Moving right along, right after Big Big Train at #1, we come to the #2 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list:
With the release of NOW What?! the band caught me by surprise. (Note that the first word of the album title is in “all caps,” which I think is particularly hilarious. But a lot of reviewers have missed out on that nice little tonal detail.) And what a fine surprise this album is.
I wasn’t expecting the album to be so good! In fact, I remember downloading it and listening to the first three tracks (“A Simple Song,” “Weirdistan,” and “Out of Hand”) thinking, “WHOA,” this is not too bad at all… and then, WHAM! Suddenly the next two tracks (“Hell to Pay,” and “Body Line”) totally blew me away. Why? Well, because it seemed as if the instrumental breaks were actually escalating in intensity as the album progressed. The wild organ freak-outs and the insanely great guitar playing were — yes! — veering off into prog-class warp drive territory.
And then, the unmistakably epic tracks “Above and Beyond” and “Uncommon Man” sealed the deal, with their instrumental and compositional prowess. Note that both of these tracks are fittingly dedicated to rock god Jon Lord, the Deep Purple founding member and super-talented classical composer who died in 2012. The latter track (“Uncommon Man”) invokes Aaron Copland’s classical epic, “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which progarchists will recall has also been previously transmuted into prog excellence by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
Let it be noticed by one and all: Steve Morse serves up some sweeeeeeeeet guitar work on this album. “Apres Vous” and “All the Time in the World” keep the album orbiting in the stratosphere of excellence.
Indeed, Flying Colors made it into my Top Ten list last year, instantly passing the prog litmus test with flying colors. So, I was sad that the supergroup had no studio album in 2013. (Hence I am looking forward to what will surely be one of the highlights of 2014.)
But this new Deep Purple album has both surprised and more than satisfied me in the meantime, by giving me many unexpected 2013 moments of Steve Morse guitar bliss. His synergy with Don Airey’s organ virtuosity on NOW What?! should make all prog-lovers sit up and take notice. The whole disc is a joy to listen to.
NOW What?! offers classic hard rock with the perfect twist; namely, prog-class musical virtuosity.