THE ANIMALS: EVERY ONE OF US (1968)
1) White Houses; 2) Uppers And Downers; 3) Serenade To A Sweet Lady; 4) The Immigrant Lad; 5) Year Of The Guru; 6) St. James Infirmary; 7) New York 1963 - America 1968.
Like many other artists in 1968, Burdon must have also, at one point, sensed the uncomfortable feeling of having lost firm ground under his feet. Tangerine trees and marmalade skies are all right for a day, but dwell in their neighbourhood too long and you'll end up like Syd Barrett or Skip Spence. Even if you decide to move house, sometimes only a radical antidote will suffice — such as, for instance, a grim-faced, illusion-free, grit-filled record dealing with the fates of the working class. Such as Every One Of Us by Eric Burdon & The Animals.
Change is apparent from looking at the album cover — a black-and-white (no coloured rainbows!) photo of the band members, staring morosely into space while Eric, in a ragged overcoat and a worker's cap, is drilling you with subtle scorn, as if asking «What have YOU done to improve the conditions of the working man, you sad refuse of our oppressive society?» Thus, it is with an uneasy, troubled heart that we begin our listen, expecting the worst to come.
Surprisingly, this shift in direction has been helpful. The tone of the album is just as preachy as that of its two predecessors, but it would seem a bit strange to preach about such down-to-earth matters in the form of rambling sonic collages or mantras, so the band, this time quite firmly, retreats back to the song format. And there are good songs — and most of them originals! Even the lengthy folksy drones, like 'The Immigrant Lad', or the first six minutes of 'New York 1963...', where Eric recounts his impressions of his first trans-Atlantic visit ('And when I got to 'Mer-r-r-r-ica, I say, it blew my mind!'), are touching, and the opener, 'White Houses', is one of the sweetest little shuffles to have ever come from the man.
At the core of the album, however, is a fully successful updating of the blazing hard sounds of yore. Eric had not given us fresh performances of traditional R'n'B since at least 1966, but here he returns with a vengeance to put his stamp on 'St. James' Infirmary', arranged as the musical equivalent of a haunting movie thriller — starts out slow, deep, and dark, then gradually unfurls into a sonic nightmare. Eerie backing vocals, wailing guitar solos, Eric in the further stages of possession, a little honesty plus a little theater goes a long, long way.
In terms of importance and unusualness, however, it is still trumped by Eric's original 'Year Of The Guru'. Not only is this the first — to the best of my knowledge — straightforward indictment of «professional spiritual leadership» on a pop record ('Sexy Sadie' was not only more oblique, but also came out later in the year), it is also one of the first examples of «white rap» on such a record, and fairly well grounded, too, because there would be no better way to convey Burdon's anger than with such a rapid-fire delivery on the perils of guru-trusting. But not even the lyrics themselves are as hilarious and aggressive at the same time as the song's chaotic coda and Eric's demented cries of 'Gotta get a guru, gotta get a guru, a groovy groovy guru!' — a coda that summarizes the epoch's disillusionment in crash courses in spiritual enlightenment better than any lengthy treatise on the subject.
Alas, the flaws of Every One Of Us are just as obvious as its successes. If the staged conversation between two silly cockneys on Side A and the black fighter pilot confession on Side B somehow fail to annoy you (they are not that long, after all), then the ten-minute 'I wanna be free — you can never be free!' jam that concludes 'New York 1963 — America 1968' most certainly will. Usually, such things happen when bands run out of things to say, but if this ten-minute raving was their thing to say, this is even worse. It is not psychedelia and it is not even «modern art», but it is more dull to listen to than the third LP of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, and that was pretty dull. Must have been dull even back in 1968; who the heck would want to take this for one's ideal of a «lengthy composition» when one could choose between 'Sister Ray' and 'In Held Twas In I' at the same time?
Still, chop off the last ten minutes and you still come out with about thirty-five of good music, which is at least longer than the Beach Boys' Surfin' Safari, and that was an LP as well, and still continues to sell for a full price. Therefore, a definite thumbs up for the rest of it, coming mostly from the heart department — believe it or not, but that Burdon guy somehow manages to awaken the dormant working man in me. Roight, guvnah, off to the docks, 'en. See ye round.