Adversity – real adversity – looms large in the lore of any band, and by extension the biggest story leading into this new Baroness LP is their near-mortal crash in August 2012, an accident that fortunately avoided any fatalities but nonetheless resulted in serious injuries for most of the band members when the band's chartered bus ran off the road into a viaduct. Drummer Alan Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni ended up exiting the band permanently upon sustaining major spinal injuries, and the past couple years have been given over to first recovery then breaking in replacements. Purple comes a full three and a half years after Baroness' last album and enters the world as a relative improbability, as well as a sort of abbreviated corrective for the oft-criticized bloat of the band's last album, the 2LP Yellow & Green.
For my part, while acknowledging a bit of (forgivable) bloat, I considered Yellow & Green Baroness' best album to date. First of all, both discs added up to a "mere" 75 minutes, which is admittedly a bit long by typical Baroness standards but is still technically single CD length. And while I didn't enjoy all 18 tracks equally, the balance of hits-to-misses couple with an advanced evolution in songwriting were more than enough to win me over.
Which is a long winded way of acknowledging that I don't particularly regard Purple as a "comeback" album as many seem to be, since I hardly felt like the band screwed the pooch last time to begin with. It's hardly a disappointment, though; in fact, I would lead by saying that Purple's primary strength is in curbing the excesses of Yellow & Green, consolidating the strengths of those two discs into a more consistent 44 minutes.
"Shock Me" is practically a pop song – and no, not the Ace Frehley one – but not in any "sellout" sense. John Baizley reaches down and comes up with a winning vocal performance to match the band's most eminently catchy tune yet. Fans of the heavier material are not left wanting in the characteristically fiery "Morningstar", and the epic "Chlorine & Wine" even breaks out a string section and multi-tracked Brian May-style solo. Aside from the arguably superfluous "Fugue" and most definitely superfluous 18-second outro, there is a laudable dearth of filler present, whether in comparison to Yellow & Green or not.
Yet it's difficult for me to quite give Purple the unqualified nod over its predecessor, for while it's certainly lacking in the flighty self-indulgence of Yellow & Green, the latter boasts an expansiveness that not only overcomes many of its flaws, but frames the whole as a more righteously ambitious enterprise. Purple, on the other hand, for all its consistency feels a little bare bones… which is hardly a failure. After all, leaving the audience wanting more is the hallmark of success; it's just that last time out we actually had a little bit more, so it's hard not to come up slightly wanting when such a direct comparison is on the table. Either way, though, Purple stands to add every bit as many classics to the band's mixtape canon as any album they've produced thus far, including the more expansive Yellow & Green. Baroness 1, critic 0.