Let’s be clear: to call Deep Purple a one-hit wonder is a total disservice to the band. As one of the forebears of modern metal and hard rock, they arrive in 2017 with their twentieth studio album, Infinite, the latest in a near fifty-year career. They have hinted that their forthcoming tour could be their last major worldwide endeavor, as noted by drummer Ian Paice, who suffered a stroke in 2016. So, a certain amount of respect and recognition for more than just “Smoke on the Water” is due to these perennial rockers—none of which mitigates that Infinite is a total chore to listen to.
The tone of Infinite announces itself loud and clear in rudimentary lyrics, as early as the first four lines:
“Descending the cold steps of the institution for the politically insane
Never to be seen again
Saying farewell to daylight
From henceforth I shall rot in a stinking bed of wet straw”
This is, more or less, as lexical as the album gets. We are treated to outstandingly vanilla points of view on such topics as evil, romance, partying, and, of course, arguing with your girlfriend. But, if you can believe it, these opening words are some of Infinite‘s best lyrics, as other songs offer faux intellectual nuggets like “It wasn’t quite the curse of Tutankhamen” and just plain groan-inducing lines such as “I don’t give a fucking damn.”
The latter of these comes from “All I Got Is You,” a ruthlessly lame song about an argument with a romantic partner over how “you moan and groan about me staying out and drinking with the guys.” The sentiments that Deep Purple impart throughout Infinite never stray far from this kind of childishness, as other topics confronted, like an encounter with the devil on “The Surprising,” read closer to a thirteen-year-old’s journal than lyrics written by men old enough to collect their 401k’s.
But the total banality of this album does not exist only in the lyrics. One could almost forgive the objective badness of the words if the music was good, but even on this front the album fails to deliver much of anything compelling. Though the band continues to play in technically sound, competent form, the songs all feel like thinly veiled excuses to play, well, yet more guitar or synthesizer solos. Consequently, each one feels mindless, and not in a fun way. The big riffs and hooks feel anything but, sounding to a listener as if they’ve heard this all before, even as it unfurls in their ears for the first time.
It feels, from start to finish, as if Deep Purple is going through the motions of their previous success, while clawing toward some twisted idea of relevancy. How else to explain the pandering, lifeless tripe of “Hip Boots,” which feels almost algorithmically designed for a beer commercial?
The reason “Smoke on the Water” endures is because it is so very much a product of its time. It is the soundtrack of hazy basements with beaded curtains, of vinyl record hiss. When one listens to the song and its made-for-Guitar-Center riff, one transports in some way to the strange decade from whence it came. Somehow, with their newest, Deep Purple have pulled off the remarkable feat of making an album that feels more dated than their most famous song—a song, by the way, that is almost fifty years old itself.
Which invites the question: what purpose does the album Infinite serve in 2017? For what good reason should a listener invest an hour of their life into enduring something so lifeless, so shallow, and so laden with misogynistic overtones when streaming services present an infinite array of lifeless, shallow, misogynistic music that is at least somewhat fun to listen to?
Sure, there are some fleetingly catchy melodies—“Time for Bedlam” in particular is a little bit of an earworm, despite its cheesiness—and the band continue to be nothing if not technically skilled musicians. But it’s hard to imagine any kind of listener’s first choice being Infinite; if one wants nuanced, empathetic lyrics, this is certainly not the place, nor is it a good first pick if one’s interest is in tightly packaged metal with blistering riffs and wild solos.
One struggles even to see what this album offers to an impassioned Deep Purple fan. If a devotee to the group seeks a good romp with their favorite band, they have nineteen albums to choose from preceding this one. Surely somewhere in that massive discography there is music more worthy of a listener’s time—even if it is just “Smoke on the Water.”