The music industry's slowest remastering program lurched forwards one more step towards completion this week. Starting in 1995 with the 25th anniversary edition of Deep Purple in Rock, it has now finally managed to get around to the release of the 35th anniversary edition of the album Stormbringer that was originally released just 5 years after In Rock. For Deep Purple fans, of which I still am one, it's a big event. For many years, the original masters were missing and this reissue had been eagerly anticipated even by those who, like me, always thought it was a bit shit compared to their best work. After the 2004 30th anniversary edition of its predecessor Burn, I concluded that the album had really come back to life with its new and improved sound quality, and that it was much, much better than I remembered it being. Likewise, Stormbringer has come back to life with its new and improved sound quality. Unfortunately, it's still a bit shit, and in some ways is even less inspiring than I remembered.
It starts off well enough with the title track, a mid-uptempo rocker with some nice brash keyboard work from Jon Lord, that uses the vocal teamwork of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes well. Problem is, it does that in pretty much the same way as the opening, title track of Burn from less than a year earlier, and "Burn" is the better track of the two, with a faster tempo, a more energetic rhythm section and some of the best guitar and keyboard work in the group's history.
On the rest of Stormbringer, though, the band are either going through the motions of creating Deep Purple tracks or experimenting with adding soul and funk elements to the formula.
Many fans absolutely hate the soul and funk elements, but they could have worked if everyone had been into it. The main problem was that guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was spending his time and energy working on solo material, wasn't interested in the funk and did not have the professionalism to even try to make the group's material work. He famously played one of the solos with just his thumb. It shows: someone who did not know Blackmore's other work would not hear what was so great about him on this record. Apart from a few flashes of his old lyricism, such as midway through the solo in "Hold On", he plays obvious, unoriginal licks without putting much of his energy into it.
The result is a mishmash. Nothing on the album is embarrassingly bad (that would have to wait, as far as studio work was concerned, until 1987's House of Blue Light and especially 1990's Slaves and Masters) but as a whole, little of it excites or lifts the spirits and many tracks wear out their welcome pretty quickly.
One caveat: my review is based on the download sold through iTunes, which means that I'm missing out on several things. One of them is the CD booklet - I really wish a digital version of that had been included, because the liner notes from present and former band members and champion Deep Purple trainspotter Simon Robinson have always been great reads and given plenty of context to the album for those of us who, like me, weren't there at the time. The other is the quadrophonic mixes. They are present on the iTunes edition, but they have been mixed back down to stereo so they don't add all that much to the package (although some of them are alternate cuts that do hold some interest for Deep Purple completists). The physical disk, on the other hand, comes with a DVD in which they can be experienced in 5.1 multi-channel. I'm not really into that, but if you are, then buying the physical package is probably worth it and may redeem this so-so record far more than a straight stereo remaster ever could. For me, as someone without a 5.1 system and someone who hasn't even played records directly from CD in years, it would just be another plastic disk to fill my shelves with, so I've passed on it.