The recent release of re-mastered versions of Deep Purple’s lost albums, Stormbringer, Come Taste the Band and Made In Europe, led to the inevitable Friday Night Role Playing Game Roundtable Argument Society discussion of the big question – who the hell wants those albums on CD? Seriously, right? Those three albums, dating from the Mark III version of the band (Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Ian Paice, Glenn Hughes and David “Whitesnake” Coverdale on vocals), haven’t been available as domestic CDs for something like two decades – there’s gotta be a reason for that. It’s a supply and demand economy – and all of Deep Purple Mark II’s albums have remained in print, after all. Still, a certain member of the FNRPGRAS contingent who shall remain nameless (he knows who he is) is such a devoted Ritchie Blackmore fan that he has not only made a Brythunian Soldier/Thief modeled on Ritchie (cleverly named “Blackmore”) for our Conan: RPG campaign, but this sad little man of course bought the two albums he could find -- Stormbringer and Made in Europe -- and special ordered Come Taste the Band. And to top it all off, he then he insisted on using the live version of “Burn” from Europe as his character’s “entry music,” because being a big dork with a character named after his favorite guitarist is apparently not shame enough.
It’s evenings like this where very little role playing is done, and we mostly just rag on one another’s horrible decision of days past – and since we’re grown men playing RPG’s on a Friday night, there are many, many poor decisions to catalog. Like the fact that our Blackmore fanatic gave his character seventeen ranks in Performance, but wouldn’t clarify what, exactly, his very talented character was so good at performing. Epic poetry, fellatio, shadow puppetry and Lambada, the Forbidden Dance, were all bandied as possibilities, but he finally relented and announced his guy was a really, really good lute player. That wouldn’t be electric lute, now, would it? Jerk. And yet – and it’s like failing a Fortitude Save here to admit this – that goddamn Stormbringer is one funky little sumbitch of an album. We eventually quit ragging on each other and just listened to it, then started arguing about why it went out of print in America. Let us first dismiss the possibility that it was because David Coverdale is the vocalist. He’s not nearly as histrionic on any of these songs as he is on your average White Snake cut (how could he be?). Coverdale’s got a nice, burly voice, and all his parts are doubled by bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, who has a higher, cleaner voice. The effect is a rich, classic rock-sounding vocalist who detracts nothing from the proceedings (sorry, Ian Gillan fanatics). No, the problem with Stormbringer is that most of it sounds nothing at all like Deep Purple’s preceding albums, which were big ol’ slabs of classic rock. The title track has been the only song to survive the mid-´70s, and only then because it’s on the easily found Very Best of Deep Purple compilation. But nothing else on the albums sounds like it. “Stormbringer,” with it’s epic refrain “Stormbringer comin’/time to die,” is a boss-ass rock song that hints obliquely at a passing knowledge of Michael Moorcock’s fantasy anti-hero, Elric, and his infamous black blade, Stormbringer; it’s one of those “power chords/verse/more power chords/slightly daffy guitar solo/keyboard thing” compositions that straddle hard rock and prog rock – you know, classic Deep Purple. It’s a re-statement of purpose from a band that had just chucked the bassist and the very-popular lead singer – for the second time – and were trying to not lose any fans, and hopefully make a few more. The rest of the album, however, veers wildly from Motown-style funk (“Love Don’t Mean a Thing”) to Allman-esque country rock (“Holy Man”) to Steely Dan-type jazz (“Hold On”). Crom help us, but there may not be a more ´70s-sounding album ever recorded. Blackmore has writing credit on seven of the eight tracks, and he’s stretching himself here in ways he never really did on the earlier DP albums. He’s working from the same bag of tricks, playing with his fingers instead of a pick, keeping the effects minimal – although he’s using a lot more flange and phaser than he ever did before – but he’s not just laying on the power chords. Instead, Blackmore’s got quite a bit of chicken scratching going on, some funky looseness in the chords; it works well with Jon Lord’s dirty blues figures, which don’t sound all that far away from something Al Kooper would have done. It’s downright weird coming from the men who launched a half-million monolithic rock riffs. But weird is good, right? Look, Stormbringer is no Deep Purple in Rock; it didn’t have to be. The fact that the core of the band – Blackmore, keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice – took so many chances with this album is what makes it sound so fresh and interesting now. Nothing they did before or since sounded like this; even Made in Europe, the follow-up live document, is a bombastic, burning rock album – no funkiness allowed. Gotta give the people what they want. And in 1975, DP fans apparently wanted no part of the weirdness that is Stormbringer. But now? Now Stormbringer’s a quaint little lost treasure from the hazy days of yore, and it’s good to have a re-mastered CD version of it. Or maybe it’s just that I failed my Willpower save, and Blackmore, the Brythunian Soldier/Thief, has enchanted me with his beautiful, beautiful lute playing on this magical evening. That'll happen when you stack a high Charisma bonus with seventeen ranks of Performance.