The last Deep Purple album to feature both Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore is unfortunately a pedestrian affair. Former Rainbow singer and Blackmore’s running mate Joe Lynn Turner came into the fold for a spell, but Gillan returned for a final go-around with Blackmore. “The Battle Rages On…” seems to be long forgotten and for good reason as the band sounds tired and Gillan sounds disinterested.
However, the opener and title track leaves a false impression as the battle rages with a strong riff and background keyboards by the great Jon Lord. A melodic chorus and the typical Blackmore guitar solo start the proceedings off on the right foot.
Problems begin immediately with the next track and slither in throughout the rest of the album. “Lick it Up” is a straight-up rocker with not one of the most memorable guitar parts and is mediocre by Deep Purple standards. “Talk About Love” and “Time to Kill” suffer from the same banal attributes and the worst part is Gillan sings like he knows these songs are crap.
Gillan delivers the most disappointing performance on this record. He sounds like he does not want to be there. The passion and character of his voice is not there. His singing on the next Purple record is way better than his work on here. On the aforementioned “Time to Kill”, his voice sounds tired and the closer “One Man’s Meat” he is completely emotionless. He at least shows some life and character on the cowboy rocker “Ramshackle Man” with some gun-toting vocal lines.
Amidst the boring tripe emerge two Purple gems that save the record from tanking. “Anya” is a beautiful song with maybe some foreshadowing by Blackmore showing where he was headed with his music. The acoustic, midnight fire guitar part transforms into a great riff featuring graceful chorus lines and perfectly conjures up the image of the mystical woman in the song. The other winner is another song about a woman with “Solitaire.” An enchanting, escalating guitar part immediately caught my attention and Gillan sings like a drone. I’m not sure if that’s what he was going for, but it goes well with the brooding tone.
In the end, there is not enough good songwriting and fails to capture the merits of a great band like Deep Purple. Blackmore and Lord do not even trade solos and have any moments together until the eight track “Nasty Piece of Work.” Blackmore even rips himself off with “One Man’s Meat” by taking the main riff from “L.A Connection” and inserting it here. The only time he lets loose with furious riffing and guitar theatrics is with “A Twist in Tale”, which shares similarities with “Dead or Alive” from the last Mk II album, but is not as good.
I don’t know if the boys decided to name “The Battle Rages On…” to describe how Gillan and Blackmore were working together again yet still hated each other, but no listener would win this struggle. On the band side of things, Gillan would win as Blackmore would quit mid-tour and since then he hasn’t looked back. With this final Mk II installment, the title track, the wonderful “Anya”, “Solitaire”, and “Ramshackle Man” will provide healthy listens. However, insipid rockers and a tired Gillan drag the album down as the band was clearly waiting for the battle to end.