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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Animals: Animal Tracks


ANIMAL TRACKS (1965)

1) We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place; 2) Take It Easy; 3) Bring It On Home To Me; 4) The Story Of Bo Diddley; 5) Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood; 6) I Can't Believe It; 7) Club-A-Gogo; 8) Roberta; 9) Bury My Body; 10) For Miss Caulker.

Again, this American release, this time following the same-titled UK album after a four month de­lay, has virtually nothing to do with it — only two tracks intersect ('Roberta' and 'For Miss Cau­lker'), whereas most of the other numbers on the British Tracks are really the same as the ones on the American Tour. On the other hand, the title when applied to the American record ac­tually makes more sense: these are indeed 'tracks', a.k.a. 'leftovers' — an even more than usually discoherent mess of tracks, some cut as early as 1964, some as late as summer 1965, by which time Price had already left the band, replaced by Dave Rowberry. (Rowberry is a fine organist in his own right, but prefers to stay in the shadows — listen to how subtly hidden he keeps himself in the mix on 'We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place', for the most part — so this means trans­forming the band into a guitar-driven powerhorse, under Eric's undisputed rule.)

The result is weird. It would be an exaggeration to say that, over two years, the Animals' sound had covered a distance of any number of light years, but, let's face it, songs like the straight up raver 'Club-A-Gogo' are very different from songs like 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' — imagine a record that is half Please Please Me and half Help! and you'll know what I mean. This is not to say that any of the songs are bad; on the contrary, Animal Tracks is as consistent in pure quality as its predeces­sors and maybe more. But it's a decidedly odd mix.

Its two superheroes bookmark Side A: 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood', Price and Burdon's last triumph together as they borrow a tune from Nina Simone and show no intention of giving it back, and 'We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place', the classic Mann-Weill escapist anthem that showed the world the Animals could hold their ground even without Price — for a little while, at least. It is Bur­don who leads the band on both numbers, showing that his gruff wildman persona can be sha­ped into a painful, personal, sensitive mold just as easily as it can be employed for the needs of acute social statements. His 'I'm just a soul whose intentions are good... oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood' and 'we gotta get out of this place, girl, there's a better life for me and you' are delivered almost in the same tone — and yet they mean two entirely different things.

He also gives a decent, if very unfaithful, Sam Cooke impression ('Bring It On Home'), shows himself capable of handling old folk blues ('Bury My Body', which these jokers manage to turn into a sweaty R'n'B workout at the end anyway), and jokes at his own ineptitude in impersonating Bo Diddley ('The Story Of Bo Diddley'). The latter, by the way, although it is chronologically one of the earliest recordings here, already presages Burdon's future overstated love for pompous verbosity and 'propheteering' as he extends 'The Story' way beyond Bo Diddley and turns it into a lengthy narrative of rock'n'roll history up to the present day. Later experiments in this style would for the most part be awful, but this particular bit of narration — no doubt, due to its extremely tongue-in-cheek character — is still a laugh riot, especially when Eric starts imitating Bobby Vee ('take good care of my baby...').

The review would be incomplete if I did not mention the band's last single for Columbia, which does not form part of this LP but rightfully concludes the 2-CD package of The Complete Ani­mals. Roger Atkins' 'It's My Life' follows the winning formula of 'We've Gotta Get Out...' — same cool, swaggery melody, same bravado in the singing, same self-assertive atmosphere, plus a great, epoch-defining guitar riff to go along with it, making it perhaps the quintessential Animals song (no Price, though).

For some reason, I have always admired its B-side, a Burdon "original" called 'I'm Going To Change The World', even more, despite the obvious fact that Eric simply re­cycles the exact same riff and comes up with just one melodic part instead of three different ones — but what a part! As if in honest compensation, he winds his mechanisms up to the limit and over the limit, on the verge of pushing his larynx all the way down his trachea, even if that's what it takes him to change the world. If 'It's My Life' is, after all, a proper pop culture creation, then 'I'm Going To Change The World', stripping it of all embellishments, is the punkiest statement from these guys, right up there in terms of sheer power with 'My Generation' from the same year.

But, of course, as an album Animal Tracks has no significance whatsoever, and the predictable thumbs up only refer to the songs, not the meaningless non-principle of their collocation. It does give you all the odds and ends on one plate, though, and this is, in a way, convenient. And if, like me, you also hold the opinion that there was no finer moment for the Animals than the ever-so-brief 1964-65 period, well, there is really no sense in bickering as long as you have all that first rate material to consume.

1 comment:

  1. This is more relevant to your old review, where you stated that "I Can't Believe It" was an American-only track recorded specifically for this LP. I don't know if you still think that, but it's actually the b-side to "We Gotta Get Out of This Place". It's also a surprisingly good soulful original which I've always considered one of their better single sides (i.e. better than the follow-up a-side). I think had the original line-up of the group stayed together, by 1966 they would have been where the Stones were around 1965, slowly coming up with their own originals rooted in their past, by 1967 would have their own Aftermath, and while they would never be among the top of the top, they wouldn't have made something like Winds of Change, or if they did, it would be far less preachy (though I've since changed my mind about it, enjoying it as a guilty pleasure, even finding some of the grooves on the first side somewhat attractive, and only considering "Man – Woman" truly horrendous).

    By the way, are we ever going to get reviews of the American-only Animalism and the near-solo New Animals album Eric Is Here? The former, as many have said, is the most cohesive, album-like release from the original Animals (or the Rowberry-era, at least), and the latter is an interesting example of Eric going for a more pop-based sound, taking the songwriting efforts of their usual single-contributors (three of their major post-"House" songwriters contribute another selection, as well as some other familiar Brill Building folks, like Boyce/Hart, or Randy Newman, who Price was concurrently covering) and arranging them as their songwriters probably would. At the very least, it's an enjoyable, oft-ignored release, only annoying on one occasion (the child-sung vocals on a track called "True Love", which is a shame because Eric's vocals on it are pretty great), but the three Newman compositions are all among the most interesting Newman covers I've heard.

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