Out now on Ear Music
Fifth studio album from the rejuvenated Steve Morse era of the legendary rock outfit and one which find the band still sounding fresh and vibrant.
Continuing the slight progressive tint heard on its predecessor “Rapture Of The Deep”, “Now What?!” is a fresh vibrant release which sees the classic MK.2 purple sound still there in areas but is mostly one which has left the 20th century behind and is setting a new course in the 21st century. Given than Morse has been in the band longer than Blackmore has will still stop some from failing to give this a chance, more fool them.
Granted, opener “A Simple Song” might not be the strongest opener in the bands history but “Weirdistan” soon sorts that with its marauding groove. “Out Of Hand” continues the darker tone and it’s this kind of track that drummer Ian Paice always powers along with precision yet always with a skip in his play whilst the chorus is an infectious bugger.
The fast tempo of “Hell To Pay” fuses both vintage and modern Purple into another strong number, you can tell Gillan is having a blast singing this one, and his often underappreciated lyrics are noteworthy here too, the track also allows Morse to let his fingers fly with Airey playing some nice back up and counterpoints come solo time all making this is one of two definite highlights of the album.
The band go a little funky on us for “Body Line” which leads into the multi-faceted “Above & Beyond” which is home to some great keyboard orchestration from Airey (who over his two albums has slotted into the band perfectly) although its a quite disjointed track that still manages to work as a cohesive unit.
The initial mellow blues of “Blood From A Stone” transcends into a heavier chorus with screaming pinched harmonics from Morse before settling back down for a Fender Rhodes solo from Airey with the mood not a million miles away from The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”.
Another highlight follows in “Uncommon Man”, beginning with gentle guitar swells from Morse before he delivers some highly melodic lead lines over sustained chords from Airey (think Gary Moore’s extended versions of “Empty Rooms”) before the atmosphere darkens and Morse introduces the band main melodic hook over which orchestration grows before a jubilant horn fanfare announces the main riff (a nod to Concerto perhaps?),the whole build up and majestic nature of the main riff makes this track a stunner and this is sure to become a concert favourite.
From here the album is seen out by “Après Vous” which could be seen as standard fare from this incarnation to the retrospective and “All The Time In The World” which is home to some great hooks and could be catchy enough to garner some radio interest. Album closer “Vincent Price” is as the title suggest dark, a little eerie and amongst one the heaviest tracks the band have done with Morse’s guitar riffs being particularly heavy. This is backed up with choirs and BIG Hammond parts and closes the album on a high.
“Now What?!” sounds fresh, given this is a band in the fourth decade of their career it clear this is the sound of a band that is not living on former glories, its not looking to rewrite “Smoke On The Water”, “Highway Star” etc over and over, this instead is the sound of a band that sounds happy with each other, inspired by each other and a band that still sees new horizons and fans to conquer up ahead and is making sure it produces strong new music with new elements to try and win them over.
Rating – 93%