Through the past half century of classic rock and roll, there have been scores (if not hundreds) of major group reunions, with very mixed results. However, there have been very few groups that returned with the same potency contemporary relevance as the comeback of Deep Purple in 1984, which commenced with the composing and recording of the Perfect Strangers album. Here, the classic “Mark II” lineup, which had not been together in over a decade, struck a “perfect” balance between their indelible classic sound of the early seventies and the emerging 80s hard rock sensibilities, such as the great clichés embedded within its lyrics (i.e. “it’s not the kill, it’s the thrill of the chase…”).
The prior album recorded by the successful and popular “Mark II” lineup, was the rather forgettable Who Do We Think We Are in 1973. The dissatisfaction with that album, ultimately led to the departure of lead vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist/producer Roger Glover. Glover was replaced by bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, and the group briefly debated continuing as a four-piece band, with Hughes also acting as lead vocalist. However, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore discovered the (then) unknown David Coverdale and liked his blues-tinged voice. This new (“Mark III”) lineup recorded two albums and embarked on a very successful tour in 1974, with the album Burn becoming only the second Top 10 album by the band. However, Blackmore was growing dissatisfied with the new funky and soul elements, and decided to leave in mid 1975. Still, the two original members, keyboardist John Lord and drummer Ian Paice decided to carry on and replaced Blackmore with Tommy Bolin (“Mark IV” lineup) for the studio album Come Taste the Band, which was released mere months before Deep Purple officially announced their break-up in 1976. Bolin tragically died of a drug overdose later that year.
The fact that Deep Purple reunited nearly a decade later is all the more remarkable due to the vast success of the individual members in the intervening years. Starting in 1975, Gillan formed the Ian Gillan Band and later formed a separate group named “Gillan” which put out several albums and had considerable success into the early 1980s. In 1983, Gillan joined the original members of Black Sabbath for a single year and single album, with the arrangement ending with the Deep Purple reunion. In Black Sabbath, Gillan replaced Ronnie James Dio, who ironically was the original singer of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, starting in 1975. Blackmore steered Rainbow through seven albums in eight years, with Glover joining on as bassist and producer for the final four of these albums in the early 1980s. Glover had earlier released two post-Deep Purple solo albums in the late 1970s. Lord and Paice formed the short-lived super group Paice Ashton Lord, which released the album Malice in Wonderland in 1977, before each moving on to other projects. Paice became the drummer for bluesman Gary Moore, while Lord joined Coverdale’s post-Deep Purple project, Whitesnake, recorded several albums with the band right through Slide It In in early 1984.
Rural Stowe, Vermont, USA was the unlikely location for the reunion of these five English rock stars. Here, the tracks for Perfect Strangers were composed and recorded in less than a month. Eight of these tracks made it on to the original record, with two more, the straight-up rocker “Not Responsible” and the extended instrumental “Son of Alerik”, appearing on later versions of the album.
Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple
|Released: September 16, 1984 (Mercury)
Produced by: Roger Glover
Recorded: Horizons, Stowe, Vermont, August 1984
|Side One||Side Two|
|Knockin’ At Your Back Door
Under the Gun
A Gypsy’s Kiss
|Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
John Lord – Keyboards
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums
Lord’s dramatic keyboard intro by Lord, borrowed heavily from the “Jaws” theme, is accented by a pulsating rhythm during the dramatic intro to “Knocking at Your Back Door”. This seven-minute album opener was quite the breath of fresh, classic rock air during the mid 1980s rock scene, and made an immediate impact with its classic yet modern (for 1984) sound. In all, the performance, rudiments, and picturesque lyrics are all excellent as is the long guitar lead by Blackmore to finish things up. “Under the Gun” is almost as equally impressive as the opener, albeit much less heralded. The thundering motor-drive of rhythm by Glover and Paice supports the repeated call-and-response between Blackmore and Lord, followed by the strong, harmonized riff through the verses.
“Nobody’s Home” is the only track on the album credited to all five band members (Lord and Paice rarely composed). A short synth intro is interrupted by another classic Deep Purple riff and a good lyrical catch line. While mainly vocal-driven by Gillan’s dynamic crooning, it contains that great old Blackmore-Lord dueling and a later organ solo which is wisely given much room to breathe. “Mean Streak” is the only song on the first side which is not completely excellent and, really, the lone weak link on the entire album. There is a nice upbeat chord progression, but it unfortunately all points towards the rather ho-hum hook.
The beginning of side two returns to classic mode with the deep and profound title song “Perfect Strangers”. This song contains a quasi-heavy-metal drive but with great melody and a really cool and subtle passage to the post-chorus Eastern-style phrasing. The rhythm is steady throughout, leaving Gillan the room to vocally paint the pictures of the rich scenery of the lyrics about reincarnation and passing through time. “A Gypsy’s Kiss” comes in with a rhythm almost like rockabilly but quickly breaks into a frenzied beat. The most interesting section here is the multi-part instrumental, with Blackmore’s guitar lead over some very interesting rudiments before Lord doing both a synth and organ lead. This frantic track is reminiscent of those found on the group’s 1972 classic Machine Head.
“Wasted Sunsets” calms things down a bit as a dramatic ballad with long and moody guitar notes and leads and slow but effective riffs. The deep organ notes guide the moderate and measured rhythms on this track which is really a great showcase for Blackmore’s bluesy guitar. “Hungry Daze” finishes things up strong as an upbeat rock retrospective of the band’s earlier years. Here Gillan’s vocals are most dynamic and Paice provides a great drum section during an extended psychedelic section.
Perfect Strangers was a commercial success, charting in the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in six European countries, including the UK. This was followed up with a highly successful world tour that saw Deep Purple out-grossing every other artist except Bruce Springsteen in 1985. The Mark II lineup remained together for several subsequent years, releasing another studio album The House of Blue Light in 1987. However, the personnel shifts resumed near the end of the decade, resulting in even more “Mark X” lineups.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1984 albums.