Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t resist this Classic Rock fan pack edition of an album which sees a dazzling array of rock luminaries paying their respective homages to Deep Purple’s monumental opus on its fortieth anniversary. Every track from Machine Head is covered on Re-Machined, plus When a Blind Man Cries (and two versions of Highway Star and Smoke on the Water are included). On the whole, I’d say that the package is a fun, but uneven, affair; some of the cuts included will definitely be returning to my metaphorical turntable – a lot – and some probably won’t.
The first track on the album, Carlos Santana and (Papa Roach frontman) Jacoby Shaddix’s pop at Smoke on the Water, is largely undistinguished. The congas sound great, and the Woodstock legend lays down some fine signature leads, but as a whole, I can’t see any Purple fans being particularly impressed by it. Next up is Chickenfoot’s frenetic live version of Highway Star, which is pretty impressive, seeing Joe Satriani manfully do his best to be both Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore at the same time, and rhythm section Mike Anthony and Chad Smith play with seriously manic energy. Chad pops up again immediately, joining Glenn Hughes for a terrific romp through Maybe I’m a Leo (guitar courtesy of Luis Maldonado). It’s funny how, back in the day, so many fans thought that Glenn’s vocal style and musical leanings were so ill-suited to Deep Purple – yet, as soon as you hear him wrap his golden larynx around this ever-so-Gillan Gillan-sung track, it sounds so wonderfully authentic compared to what has gone before. Glenn manages to put his own spin on the song – Deep Purple Mark II in the style of a GH solo track – and the results are delightful, particularly the improvised end section. Less successful is Black Label Society’s stab at Pictures of Home: all credit to them for trying to do something different with the song, and bring out some of its underlying qualities, but for me, the slowed down stop-start rhythm just doesn’t quite work. Next, we have a song I was greatly looking forward to hearing covered – Never Before, tackled by Kings of Chaos, a new supergroup comprised of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion rhythm section, Steve Stevens on lead guitar, and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot at the mic. Massive kudos to Joe Elliot for picking out Never Before as his favourite track on Machine Head (I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it is an absolute belter that deserves far more acknowledgement as such); unfortunately, however, this show of good taste does not turn him into a great singer, and taking on an Ian Gillan song makes him sound particularly mediocre. Following that, we have what is on paper the least promising contribution of all: alt-rockers The Flaming Lips’ radical reworking of Smoke on the Water. It actually starts quite promisingly; throughout the intro, I was quite intrigued to hear where they were going to go with the song. As soon as the vocal came in, though, I just wanted to strangle the bastards. How about getting a real job, clowns?
After that horror show *, Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Barnes and Derek Sherinian seem like nothing less than the saviours of mankind, as they romp their way through Lazy. Great job, guys. Definitely not rocket science – and nor would we want it to be. Iron Maiden, as one would expect, maintain the high standards with their Space Truckin’, on which Bruce Dickinson’s affinity for Ian Gillan’s sense of humour strikes all the right notes. Metallica’s When a Blind Man Cries – perhaps the most keenly anticipated track on the album – is even better. James Hetfield speaks in his fan pack interview about the challenge of remaining true to the essence of the song while putting the genuine Metallica stamp on it. And I have to say, they’ve managed to strike exactly the right balance, with the brooding intensity of the band responsible for Nothing Else Matters and the Unforgiven trilogy fitting the song quite as perfectly as one would have hoped. The very best, however, is saved for last – Glenn Hughes, Steve Vai, and Chad Smith contributing their own Highway Star, with Glenn’s vocals recorded as a tribute to Jon Lord shortly after the great man’s passing. Steve Vai’s Made in Japan nods are an absolute joy for the serious Deep Purple fan – and when he gets to Ritchie’s legendary solo spot, boy does he go to town (sorry, Satch – he’s got you beat on this one!). The whole band play as if their lives depend on it, and Glenn sings like a man possessed. What poignant irony; I’ve written before about how lethargic Glenn’s vocals on the Mark II material often sounded in his Deep Purple days, including on Highway Star. So, to hear him singing his ass off on this hard rock monolith, on which Jon Lord laid down that ingenious neo-classical solo, is about as fitting a tribute to his friend and former bandmate as one could ask for.
On that note, I’d have to say that it seems equally fitting, at this time, that, with so many keyboardless, or keyboard-lite, contributions on the album, the man whose talents are most missed across the album, are those of Jon Lord. The brilliance of all five members of Deep Purple Mark II comes shining through many times over as you listen to such a diverse array of musicians trying to get to grips with their legacies, but one definitely leaves Re-Machined with the impression that Jon’s was the beating heart of Deep Purple.
* A great pity that no-one managed to do justice to Smoke. If you ask me, they’d have been better off sticking a live take of the song from Black Sabbath’s much-maligned Born Again line-up on the album.