Whitesnake – The Purple Album

I tell fellow Deep Purple fans that some of these renditions of the band’s songs on this album “mistreated” the originals. You “might just take your life” after hearing some of them. The Purple Album features this week’s line-up of the band Whitesnake performing songs from the three albums their lead singer, David Coverdale, recorded as Deep Purple‘s lead vocalist. This seemed like a really good idea at its inception.

My first issue concerned the song selection. Deep Purple is primarily known for the guitar driven classic rock staple “Smoke on the Water”. The band went through, and continues to evolve through, various musical phases. During the Coverdale era, Deep Purple transitioned their music into a funky, soulful direction while still retaining their hard rock edge. The musicians on The Purple Album nailed the hard rock part, but lacked soul. The solution? Play everything much, much louder. The mastering on this recording is unbelievable. Even when I listen to it on my Kindle I need earplugs.

With personnel such as guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra along with drummer Tommy Aldridge, I thought heavier Purple tracks such as “Speed King” and “Child in Time” would’ve accommodated their strengths better. Coverdale limited the song selection to tracks from Burn, Stormbringer and Come Taste the Band. When he played with Deep Purple in the 1970s, earlier tunes such as “Smoke on the Water”, “Highway Star” and “Space Truckin’” were part of their set lists. Why not include them in the “tribute”?

David Coverdale undoubtedly deserves to be ranked among rock’s greatest vocalists. The version of “Mistreated” from Deep Purple’s Made in Europe sounded like an anthem. He deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for that recording alone. It bothered me to hear him struggling through it on this album. I’m not attacking his talent. The man’s been singing and touring for the last 40 years. That wears on one’s voice. It’s just a shame to listen to someone so talented having trouble hitting notes he nailed with ease in his heyday.

My biggest issue with the album concerned the personnel. How, and I mean how, can a group possibly do a tribute to Deep Purple without a keyboard player in the band? (Derek Hilland added keys on this CD, but he wasn’t formally a member of the group.) While no musician can mimic Jon Lord, adding a second guitar player didn’t serve as a comparable substitute. I’m sorry, but Lord’s organ on “Stormbringer” made that song heavier than a dozen guitarists could have.

I did like some of the new arrangements. Bassist Michael Devin added a harmonica intro to the beginning of “You Fool No One.” The group also included a bluesy slide guitar to the opening of “Might Just Take Your Life”. That harkened back to the R & B days of Whitesnake with guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody. I wish Coverdale made this kind of music a bigger part of the modern Whitesnake’s repertoire.

I felt torn when I heard “Sail Away”. Coverdale scrapped the funky guitar riff. (For those who haven’t heard the original: think “Play That Funky Music White Boy” pushed into overdrive.) He transformed it into a slow acoustic ballad. The new version is much different, but it’s as strong as the original. It goes to show you: a great song is a great song no matter how it’s played.

When David Coverdale fronted Deep Purple, Glenn Hughes sang back-up vocals. With the greatest of respect to the Righteous Brothers, those guys sang the best rock duets ever recorded. It made me glad to hear Hughes join Coverdale on this album. He still has an outstanding voice, albeit without the high notes anymore. I liked hearing the two of them sing “Burn” together again.

Deep Purple and Whitesnake are two of the best bands in rock history. In the latter’s early days, three of the members of the former played in it. Some fantastic music resulted. I had similar hopes for this album. Deep Purple is still together. Maybe they’ll do a tribute album to Whitesnake with better results. For now, I’ll listen to my Coverdale era Deep Purple albums.

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