Made in Japan serves as a type of greatest hits of the most popular
combination of Deep Purple members, known as Mk II where the original
members, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, and Jon Lord, were joined
by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover to become a hard rock reference.
Recorded in August 1972, in just two recitals in Japan, the record wasn't
originally going to be released outside Japan but ended up as one of the most
successful in the band’s career. However, I still consider ‘Machine Head’
their most definitive work and despite their biggest hits, etched in stone (
the way the album cover ‘In Rock’ depicts) such as ‘Highway
star’, ‘Smoke on the water’ or ‘Strange kind of woman’, this
is not a perfect record for two reasons: to begin with, like Blackmore, I would
rather have listened to Paul Rodgers’ most heartfelt voice than
Gillian’s throaty warble, and secondly because no rock album needs a 7-minute
Let’s go one step at a time, 'Highway star' is spectacular, an improved version of the studio one, despite Gillian letting out one of his theatrical warbles more suited for an Andrew Lloyd Webber play than this great rock band. I am aware that not many people agree with me, but when I listen to ‘Child in time’ I can’t but think how the singer of Free, Blackmore’s favourite, would have turned those screams into something else. For sure though, the possessed guitarist comes in with a brutal solo, with Paice at his best, keeping up with the rhythm of the fastest Stratocaster of the moment. After Blackmore’s storm things calm down and Lord creates a mysterious atmosphere where this time Gillan is perfect. However, the intensity rises and he returns to his histrionic screaming, he is an absolute range and pitch prodigy but sounds completely fake. Next is the RIFF, like that, in capital letters, four notes that defined Deep Purple in their signature song 'Smoke on the water'. Nothing is missing on this song, everyone is perfect, Gillan showing what a great singer he is, leaving his theatrical skills aside and Blackmore's solo so good it could be framed.
‘The Mule’ is the vehicle Paice uses to show off. I have nothing against one of the best drummers in rock history but drum solos that go on for more than a minute should be banned unless you’re John Bonham, in which case it could be two minutes long. 'Strange kind of woman' is one of the best songs in his career, but this time the live version is inferior to the studio one. Why? We are in the 70’s, and everyone in the band has to do a solo, even the singer. In this case Gillan dares to vocalise Blackmore’s picking with dubious results. At the end, it sounds as though he’s got his fingers caught under the piano lid by the sound of it. However, if we ignore that part, the song is a 10. ‘Lazy’ is a progressive blues boogie that allows Lord and Blackmore to shine, which is always a pleasure as the guitarist is at the top of his game. ‘Space Truckin’ is the fourth classic track on ‘Machine Head’, another fabulous performance (although I would rather hear Paul Rodgers or even Coverdale instead of Gillan) on Lord’s Hammond organ as the main star. But they drag it out too long and I like the studio version better.
When all is said and done, beyond my thing against Gillan’s affectations and the long drum solos, ‘Made in Japan’ is one of Deep Purple’s greatest albums, a perfect culmination to the trilogy, etched in stone, 'In rock', 'Fireball' and 'Machine Head'. These records placed them alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath as one of the three pillars of heavy metal. Later, the band would suffer many more changes but this MK II is the cusp of the band and the reason they will always be remembered.