Free: The Best of Free: The Millennium Collection

The Best of Free: the Millennium Collection

The Best of Deep Purple: The Millennium Collection

by John Dougan

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The Return of the Thud

I have a theory to why old metal is much better than nu metal. It boils down to the blues — old metal’s got it, nu metal doesn’t. I realize that my use of the genre signifier “blues” make me guilty of trafficking in nostalgia, but the blues is important here. Among late ’60s/early ’70s hirsute British bohunks like Humble Pie, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Free, and Deep Purple, it was the blues that made these guys swing, and saw them pledge allegiance to the riff — fat, filling-loosening chunks of guitar ooze that sated one’s inner Beavis and/or Butt-Head. Hard rock-hating American rockcrits pejoratively dubbed it “blooze” (as if any of us were mistaking any of the above for the Mississippi Sheiks), but for those of us who couldn’t get enough, we loved the thud — the plodding 12-bar, I-IV-V progressions stuffed with lyrical cheese about chicks, space truckin’, midnight movers, highway stars, and heavy loads. Yeah, it was doggerel, but even as blooze homage it still beats the hell out of the asexual anomie and paint-by-numbers misanthropy passing for insight that “angry”, “intense” mooks like Staind, Godsmack, Mudvayne and their ilk cough up like hairballs.

Take Free for instance — best known in the U.S. for the classic rock nugget “All Right Now”, Free could bring the thud. Guitarist Paul Kossoff eschewed hyperfast soloing for blues drenched hooks, Simon Kirke’s economical drumming, and the funky, impossibly fat bass of Andy Fraser (one of rock’s under-appreciated rhythm players) anchored this sonic wad. And while formidable, the sum wouldn’t have been worth a damn without a good vocalist, and in Paul Rodgers, Free was fronted by one of England’s finest.

This collection is an introductory goldmine: “I’m a Mover”, “Walk in My Shadow”, and “The Stealer” are not supple or subtle, but are still relentlessly funky and heavy (the latter being an important element of ’60s era blooze credibility). The ballads, “Heavy Load” and “Come Together in the Morning” are dismissible, but introspection was never Rodgers’s forte, his pipes were better suited to macho bragging. Need proof? Cue up “Mr. Big” (taken from 1971’s Free Live!). Kossoff’s and Fraser’s guitars parry back and forth behind Kirke’s unvarying drum pattern, it’s groove with big spaces (like a reggae dub mix) that explode into huge sustained power chords in the chorus. Rodgers chews up and spits out the bloozy “I work hard every day / Come rain or shine” lyrics in a performance that is hammy, unrestrained, and perfect.

Free imploded in early 1973. Rodgers and Kirke went on to form Bad Company (with guitarist Mick Ralphs and bassist Boz Burrell) who might have been the “heavier” of the two bands (they were doubtlessly more successful) but this brief intro proves Free to be the superior band. Kossoff (who died in 1976) was more stylish and sophisticated than Ralphs, and Burrell was simply no match for Andy Fraser.

Deep Purple could bring the thud too, albeit a slightly more pretentious version, which is just what you’d expect from a band with Richie Blackmore. The Mark II version of Purple that recorded Fireball and Machine Head (with the dreaded “Smoke on the Water”) could kick out a serious jam or two, despite Blackmore’s and keyboardist Jon Lord’s arty inclinations. Sadly, Mercury’s Deep Purple anthology is completely worthless. Yes, it’s Mark II Purple, but not from the 1970-73 period, but rather the way-past-our-prime 1984 reunion. So prime scorch like “Highway Star”, or “Lazy”, is conspicuously absent, replaced by wankfests like “Son of Alerik”, and “Knocking at Your Back Door”. More evidence of its worthlessness: an average track length of 6:48. That’s simply too much time and not enough thud.