Whitesnake The Purple Album, David Coverdale wants to go out the way he came in. The set list is magnificent and the playing impassioned.

Label: Frontiers Records
Time: 13+ tracks / 68 mins

Legend has it that Deep Purple Mk. II was the classic line up, and it was. But that truism masks the power of the work that came out of the next formation, whose vocalist David Coverdale became a key feature of the Purple brand.

Of this album, which almost came to be a re-union of sorts, Coverdale remarks, “I thought it would be cool to go out, as it were, the way I came in to this music business.” Whether that is a hint that he is retiring soon or simply going out on tour is not clear, but this is a quality release, taking its entire tracklist from the Mk. III and IV versions of Purple, specifically the albums Burn (six tracks), Come Taste the Band (five tracks) and Stormbringer (four tracks).

Beginning with “Burn,” which must be one of the most incendiary rock tracks of its decade, Whitesnake set out their stall. This is clearly not going to be any half-hearted tribute album, playing comatose versions of tracks that they could, by now, play in their sleep. Even though Coverdale plays the vocals more safely than he did forty years ago, the track has lost nothing of its intrinsic power.

If most tracks are played with immense respect – the drumming pattern on “Burn” is identical to its original version – there are surprises and none bigger than “Sail Away”. The intense and vibrant original was an excuse for Jon Lord to feature his new Moog over the funky clavinet-like undercurrent of Blackmore’s relentless riff. This one throws out most of the electrics and features only an acoustic twelve-string under Coverdale’s more soulful approach, with a very discreet stringy wash, rhythm section and harmony vocals gradually fading in halfway through.

The first 30 seconds of “Might Just Take Your Life” owes more to acoustic Zeppelin than Purple, with its dobro-based bluesy approach. It’s business as usual straight afterwards, though. Several intros lead in gently, such as the surf-guitar-and-harmonies of “You Keep on Moving.”

There are so many highlights: the machine gun guitar underlying the solos in a fierce take on “You Fool No One” (where Glenn Hughes’ harmonies are not greatly missed); “The Gypsy,” with its typical Blackmore riff and a central section that features an almost-slide guitar over a faux-strings section; and the always-classic blues-rock masterpiece “Mistreated.”

It doesn’t get the full tocks, however. Leaving aside some of the stereotype macho / misogynistic lyrics that you never take seriously anyway (“Lay Down, Stay Down”), “Lady Double Dealer” doesn’t have enough power to hide the poor lyrics and, at times, the age of Coverdale’s voice.

Generally, the 21st century compression levels and twin guitars make the sound more crowded than the originals, and of course it is Whitesnake playing, rather than a new version of Deep Purple. Despite the idea for the collection apparently coming from Purple keys player Jon Lord’s request before he died, the guitar/keyboards balance of Purple has changed to a predominantly guitar-based sound here. Ironically, looking back at these songs, they remind me in places more of Blackmore’s Rainbow than of Deep Purple. It’s the guitarist’s style coming through in his absence.

(There is also a second disc available with videos of several tracks and a couple of bonus features. These were not available for review.)

The bottom line? Coverdale’s voice isn’t all that it used to be, and the sound misses some of the space of the originals, but as a refreshed bunch of great songs, performed with a passion, this is very welcome.

Derek Walker

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