First Impressions: Deep Purple Turning to Crime!

This morning at 10 A.M EST, about two hours before this post was published, Deep Purple announced their upcoming album: Turning To Crime. It will be released on November 26, 2021. That’s 51 days from now, plenty of time to build excitement, but not enough time that we’ll forget what’s coming. Here in the U.S., November 26 also happens to be Black Friday. Good job, sales team! Here’s hoping the album’s not drowned out by all the other new products which will be coming out that day.

Album cover. Retrieved from here.

As someone who has loved everything Mark VIII has done so far in studio, I’m very happy about this. In response to this announcement, I’m sharing a few things we know about Turning to Crime, as well as my thoughts on the matter.

This Was Basically a COVID Lockdown Project

So what did you do while in lockdown? I personally spent a lot of time stressing out, trying to clean my house and then getting depressed because it’d just get messy again, having existential crises, listening to Whoosh!, and trying to work virtually. Hopefully all of you had more productive lockdowns than I did. If not, we’re only human.

As it turns out, Deep Purple collectively decided that instead of sitting at home being bored, they were going to make some music. That is definitely a good way to handle a sudden upheaval in all of their worlds. Since the group hasn’t had a gig onstage since March 2020 (even longer since Don Airey, who had to miss the March concert due to a health issue, has been onstage with them), it’s also nice to know that they kept their chops up for when they eventually can return to the stage together.

A couple of musical COVID lockdown projects have already come out. I’m specifically thinking of McCartney III, a recent solo project by Paul McCartney which took the world by storm last December and was recorded on his own early in 2020. Taylor Swift created two albums during lockdown, folklore and evermore, which received similar acclaim on charts and among critics. What I’m saying is, there’s precedent for COVID projects actually being pretty good.

Most or All of the Album Was Recorded Virtually

Despite the fact that Deep Purple are “turning to crime” for this album, it appears that they didn’t decide to turn to crime too much and violate local lockdown orders. With the band and Bob Ezrin currently spread across two continents, all the album was recorded separately and spliced together later.

Deep Purple discussing the making of Turning to Crime. Featuring: Don Airey, Steve Morse, Roger Glover, Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Bob Ezrin, and some excellent quarantine fashions.

Normally, that would worry me. One of Purple’s enduring strengths in their studio output is their ability to react off each other while recording together. While not everything has been recorded together during Bob Ezrin’s tenure (the vocal tracks are notably laid on later, as are at least some solos), the majority appears to be. Due to circumstances beyond their control, they obviously weren’t able to for this outing.

That said, if anyone can handle recording in less-than-ideal circumstances and still manage a decent sound, it’s a quintet of seasoned musicians who have around 250 combined years of professional experience. Since Bob Ezrin, who produced their three previous albums and brought them to new heights, is returning as well, I’m feeling even better about this. Furthermore, the band has another experienced producer in their midst with Roger Glover, who has done some really excellent production work in the past. In such unprecedented times, having Glover on hand was doubtless helpful even for Ezrin, who normally wouldn’t need any help. So far, the teasers the band have released and the first single (which I will be reviewing soon) have all sounded pretty good, so at the very least it’ll be alright. I’m still not going to expect Whoosh! levels of sonic excellence, but then again I could be surprised.

As a last thought, sometimes production on albums recorded separately can actually fool people. Notably, Ziad Rahbani’s Bil Afrah, a staple of Middle Eastern music, had some production tricks to make it sound as if it were live, with crowd noises overlaid later. I know at least one connoisseur of the genre who spent his whole life believing it actually was recorded live, speaking to the genius of the sound engineers and producer on that album. In my own experience, I had something similar occur, learning only years after my musical world was irrevocably shaken by Three Fates Project that Keith Emerson and the Munich Radio Orchestra never played together. The album could’ve fooled me!

It’s a Cover Album. So What?

A few weeks ago, news that Deep Purple’s 22nd album would be a cover album leaked online. The responses that I saw ranged from lukewarm to very, very negative. It reminded me why I’m not as active in DP fan spaces anymore: things can get really toxic. Yes, I’ve met plenty of lovely people. You folks hopefully know who you are! Overall, though, I guess I just got burned out on the negativity. I expect it’s going to get bad again with this new project.

Personally, would I have preferred all-new music? Yes, I would. Purple’s been on a hot streak with their new work. In my review of Whoosh!, their 21st album, I even said that it was the best they ever released. Some of this is colored by the fact that I became a fan during their Mark VIII era, meaning I have a preference for their current work, but I’d say that most of it is because it was an objectively good album which was released at the exact right time. As compared to their original music, their recent cover of “Roadhouse Blues” was the weakest link on Infinite. Then again, saying that it was the weakest link on Infinite is like winning a bronze medal at the Olympics: it’s still amazing.

Getting back to the issue of Deep Purple covers, let’s go back and take a very cursory look at their history of covers. In the Mark I era while the band was still finding its feet as a band, a significant portion of their first two albums were made up of cover songs. Overall, these were creative, exciting covers which deviated enough from the original songs that they definitely had their own flavor. One in particular has even gone on to be one of Purple’s most-played and most-loved songs.

Even if I hadn’t put this here, you’d know the one.

“But wait!” You might say. “There’s only one band member left from Mark I! How can you compare what they were doing more than fifty years ago to any modern output with that sort of member retention rate?”

A very fair point, and one I’m glad to engage with. Let’s pull out a few examples of covers involving other members of the band. Back in 1979, Don Airey and Roger Glover were involved with a little band called Rainbow. One of the signature songs of the Down to Earth era was a cover of “Since You’ve Been Gone”, originally by Russ Ballard.

Along with Airey, Steve Morse participated in the Living Loud project in 2004, which included many covers of Ozzy Osbourne’s work. He had the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of Randy Rhoads, a task he apparently pulled off well.

Airey himself has the most experience with covers, peppering his solo output with them over the years. His 2018 jazz album Going Home, which I rated as his best work here, features a couple of jazz covers of rock songs, including a genre-bending cover “Smoke on the Water”. Meanwhile, onstage, he and his touring group have often done covers of rock standards, including a rousing cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin'”.

Included because it features one of my favorite Hammond riffs ever, and man does Airey do it justice.

And no, I didn’t forget the time that Mark VIII covered themselves, redoing “And the Address” as the penultimate track on Whoosh! with 75% new people involved (maybe 80%, depending on whether Ian Gillan found some way to participate in this instrumental track). I didn’t mention it earlier when discussing “Roadhouse Blues” because, unlike that one, this cover was great and very memorable, providing a strong update to an already-classic song. I expect that Turning To Crime will largely follow in this album’s steps, featuring rocky-er updates to songs which came from a similar period to Shades of Deep Purple.

Conclusion

Maybe I’m just easily satisfied when it comes to Deep Purple’s work. Fine. I like being happy and enjoying life. Either way, I am very, very excited about this upcoming album

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