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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Animals: Animalisms


THE ANIMALS: ANIMALISMS (1966)

1) One Monkey Don't Stop No Show; 2) Maudie; 3) Outcast; 4) Sweet Little Sixteen; 5) You're On My Mind; 6) Clapping; 7) Gin House Blues; 8) Squeeze Her Tease Her; 9) What Am I Living For; 10) I Put A Spell On You; 11) That's All I Am To You; 12) She'll Return It; 13*) Inside Looking Out; 14*) Don't Bring Me Down; 15*) Cheating; 16*) Help Me Girl; 17*) See See Rider; 18*) I Just Wanna Make Love To You; 19*) Boom Boom; 20*) Big Boss Man; 21*) Pretty Thing; 22*) Don't Bring Me Down (stereo); 23*) See See Rider (stereo); 24*) Help Me Girl (stereo); 25*) Cheating (stereo).

The original Animals' last album is conveniently available today as a monumentally expanded col­lection, twice the size of the original, also including all of their 45s from around 1966, out­takes, stereo mixes, and even, as a very special bonus, the band's earliest EP from way back in 1963, so that the commonest layman may easily assess the length of the road traveled.

Animalisms is, in fact, a transitional record. After 'It's My Life', boosted by commercial success but also fed up with the dependency on producer Mickie Most's material, the Animals — by now, entirely in Burdon's hands — switched from EMI to Decca in an attempt to toughen and roughen up their original sound, on the verge of leaking and collapsing under commercial pressures (or so they thought; back in 1966, everything was so mixed up that «commercial» and «artsy» pressures were frequently impossible to separate from one another).

They still have not learned to write original material, though, and, for the most part, still exploit the same old vaults of blues, R'n'B, and rockabilly. Without Price, and in light of the changing times, they sound different: louder, brawnier, darker even than before: Chas Chandler's bass rises high up in the mix, as is evident already on the opening seconds of 'One Monkey Don't Stop No Show', and Valentine's guitar says goodbye to the shrill squeaking of yesterday and fully embra­ces garage noise as its ideal (although he still goes light on the feedback). Yet it cannot really be said that all of this manages to improve on the previous two years.

The album's two greatest numbers are, in fact, not on the album — they are the hit singles 'Don't Bring Me Down' (a Goffin-King original, and nothing whatsoever to do with the ELO disco hit) and 'Inside Looking Out' (in a rare glimpse of happiness, credited to the band members themsel­ves, although most people probably know it through the Grand Funk version). These rank high up there with the very best. Eric is on fire, the boys supply him with cool guitar and organ riffs, and an A+ in the tension-building department is guaranteed for both. 'Inside Looking Out', in particu­lar, is one of those simple, but unforgettable hard rock classics that serve as the perfect illustra­tion to the 'Spirit Of '66'. The Yardbirds have some of those, too.

Sometimes you can't help but wonder — what was it, exactly, that prevented the original lineup from simply sitting down and writing a bunch more of these numbers to put up on the next LP, instead of filling it to the brim with cover material of such widely ranging quality? Was it mode­sty, or even self-humiliation? Wild, unbridled love for trans-Atlantic music dictating their hand in the studio? Elementary laziness? Or real true inability? The latter choice is the most dubious: lack of talent has never prevented «The Artist» to clog the world with his refuse. I go for a combina­tion of the other three.

That said, 'Maudie' is a great dirty piece of talking blues arranged as proto-punk rock (the band never fails with John Lee Hooker — he's like their closet songwriter!); Bessie Smith's 'Gin House Blues' is a little too overtly theat­rical, but Eric's sincerity is not to be doubted; and Chuck Willis' 'What Am I Living For?' is given a lush, deep arrangement that makes the ori­ginal sound like a hastily pre-recorded demo. On the other hand, tunes they should not have touched include Screamin' Jay Hawkins' 'I Put A Spell On You' — Burdon singing Hawkins? might just as well hunt elephant with a baseball bat — and 'Sweet Little Sixteen' (who the hell needs another cover of it, and in 1966 at that?).

The rest of the tracks can be further split down the same line, and in the end, Animalisms is a severe disappointment — a generally good record that only gives tiny hints at how excel­lent this band could have become with a bit more verve. At that moment, the world needed lots and lots of songs of the caliber of 'Inside Looking Out'. Instead, it got one more 'Sweet Little Sixteen' — and, worst of all, by the end of the year Burdon was so strung out that he'd simply confused his lazi­ness for writing good conventional songs with The Artist's disdain for writing good conventional songs. This led to near-catastrophic results, not the least of which was the dissolution of the origi­nal band; and we have, I guess, to be glad that they still left behind even such scraps as they did leave behind.

For these scraps, they still win — with much difficulty — a thumbs up from the department of the heart, but from a rational point of view, Eric Burdon should be strapped to a time machine, transferred back into 1966 and forced to remain there until coming out with a whole album of songs like 'Inside Looking Out'. Sweet, sweet punishment!

2 comments:

  1. I used to read your older reviews on starling.rinet.ru, and I have to say, on both that review of this album and this review here seem to lack a mention of "Clapping" and its slight similarity to Eric Burdon and the Animals' Wind of Change (mostly due to the weirdness and it just being sounds...)

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  2. I've been rediscovering this band lately and using ypur reviews as a guide, but I have to ask: all these years since the original site and still no Animalism, George? It really is as good as all that; bridges the gap between the Price and Rowberry years, quality wise, and feels more like a 'real LP' than anything else released by either band.

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