Having established themselves as one of the premium hard rock bands of the early 70s, by 1973, it was seemingly simply too much effort for Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan and scalloped-fret worrier Ritchie Blackmore to co-exist in the same band. Gillan walking away / being pushed gave Blackmore an opening to try and convince co-founders Ian Paice and Jon Lord that they should show bass player (and Gillan’s mate) Roger Glover the door as well, and ultimately Glover was dismissed. Given that it would take a vocal powerhouse to replace a rock screamer of Gillan’s stature, the hunt was on for his replacement, with former Free / future Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers being top of Blackmore’s wishlist. As it turned out Rodgers had other things to do (i.e. Bad Company), so it was former Trapeze vocalist / bass player, Glenn Hughes who they initially recruited. Having flirted with, then dismissing the idea of going forward as a four-piece, they would pluck the obscure talent that was David Coverdale out of Redcar. With Hughes’ capable rock voice harmonising with Coverdale’s bluesy vocal stylings, Deep Purple acquired an extra layer to their sound, which in turn found Deep Purple’s enthusiasm recharged as they headed into the studio to record the tracks that would become 1974’s Burn.
Burn could have been an abject failure, after all, replacing 40% of your personnel is a risky move, however at this point in their career Deep Purple were one of the biggest acts in the world, had already had a major shake up after their first three albums, and the twin musical frontmen, Blackmore and Lord, were still a potent mixture. Add to that Ian Paice’s superlative drumming and the harmonising of a pair of talented and enthusiastic vocalists, and Burn defied the odds by being a big seller. Listening back to it now, it’s surprising how great Burn sounds, especially when you factor in the subsequent memories of the hair-metal nightmare that the David Coverdale fronted Whitesnake would start morphing into a decade later. Things is, Burn isn’t just early 70s Deep Purple fronted by a hair-metal vocalist. At this early stage in his career, Coverdale was legitimately great blues rock singer, still trying to forge his own identity and put his own stamp on the Deep Purple sound. True, he was fronting one of the most popular rock bands on the planet, but the crowds were coming to see Deep Purple because they were Deep Purple, not because it was David Coverdale singing.
Any misgivings that Deep Purple were going to fall flat on their faces without the duo of Gillan and Glover were blown away by Burn’s title track opening the album. Not just one of the best songs on the album, but one of the best songs of Deep Purple’s long career, “Burn” is the sound of a band reborn, and as dynamic and energised as anything the band had recorded since their career had kicked up a gear with 1970’s Deep Purple in Rock. “Burn” is a hard rock song which simply flies, sparking with energy and confirming that while this may be a new line up, Deep Purple still possessed the potency which their audience adored. The only trouble is, it’s such a great song that it absolutely dominates the album, and as solid as the rest of the album is, it can’t help but struggle to match the impact of its opening number.
Even if you take the title track out of the equation, Burn is a fine Deep Purple album, with Jon Lord’s organ playing being a highlight throughout. Blackmore, always a guitarist whose quality of playing was seemingly influenced primarily by his mood, was comfortably lodged between his use of the simple-yet-effective repeated titanic riffs and his more complex classical styles that he would continue to employ during the early years of Rainbow. It’s worth noting that Blackmore would also accidentally influence a generation of generic guitar shredders, but there’s no evidence of such lack of creativity on Burn.
While it’s tempting for fans of Deep Purple’s mark 2 line up to dismiss the material recorded by every other line up out of hand, Burn is all the proof you need that that is a foolish stance to take. Sure, Ian Gillan was, and is, the definitive Deep Purple frontman, but David Coverdale was no slouch as his replacement, and Burn was released at a point in his career long before he decided that soft focus lenses and the shameless pilfering of Led Zeppelin riffs was a legitimate career direction. Burn is an album that deserves to be judged on its own merits rather than on the questionable career choices made by the band members after its release. It’s a reassuringly weighty example of 70s rock, and the flecks of soul and funk influences on top of the hard rock formula give it its own unique identity in the Deep Purple cannon.