Deep Purple didn’t quite plan to put out a song including references to the end of humanity in the middle of a pandemic, but “Man Alive” — premiering below from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame troupe’s upcoming Whoosh! album — certainly feels of its time, if a bit extreme.
“It’s an abstract concept,” frontman and lyricist Ian Gillan tells Billboard about the prog-flavored track. “There was an apocalyptic quality to the (music of) ‘Man Alive’, and the idea developed lyrically from there — the scenario of this event that took place and everyone got killed, and you get this picture of ‘all creatures great and small grazed on blood red soil, and grass that grows on city streets.’ So it’s a post-humanity scenario. And then all of a sudden something’s washed up on the beach, and it turns out to be a man, and it’s the only living man — but it’s just a man, so…That’s the end of humanity, because what use is one man? That was the idea. If it was a painting, you’d call it impressionistic.”
The song also features a couple passages of spoken narration by Gillan, which marks a first in his 50 on-and-off years with Deep Purple. “The (song) suddenly goes very quiet,” Gillan explains. “Don (Airey, keyboardist) was experimenting with an oboe to do a haunting, repetitive little piece to illustrate the echoes of emptiness. So I just started speaking at the microphone and it fit perfectly. It just had to be something that wasn’t sung — it was almost like a voice bubble attached to the song. It just seemed to be the right thing to do.”
The follow-up to 2017’s Infinite, Whoosh! is due out Aug. 7 and is Purple’s third consecutive collaboration with producer Bob Ezrin, working in Nashville. It’s been a particularly productive period for the band, including 2013’s Now What?, and Gillan gives all credit to Ezrin for keeping the quintet as engaged and inspired as it was during the ’70s.
“We’ve developed complete trust in him, which is rare for an outsider who comes into a group that’s been together for so long,” Gillan says. “I remember very clearly Bob’s speech when we first met in Toronto; He wanted us to be like we are on stage and jam and improvise and make (songs) out of that and not worry about how long they are or any of those side issues. He was like, ‘Let’s do what Deep Purple does and it’ll all work out,’ and the results of that have become manifest.”
As for the album title, Gillan says Whoosh! represents how he feels about the band’s longevity. “I look back at the 1970s as if it was yesterday and, whoosh, here we are now.”
And the frontman doesn’t see Deep Purple going away at any point soon. Though the group’s last tour was dubbed The Long Goodbye, Gillan and his bandmates feel differently these days, even if they don’t know when they’ll be able to return to the road amidst the pandemic.
“I think a few years ago there was some kind of effort from our business connections to sort of get an exit plan — we were all a bit under the weather, physically, so we decided on a goodbye tour,” Gillan says. “But the operative word is ‘long,’ so, yeah, very long. We’ve got a bit to go yet. I think things are gonna be on the shelf for a while, but then I think we’ll be back for a bit of fun.”