December Best Albums REVIEW: The Who, Deep Purple, Frank Zappa, Grand Slam and more

Attempting to head-off any perceived criticism of their first studio album in thirteen years, 75-year-old Daltrey defiantly declares: ‘I don’t care. I know you’re going to hate this song”, on opener All This Music Must Fade. Both he and Townshend needn’t worry, it re-assuringly asserts their frank state of independence with a banger on possibly the best studio record of original songs they have produced since Who’s Next. Hero Ground Zero and the sharply observed rage of Street Song, about the Grenfell Tower disaster with Baba O’Reilly sounding synths, reminds of Townshend’s unique abilities to still pen a definitive political commentary of our times. The rock-rap surprise of Detour and the harmonious, universality of Beads On A String, plus sonic nods to vintage Who classics on Rocking In Rage, makes this a resounding monumental modern album for all Who fans.

Deep Purple: Live In Rome (earMusic) – 4 Stars

If 100% proof was needed of the immense and heavy universal appeal of this band of musical gladiators, then this colossal recording shows that when in Rome the Romans do as Deep Purple do and get their rocks off to a band playing at the very top of their game.

In fine voice, the much garlanded Ian Gillan roars out Fireball and Into The Fire to warm up the gathered ears, before the spooky vibes of Vincent Price float out like a sonic army of disturbed bats around this arena of giants. In fact, this concert promoting their then-current album Now? What! reveals a superb choice of this album’s songs with All The Time In The World confidently easing into a set of Purple classics.

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Guitarist Steve Morse puts on a heroic display of fiery fretwork as the whole band pull off a victorious masterclass of musicianship. The magic fingered Don Airey also performs majestically throughout as though his own life depends on this show. His heavy Hammond organ, linking with Morse’s guitar, riffs out an awesome take on Perfect Strangers.

No Purple gig is complete without anthems Smoke On The Water and Black Night blasting the doors off venues as this does. Even their first hit Hush is souped up to decibel defying proportions.

Once appointed the loudest band in the world by the Guinness Book of Records, Deep Purple remains one of best live heavy rock bands on the globe judged by this performance alone.

Be Bop Deluxe: Modern Music (Esoteric) – 4 Stars

Maverick musician Bill Nelson never does anything by half measures. As an ongoing musical explorer and creator of immersive soundscapes, his sonic voyages and visions have taken both himself and his dedicated followers on many a magical trip in sound shaping. His original audio modus operandi is fully revealed throughout this expanded release, especially with the copious extras accompanying this detailed seminal album.

As richly textured as a matured fine wine which has been laid down in a vault, this vintage album of surreal songs are as musically transportive as their titles –  Orphans Of Babylon, The Bird Charmers Destiny, Honeymoon On Mars, Lost In The Neon World and Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids – suggest.

A goldmine of bonus recordings including a full BBC live concert, an unreleased live show from American FM radio, and new mixes of the original album completes this true fan package of audio surprises.

Grand Slam: Hit The Ground (Marshall) – 4 Stars

Re-animating this band of legend, original line up guitarist Laurence Archer has picked up the musical baton from his former bandmate, Phil Lynott, and fully deserving of hard rock honours, along with bandmates Dave Boyce, Benjy Reid and Mike Dyer, he’s released a long-overdue masterpiece.

By completing a cache of Lynott era songs, whilst writing a bunch of top-grade complimentary songs, this far surpasses anybody’s expectations on this much-anticipated waxing.

Revving up this musical trip, Gone Are The Days combines the melodic hooky tropes of yore as singer Mike Dyer adds a lungful of class to kickstart a purring run of songs.  Breathing new life into 19, Military Man and Sister Of Mercy with an updated rock feel, newer numbers Long Road and title tune Hit The Ground rock-out to perfectly match the former compositions.

A remarkable grand slammin’ hard rock record.

All reviews by music journalist PAUL DAVIES. Check out his website for further music reviews, interviews and news.

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