albums, the keyboards tend to overshadow the guitars at times and Roger Glover’s wonderful warm, metallic bass guitar sound (think Things I Never Said bass break) is replaced by a “regular” one, providing little more than a thumping low-end. This creates a slick overall sound, sometimes reminiscent of Pink Floyd. While the two Ezrin-produced albums are among the band’s best sounding albums ever, I feel that there could sometimes be more crunch and electricity to the sound. One cannot help but wonder if this undercuts the power of the music. For my part, I am hoping for some more hard-hitting, more electric material on the record, some crunchier guitars and some more roaring Hammond.
These are however but minor concerns, esoteric gripes and musings. Throw My Bones and Man Alive should give Deep Purple fans little to worry about: At worst we can expect a decent farewell album, at best a resounding grand finale.
Whatever Whoosh! will be, I am counting the days until 7 August. At the time of publication, 72.