DEEP PURPLE – The House of Blue Light
BLUE LIGHTS, STRANGE WAYS, AND BAD ATTITUDES
– A SHORT FEATURE ON DEEP PURPLE’S
"THE HOUSE OF BLUE LIGHT"
2017 marks the 30th anniversary of Deep Purple’s interesting albeit underappreciated and often-overlooked effort from 1987 entitled "The House of Blue Light". Featuring the classic Mk. II line-up consisting of Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Jon Lord (keyboards), Ian Paice (drums), and Ritchie Blackmore (guitars), "The House of Blue Light" was essentially the follow-up to the hugely successful and critically acclaimed "Perfect Strangers" record from 1984, the excellent reunion album that took the fans by storm. Following his brief stint with Black Sabbath and the kick-ass "Born Again" album and tour in 1983, Ian Gillan jumped ship to take part in the Purple comeback. Ritchie Blackmore laid Rainbow to rest, which more or less meant that Roger Glover who had been a steady of member of the aforementioned band since 1979 went with him. Lord and Paice, who had been involved in Whitesnake as well as the shortlived outfit Paice Ashton Lord in the years since Deep Purple folded in 1976, were more than ready to once again conquer the world and regain lost musical territory. Deep Purple rose from the ashes and the resulting album and tour were a huge success.
Naturally, the fans and management wanted more and so in 1986 the band reconvened at The Playhouse in Stowe, Vermont, to start recording the highly anticipated follow-up to "Perfect Strangers". The album was to be titled "The House of Blue Light". I can only imagine how overwhelming the pressure must have been, not just because of the pressure from outside to repeat the success of the former album and again conjure up something that was musically impressive and timeless, but also because the friendships and relationships within the band were slowly but steadily deteriorating. According to former Purple tour manager Colin Hart whose brilliant autobiography entitled "A Hart Life" chronicles his many years with the band, the whole thing turned into a rather gloomy affair early on:
Roger and Ian would go ahead of the others to write the material. The two of them put together some reasonably impressive songs, but there was trouble a-brewin’. Ritchie not only didn’t like them, but from the moment the band reunited he had also wanted a change in the song writing royalty agreement. Traditionally all Purple songs had been credited equally to the ‘band’. Ritchie wanted this changed to the individual writers responsible for each song, irrespective of the collective work that was done on them to knock them into shape. This was as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. (139)
The idea of changing the formula regarding the royalties seems somewhat absurd when considering just how essential each member of the Deep Purple was to the band’s sound and identity, which is something that Hart is also quick to point out: "These guys were a collective song writing partnership in every sense of the word" (ibid). Whether the conflicts and arguments spilled over into the song material is up for debate. There can be no doubt when listening to the record that we are dealing with insanely talented musicians and unique individuals, but that hidden factor which permeates some of the very best Purple albums out there is absent. Not that they are merely going through the motions on "The House of Blue Light", because there are some classy tunes on the album that other bands could only dream of writing, but the whole recording process was a pain in the ass and discontent loomed large in the odd corners of Deep Purple:
The recording was slow and not unlike pulling teeth. The tension was palpable. Why? They’d just come off a record-breaking tour; they were by any standard in the rock business, staggeringly successful. Yet the demons were still there. It was as if Ritchie wanted out, but to what he did not know, so until he did, he would be obnoxious. Roger and Ian took themselves off to a quiet corner of the Playhouse to continue writing. Ritchie kept himself to himself and Paicey and Jon were, as ever, interested, but non-confrontational observers. (Hart, 140)
It was clear to all the parties involved that Deep Purple’s twelfth album would not be huge success that everyone was hoping for, both musically, artistically, and commercially. Still, I love tracks such as the bluesy "Mitzie Dupree", the fierce "Mad Dog", the groovy "Call of the Wild", and the entertaininng "Hard Lovin‘ Woman". There is a lot of good stuff on that record.
In a recent interview with The Quietus, Blackmore stated that "I thought Perfect Strangers was very good. But The House Of Blue Light, I thought that was terrible." Perhaps some of the less-than-thrilling memories surrounding the creation of the album has clouded the band’s own judgment of it? Or perhaps Blackmore is being 100 % honest and slamming it simply because he thinks it’s a bullshit record? Truth be told, it is a long way from being as groundbreaking, edgy, and wild as "In Rock" and "Machine Head", but the fact that it is not as exciting as those does not entail that it is not a worthwhile album.
Deep Purple anno 1987
Two promotional videos were filmed, more specifically "Call of the Wild" and "Bad Attitude". You can look them up on YouTube. I totally understand why they chose those specific songs as they are undoubtedly two of the best ones to be found on the album.
The album tour was launched in Budapest, Hungary, and then wove its way through Europe and then the US only to return to certain European territories later on to play some re-scheduled dates. In the words of Hart, the shows were gradually becoming less interesting and the enthusiasm seemed to dissipate along the way, not helped by the fact that the internal relationships were strained:
The camaraderie had just melted away, the five band chums had retired to their separate worlds keeping their own counsel and ‘phoning’ in the show. The audiences didn’t seem to notice and why would they? They get to see the band once every two years and, so high is the expectation, they forgive or indeed don’t even notice a below par effort. I, on the other hand, saw the show every night and could compare the enthusiasm of the first shows of the tour to the ‘going through the motions’ of the last. (144)
On a side note, the length of the album varies slightly between the two different CD versions of it, namely the original 1987 version and the one from 1999. The 1999 version is similar to the original vinyl version of the album and is roughly four minutes shorter than the 1987 CD version.
While "The House of Blue Light" is neither a classic nor a must-buy, it is nevertheless a solid album containing some great songs that still stand up to this today. A few filler tracks such as "Strange Ways" and "Black & White" sound a bit same-y and add very little to the disc, which results in it losing a bit of momentum in places, but overall I think the record as a whole is worth investigating in more detail, especially now that it is turning thirty this year. The majority of it still rocks to this day. So, grab your old vinyl copy or locate the CD version somewhere in your collection, lay back, and enjoy the grooves of "Mad Dog", "Mitzi Dupree", and so on and so forth. The album is also floating around on YouTube, so if your day at work sucks ass and you have nothing better to do, look it up and immerse yourself in it. You might be surprised at just how cool parts of it are. An underrated (or is that forgotten?) album for sure.
"The House of Blue" Light was recorded at the Playhouse in Stowe, Vermont, and released on January 12th, 1987, via Polydor.
Hart. Colin (2012). A Hart Life. Wymer Publishing