Home Read Area Resident’s Album Review: Deep Purple | Machine Head Super Deluxe Edition

Area Resident’s Album Review: Deep Purple | Machine Head Super Deluxe Edition

Featuring new mixes by Dweezil Zappa, two live concert recordings and more, the new Super Deluxe edition the British rockers' 1972 landmark is well worth the price.

It’s kind of like my Super Bowl. One of the best-loved 1972 rock masterpieces, Deep Purple’s Macine Head is back in a 50th anniversary box set. It comes complete with the fantastic mid-’70s quadraphonic mix, a new Dolby Atmos mix and the original stereo mix — but with the knobs re-twiddled by Dweezil Zappa.

In case you’re wondering why on Earth the eldest Zappa boy was involved, just listen to the lyrics of the album’s most famous track — Smoke On The Water. The mother of all riff-rock songs chronicles the fire which destroyed the Montreux Casino in Switzerland on Dec. 4, 1971. That night, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention were playing at the 90-year-old venue when a fan started a fire with a flare gun — famously referenced in the lyric “some stupid with a flare gun, burned the place to the ground.”

Incidentally, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore claims the Smoke On The Water riff is basically an inversion of the best-known phrase in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. It’s up there with Black Sabbath’s Iron Man and Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker as one of the all-timers of classic, bluesy electric guitar rock. The fire broke out at the beginning of Don Preston’s synth solo in King Kong and, like most Zappa gigs, was captured on tape.

The Zappa connection goes further. Deep Purple had played the casino earlier in the year — on April 16 and 17 — and were in town when the Zappa concert happened. The Mothers were the last scheduled show of the season before the casino closed for winter renovations. Deep Purple were planning to record there using The Rolling Stones mobile unit, but the fire forced them to record the album which would become Machine Head at the Grand Hôtel de Territet. If it weren’t for the Zappa concert, Deep Purple would never have written Smoke On The Water and would have recorded Machine Head a few days earlier, in an entirely different place.

Dweezil, who has made a career of late performing his father’s music, is an acknowledged Purple fan, and has even performed with the band before. His efforts to brighten this classic — and create a unique, spacial Dolby Atmos mix as well — are quite excellent. The album is brighter and louder throughout, if a tad inconsistent from track to track. To my ear, Space Truckin’ is the best new mix of all the songs. It sounds like it was recorded yesterday. This might be because the track, like most on the album, is practically a live-off-the-floor recording. Machine Head has very few overdubs. Space Truckin’ has only a single keyboard and guitar track.

This is quite in contrast to Smoke On The Water, which was likely the toughest song to remix. The bass track is so incredibly loud and fuzzed. Smoke On The Water is also, perhaps, the most different. It is nearly 30 seconds longer — all heard in the song’s outro. You get a longer Blackmore solo and the utterance at the end by lead vocalist Ian Gillan, “Break a leg, Frank.”

The phrase, break a leg, as we all know, is a common showbiz way of telling someone to have a good show, while being mindful of all possible superstitions. The dark humour here, though, is Zappa actually did break his leg when a fan pushed him off the stage at London’s Rainbow Theatre. This happened Dec. 10, 1971. Smoke On The Water was recorded in three sessions, but the vocals were certainly sometime shortly after Zappa’s fall.

The other tracks are the same length as the originals, and in one case — with Lazy — a few seconds shorter, even. Lazy, my favourite song on the album, has a rather dramatically different mix at the start as the Blackmore’s guitar first comes in following organist Jon Lord’s intro. Never Before, which was released as a single from the original album, has a mix which sounds quite a bit brighter and narrower than many of the others Dweezil completed. It’s poppier. The new box set also includes a remix of that single’s B-side — the non-album track When A Blind Man Cries.

For most of the songs on the album, the biggest improvement is with definition on drummer Ian Paice’s drums — brighter cymbals, more cutting snare and a clearer kick, if with a slightly different tone from track to track. On most songs, the vocals soar above the mix better than on the original — especially if your copy has had as many spins as mine. My copy is the 1974 Quadradisc quadraphonic copy. This, until now, was my favourite mix of the album. As I mentioned, this mix is included with the new box set — but in CD format. I can still play CDs, DVDs and BluRay discs through my vintage quad system with a connected Samsung BluRay player which has RCA outputs which correlate to the tape inputs on my 1976 receiver (FRONT LEFT, FRONT RIGHT, REAR LEFT, REAR RIGHT). This is basically 4.0 surround. The new box set also has a few tracks mixed for 5.1 surround — the typical surround configuration you get with TV. The difference is a fifth central-front speaker and a subwoofer.

The Dolby Atmos mix, which I haven’t heard, goes even further — essentially 7.1 surround. So, it’s 5.1 with two extra speakers on the ceiling, or at least two extra speakers with the cones directed upward. You can also just buy earbuds which provide a similar, spacial effect. I’m intrigued, but it’s not in my budget at the moment. I’d be interested in investigating a neat way to have an Atmos add-on to my 4.0 quad system. Just don’t tell my partner.

Dweezil wanted to create an immersive experience with the new mixes, and was very nearly given source material to work with. The original 16-channel analog master tapes were transferred into Nuendo, a digital audio workstation, where they were remixed in 24-bit/48kHz using analog outboard gear combined with digital processing. These mixes were personally approved by all surviving members of the Mark II version of Deep Purple, who cut the tracks. Lord passed away in 2012.

There’s more cool stuff in this new Super Deluxe box set: Two live shows! The first was recorded March 9, 1972, at the Paris Theatre in London while they were touring Machine Head. The second is previously unreleased — taken from the two shows I mentioned in April 1971 at the Montreux Casino. The box includes a mix of “purple smoke” coloured vinyl and discs, as well as a 16-page book. Expect to pay around $160, which is worth it.