Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Martin Popoff is the author of The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal, a 540 page, 600,000 word compendium comprising 3,700 heavy metal record reviews. Also included are rock lists, a glossary of terms, a concise listing of almost 500 9's and 10's, plus a roll-call of non-metal faves. New to this edition is an exclusive 19 track sampler CD from Century Media. The book is now in its second pressing. For more information contact martinp@hardradio.com

 

Fresh Metal

Deep Purple - In Concert With The London Symphony Orchestra
(Spitfire)

This two CD packages celebrates Purple's stop-breathe-and-crane-back benefit concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and unlike other classical preposterousness lately, it makes people think. The songs are not the hits (for once with this band), only Smoke On The Water being dragged out for the finale. All of CD1 is themed as obscure, mostly non-rock solo works, with orchestra and/or original guests (Ronnie James Dio does a typically professional job on Glover's Sinatra'd Sitting In A Dream from '74's Butterfly Ball), save for the solo-void Paicey presumably picking Wring That Neck and giving it a big band treatment, and Pictures Of Home, which was curiously and jarringly moved from the show-ending rock set back to here, somewhere in the middle. It's a full, regular-rocking version of the regal Machine Head track, except for a two minute classical intro. Onto CD2 and we have the core of the record, a re-phoenix-flown version of Jon Lord's Concerto For Group And Orchestra, really the world's original full-length rock/classical synthesis from '69, a piece that had to be reconstructed from the audio, as the original score had been lost. There's more spirit and cooperation this time around. The piece has aged and Purple have grown in stature. Finally, we've got the rock close, which refreshingly, besides Smoke is all Morse-era material, Ted The Mechanic getting a smatter of horns, although this track carries the funk just fine without it. Next is a wise and prescient choice Watching The Sky which perfectly blends metal, brass and strings, an epic seemingly built for such synthesis. Second to last is Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming, preceded by Gillan telling us it's really called Sometimes I Have To Go Down To The Bar And Have A Drink With My Friends Screaming, which seems to be Gillan's largest theme, except this one doesn't have any strippers. One of my favourite Purple tracks ever, this version build's on the song's already lofty majesty, this army of soundmakers turning it into a juggernaut of welled-up emotion, high watermark being those clouds-breaking female backing vocals. Classic, forceful and coldly indicative of this band's vitality with Morse. Oh yeah, then there's that sloggy Smoke On The Water we talked about. With horns. Man, consider this unrated. It is what it is.
Rating 8

AC/DC - Stiff Upper Lip
(Warner)

When it's so long between albums the hype is always there, as is the thirst. Advance lead single Stiff Upper Lip hinted (thankfully) at more of the same, with a trace of the arcane, Angus and Malcolm building a riff that is more of a fine weave, a modest corner of artism in a morass of gleeful idiocy. So how'd the rest of the album shape up? Pretty damn good by offering less, AC/DC digging deeper into their cozy blanket of southern gentlemanly resplendence, constructing meticulously with the simplest of tooling a record that is the band's most creative and their softest, the plush recline of George Young's production creating a warm bed for Angus' lightest, cheekiest, and freshest riffs in years. Ergo Hold Me Back, with its verse beat comprising no more than 4/4 bass drum and high-hat, with maybe a whispery snare thrown in, but who's lookin'? Can't Stand Still: close to the same thing, Angus writing what amounts to children's music for blissful adult regression into carefree times. I mean, I just eat this stuff up, AC/DC following ZZ Top down this same path toward electric music that sounds pret' near unplugged, a sort of rarified Stones zone, while offering so much more. I mean, this is so laid back, the cushions are squirting out from between yer legs, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Like, I love Flick Of The Switch, way more than this, but this silly, nimble, goofball rock just feels so right from this band right now. It's likely the most organic and comfortable a guitar has ever sounded, case in demonstration being All Screwed Up, which actually is screwed up: the verse is heavier than the chorus, which has got to be heard to be believed, the band almost setting us up for their next trick: not playing anything at all!
Rating 8.5

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