|Deep Purple - Machine Head|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 30 January 2001|
When Deep Purple’s Machine Head first turned up on the doorstep, I was frankly concerned. Would this classic rock album survive the test of time – and would the remix survive the translation into surround? Happily, the answer is a distinct "yes" on both counts.
I have owned Machine Head in the past (on a black plastic Frisbee), though I don’t have it now. It must be said, however, that while "Smoke On The Water" from the present work is Deep Purple’s best-known number, my fave album was always In Rock, which to my ears in many ways is more innovative and, I believe, significant. But try telling that to a rock journalist.
Yet it is very much a matter of luck that Machine Head exists at all, and although the story surrounding it may be common knowledge to the average classic rock fan, it’s worth telling, in the hopes that the existence of a surround remix will attract some new listeners.
Machine Head was recorded with the Rolling Stones Mobile remote recording truck in Montreux, Switzerland, in December, 1971 (with at least two of the tunes, "Highway Star" and "Lazy," having been written and performed during the September/October U.K. tour immediately preceding the journey to Europe). The chosen venue was the Casino, a well-known site for the Jazz Festival, and it was decided to use essentially a live configuration, setting up on stage. The band attended a Frank Zappa concert at the Casino on December 6 and, during the course of the show, a fan fired a flare gun into the roof. The flare caused fire to take root in the space above a false ceiling, and by the time it was noticed a few minutes later, it was an inferno. Zappa and the Mothers lost their gear – and Deep Purple lost their recording venue.
"We were sitting in this bar restaurant about a quarter of a mile from the Casino, and it was blazing," says drummer Ian Paice, quoted in the extensive sleeve notes for this release. "The wind was coming down from the mountains and taking the smoke and flames across the lake, and the smoke was hanging like a curtain over the lake." This was the inspiration for the band’s biggest song of all time. The track’s working title was "Durh Durh Durh" – for obvious reasons.
The band moved to the Pavilion, but could only record one song ("Smoke On The Water," apparently) before the police closed them down due to the noise level. Deep Purple finally managed to arrange the use of the Grand Hotel, on the way out of town, which was closed for the winter, and the recording went ahead in a closed-off area of corridor. Basic tracks were completed on the Dec. 21 and the whole album cost around 8,000 U.K. pounds to record (5,000 pounds for the mobile). The album was released in the U.K. in April 1972, and today it is the heavy metal pioneers’ seminal release.
Though it’s not my favorite Purple album, Machine Head has some good stuff. I never really liked "Smoke On The Water" at the time, but it sounds better now than I remembered it. "Lazy," with its powerful phase-box organ intro, is probably my personal preference, and the drum break on "Space Truckin’" is pretty cool, too. Yes, musically, the material shows its age somewhat, but what the heck.
So, how does it work in surround? The album was recorded on 16-track as far as I can recall, so there is quite a lot of material to go round, and in this period the availability of 16 tracks on two-inch tape means that there is plenty of density without the significant audio degradation that followed the introduction of 24-track, two-inch machines a few years later. There is decent quality there, even without modern noise reduction technology. Paul Klingberg at Magna Vision in Santa Monica does an excellent job on the surround mix, really catching the sound of the time, adding a number of suitable effects like panning instruments around the room that are entirely appropriate for this material. The band’s manager Tony Edwards (who went on from managing the band and Purple Records to found a highly successful record company specializing in releasing original soundtracks from major musicals!) is credited as executive producer, but there is no evidence of direct involvement by the band in this project.
The disc includes two additional video sequences ("Highway Star" and "Lazy") recorded live in Copenhagen in 1972, plus a bonus B-side, "When a Blind Man Cries." The two streams are MLP 24/96 (DVD-A) and Dolby AC-3 (DVD-V) and, as we might expect, the MLP outclasses the Dolby fairly significantly. As with the other Warners DVD-A/V releases I have seen, a little leaflet claims that if you just want to listen to the album as if it were a CD, and don’t want to connect or switch on a video monitor, you simply put the disc in the tray and push Play. If you want to use the menus and see the video features, you press Close and wait for the menus. Well, on my machine, you wait for the menus whatever you do. But I really don’t think you should be worried by this. You probably watch movies on the same player anyway, so of course you have a video monitor hooked up.
In conclusion, this album will bring back memories, and it really does stand the test of time, perhaps surprisingly – for me, at least. The surround mix is excellent and exploits the medium’s possibilities in a way entirely appropriate for the material.