All good things must come to an end, except in music. Most good things eventually come to an end, but some good things have major internal issues and wind up having key members leave the group and the good thing turns into a bad thing for a while until that key member rejoins the group 10 years later but by that time it’s too late and now we’ve got a bad thing and not a good thing.
We apologize for the previous sentence, it was kind of convoluted and didn’t really do its job of introducing Deep Purple’s “final” “Mark II lineup” album, Who Do We Think We Are. Measures have been taken to make sure this kind of sentence doesn’t happen again in this writeup.
Tensions were running really high in the Ian, Ritchie, Roger, Jon, and Ian lineup of Deep Purple. The band was the most successful band in America at the time, having come out with Machine Head and Made In Tokyo right next to each other, so apparently the management felt that, in lieu of a vacation or something, the band should use the momentum from a year and a half of touring and squeeze out just one more album by the year’s end.
The idea looked good on paper, and certainly the plan worked in a certain way, the band, tired and beat up and, at least in Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore’s case, constantly fighting, actually did make an album. However, what the management should have figured out was that the pressure would ultimately blow the band apart in a way that would prove impossible to ever fully repair. Ian Gillan left the group soon after, and Roger Glover following close behind (though both would return at various points), and the group we all knew and loved who created Machine Head would never be the same, or even close, despite the fact that they’re still around to this day.
Well, screw all that right? This album destroyed a band, so it better be good right? Right?
Actually, the album she’s a not-so-good.
Oh there are brilliant moments in it; it’s technically fast-paced (in parts), has instrumental solos, and Ian’s signature scream-o-vision technology is at its height despite years of wrecking it with the previous three albums. The songs on the whole, however, are just kind of there and the filter to make sure they didn’t write inane garbage was worn thin from too many rock-fueled shows out in Tokyo and thereabouts.
Speaking of, the first song is a number called “Woman From Tokyo” (pronounced “TOE-KAY-YO”). This song shows a lot of promise, with a simplistic drum line and two-guitar riff sounding like it would be kind of fun and American-sounding. However, I personally consider the chorus to be one of the most annoying things Deep Purple had done up to this point, and unfortunately wouldn’t be the most annoying thing on this recording. Well, at least the production is really clean and the rest of the instruments are really well done. Still, the responsibility of the singer/songwriter of the group is to make sure singing something like “MAH WO-MAN FROM TOE-KAY-YO” isn’t decimating this otherwise good track. The other thing is that the song slows down to a crawl and kind of restarts itself right after the first chorus. I’m ok with songs doing stop-starting stuff, but not after the first chorus, and certainly not in a way that makes you kind of not care that the song just came back.
The next song suffers from the same problems, only this time it’s so much worse. The person Ian is singing about is a made-up politician named “Mary Long” who is actually a composite of two other politicians at the time, Mary *mumble-mumble* and *mumble-mumble* Long. Apparently they were doing some wack moral high-ground stuff and that always pisses off rock and roll stars. Still, the lack of a real person to protest against in this lukewarm rocker kind of deflates the thing somewhat. Of course, half of this song would be really scathing if it were directed at a real person:
When did you lose your virginity, Mary Long?
When will you lose your stupidity? Mary Long
Ok, maybe not. Either way, this song contains a legit guitar solo, which doesn’t really make up for half the lyrics being rushed and the other half… oh wait that’s all the lyrics. Yes.
“Super Trouper” is the first song where I feel one can legitimately rock out. It starts strong, has a nice psychedelic phase-shiftery chorus, and despite the lyrics continuing that whole “I just don’t care” theme, it’s of little to no importance at this time. Remember: one shouldn’t dissect Deep Purple lyrics until they become so annoying that you actually notice them, elsewise one may be tempted to look at a masterpiece like “Highway Star” and may be tempted to think that all the loose threads of free association contained therein are to the song’s detriment. You would be foul and of the internet to think so.
Honestly, this song is so good it actually makes me a little mad that we had to go through the first two songs to get to this point. It makes me equally upset that the song is only just under 3 minutes.
“Smooth Dancer” has such a hot beat that I don’t even care to say anything else about it. It’s a 4 minute slice of party Heaven with the most radical keyboard solo I’ve ever heard, so enjoy!
The real high-point to this album is the song “Rat Bat Blue”. On top of having an awesome blues-rock riff, a funky, unusually-timed beat, Ian Gillan somehow transporting himself back to when the band was at their height, you know, way back in 1972. I guess the one thing I can say about Deep Purple is that, no matter how far away from their height of fame they went, they always had Ian Paice’s amazing drumming to keep them working with at least a modicum of the rock flavor that made them big. By the way, I was wrong about “Smooth Dancer”, this song has the raddest keyboard solo ever, if not the fastest.
Well that’s the end of the album, wasn’t that great? Oh wait, there are two more songs, I was hoping you wouldn’t notice them.
This album started with 2 duds, and it ends with two more. “Place In Line” is a generic boogie-blues, which isn’t so bad really, but it really kind of grinds the whole thing to a halt to tell a 6 1/2 minute joke about how long lines are. The only problem is that Ian Gillan is more concerned with just moving the song along rather than making it entertaining at all. The “endless repetition” guitar solo from Ritchie and Jon helps things not a whit, either.
Finally, we get “Our Lady”, which starts with keyboard feedback, and only goes down from there. Ok, ok, it’s actually not as bad as the first two songs, it’s just boring and repetitive, and I can handle that. The choir of backup singers in the chorus is kind of confusing, especially when they hit what I affectionately refer to as a “Beatles chord”. Either way, Deep Purple had never really ended albums as great as they had started them, so the fact that this song is better than “Woman From Tokyo” at least stands on the merit of defeating that axiom.
So yes, Who Do We Think We Are, as an album, is great in the middle and rough at both ends, kind of like a metaphor I don’t have time to write. As a testament to the condition of one of the world’s best rock bands at the time, it is the setting sun on their hey-day, and though they would eventually come back together as the infamous Mark II lineup, it would prove too late, because they did so in the 80′s, the Dark Ages of music. Hopefully we will bring you some writeups from that period, but until then, keep doing what you’re doing, and do it with style.