An album that deserves to be called a tribute

Tribute albums can be perilous things, fraught with the dangers good intentions (or great marketing ideas) often contain. Done in the right spirit and with the right talent involved, the results can be remarkable, such as the first Nativity in Black Black Sabbath tribute, one  of this reviewer’s favourite examples of the kind. The second Nativity in Black, on the other hand, is precisely what happens when paying tribute takes a backseat to some kind of commercial agenda. Like promoting Ozzfest, or something.

Deep Purple’s sixth album was a defining release in the early years of the heavy metal movement, an album that perfectly combined the group’s blues-based heritage with its neo-Baroque, prog-rock pretensions. It also has “Smoke on the Water”, a song (like Sabbath’s “Paranoid”) written at the last minute to fill space on the album, containing a riff that eventually become even bigger than the band and the one that will define them for the rest of time. Such a landmark deserves to be respected, and Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple’s Machine Head is a tribute album done right. Importantly, instead of a laundry list of young hype bands, the producers went for talent who could give the project the appropriate level of gravitas and enlisted some of the biggest names in rock who could claim direct inspiration from the subject, including two of the greatest of all: Metallica and Iron Maiden. The subjects of various tribute albums of arguable quality themselves, this marks the first time either band has participated in this kind of project and one of the few times since their very early days that Metallica has allowed one of their recordings to be used on anything other than their own releases (go on, check how many Metallica songs appear on compilation albums).  The very attachment of these names to Re-machined leads to high expectations, but can they be met?

For their part, the biggest names offer probably the biggest surprises. Iron Maiden are recognisable only by Dickinson’s voice in their smashing reading of “Space Truckin’” and hard to fault for a band not known for blues-based boogie; Metallica take on Jon Lord’s organ-heavy ballad “When a Blind Man Cries” and give it a touch of themselves without their usual penchant for trampling all over things like almost every other cover they’ve ever done. It’s actually reverential in a way you’d expect after reading Lars Ulrich’s declaration that Deep Purple are essentially his favourite ever band. The other notable track is the Flaming Lips’ version of “Smoke on the Water” with vocals by Gibby Haines from Butthole Surfers. As to be expected, this is no standard run through and their spoken-word-over-poppy-synth deconstruction is actually reminiscent of what Regurgitator did to “Back in Black” on the AC/DC tribute Fusebox. The purists will hate it, but the very fact that the Lips have gone completely outside the box and reinvented this old stand-by gives it a quirky new breath of life, especially compared to Santana’s version which is cool but sounds like all his other covers – Latin rhythms and mountains of overlaid guitars.

Elsewhere, Jimmy Barnes teams up with Joe Bonamassa for a powerhouse version of “Lazy” while Black Label Society make “Pictures of Home” sound like Black Label Society and Chickenfoot’s live version of “Highway Star” is enormous.  Ex-Purple member Glenn Hughes and his mate Chad Smith get two bites of the cherry and nail it both times and the Kings of Chaos with Joe Elliot out front are also staunch. This is an album that deserves to be called a tribute. If only they were all this good.

1. Smoke on the Water – Carlos Santana & Jacoby Shaddix
2. Highway Star – Chickenfoot
3. Pictures of Home – Black Label Society
4. Maybe I’m a Leo – Glenn Hughes
5. Never Before – Kings of Chaos
6. Smoke on the Water – The Flaming Lips
7. Lazy – Jimmy Barnes & Joe Bonamassa
8. Space Truckin’ – Iron Maiden
9. When a Blind Man Cries – Metallica
10. Highway Star – Glenn Hughes, Steve Vai & Chad Smith