4 out of 5 Stars!
Not long after the Mark III version of Deep Purple fell apart back in the mid-’70s, drummer Ian Paice and keyboardist Jon Lord teamed with vocalist/keyboardist Tony Ashton (Family), guitarist/vocalist Bernie Marsden (Babe Ruth), and bassist Paul Martinez (Stretch) for a one-off album.
I recall hearing the tracks “Remember the Good Times” and “Arabella (Oh Tell Me)” being played on an “underground” Chicago radio station and picked up the album shortly thereafter, only to find myself obsessed with it, and for weeks the platter rarely left my turntable.
Although sounding nothing like Deep Purple, the music on Malice in Wonderland is an intriguing union of styles, from Blues to Jazz to Funk to R&B blended with Hard Rock, with added horns, woodwinds, and female background harmonies. Additionally, Ashton’s gruff and lower-register voice is generally unique and may take some listeners by surprise, with him occasionally employing a “talk/singing” style that can be both bizarre and humorous at times, while periodically also taking on an almost demented aspect.
On fun and diverse tunes such as “I’m Gonna Stop Drinking,” “Silas & Jerome,” “On the Road Again, Again,” “Ghost Story,” and “Sneaky Private Lee,” plus those aforementioned tracks that “hooked me” on the group in the first place, it was almost as if Paice and Lord were itching to experiment with other styles after so many years creating slamming music with Deep Purple, and teaming up with the versatile Ashton (and the other main musical contributors to this collection) proved a way for them to do so, at least for a short while.
Although I recall my disappointment when learning the band broke up during the midst of recording tracks for its second album—these tracks can be found on the “Collector’s Edition” of this album—I was at least thankful that Marsden resurfaced months later as part of the original twin-guitar team in David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, with both Lord and Paice also joining up shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, PAL’s Malice in Wonderland remains a laudable effort and (when it comes to most rock fans) an undiscovered gem, one I continue to regularly enjoy all these many decades since its release.
(RIP Jon Lord and Tony Ashton.)