THE ANIMALS: LOVE IS (1968)
1) River Deep, Mountain High; 2) I'm An Animal; 3) I'm Dying, Or Am I; 4) Ring Of Fire; 5) Coloured Rain; 6) To Love Somebody; 7) As The Years Go Passing By; 8) Gemini; 9) Madman (Running Through The Fields).
The Animals' 1969 Christmas gift to their already well-loaded fans was this double LP — nine songs stretched to the breaking point and still hardly pushing over sixty minutes. With a little modest trimming, the band might have easily fit everything on two sides of vinyl. But in 1968, double albums were coming in as the latest obligatory ingredient for the serious artist: if you lacked the capacity to splatter your Vision over four sides, you ran the risk of being deemed closed-minded. Big times required big statements, said the Beatles, and came out with The Beatles.
Eric Burdon, too, was already well used to big statements, and Love Is was one of his biggest. No original material here at all; instead, the band runs through a selection of covers whose only thing in common is that they have nothing, or almost nothing, in common. Having sung so many times about the diversification of popular music, Burdon now illustrates that diversification on himself. Beginning relatively straightforwardly with the R'n'B genre (Ike & Tina Turner's 'River Deep, Mountain High', Sly & The Family Stone's 'I'm An Animal', no doubt, selected because of the fitting title), he rips through country ('Ring Of Fire'), Brit-tinged roots-rock ('Coloured Rain'), lush balladry ('To Love Somebody'), 12-bar blues ('As The Years Go Passing By'), and, finally, psychedelic rock (side four).
And I stand by my word: with about fifteen or twenty minutes of this stuff trimmed, the album would have stood up better today. Case in point: the rocking rendition of 'River Deep' ranks among Eric's best covers, as he yields one of those stirring predator-begging-for-mercy performances that combine the primal ferocious scream with rough tender feeling in a uniquely Burdon way. But midway through, the song transforms into a silly tweet-tweet chant praising the charms of Tina Turner (culminating in a mock-psychedelic 'Tina-Tina-Tina-Tina!' that must have embarrassed the poor woman deeply even back then). Original? Certainly. Does it add much to the song, does it go down well today? All I can say is that I far prefer the edited single version which, nicely enough, can be found as a bonus track on the CD edition of Every One Of Us.
Pretty much the same applies to every other song on here that goes over five minutes — with the possible exception of 'As The Years Go Passing By', which is prolonged at the expense of an excellent blues-rock guitar solo rather than silly psychedelic noises, and the slightly less possible exception of 'Coloured Rain', where the guitarist improvises in a Clapton-like manner, backed by a tired brass section. 'To Love Somebody' just repeats the chorus too many times; and 'Gemini' offers a freakout break that is stuck somewhere in between the astral plains of the Moody Blues and the upcoming minimalistic chinks of King Crimson's 'Moonchild'.
All these flourishes will probably inspire only the most «open-minded» of human beings, those that accept just about any flash of creativity as long as there is a minimal chance of proclaiming the thing in question «a flash of creativity». Yet all it really takes is to flip the mindset switch on the back of your head into the '1960s' position, and then the «flashes» will not be a serious bother — at the very least, they will not prevent one from enjoying the individual stamp that Burdon is putting on all those covers. He is loving this — or else he would not have done it — and he still roars the blues out like crazy, and he does not spoil 'Ring Of Fire' by giving it an operatic flavor, and, in my opinion, he sings 'To Love Somebody' better than the Bee Gees.
And a special big thanks to new band member Andy Summers — later of the Cops' fame — for bringing along the beautiful song 'Madman (Running Through The Fields)', taken from the vaults of his previous outfit, Dantalion's Chariot. I would not say it is better than the original, but this probably made a lot of people hear it for the first time. Such a cute marriage between uptempo Brit-pop and «pastoral psychedelia» — a gorgeous way to close the record.
Analytically, Love Is does not quite make the grade: its «meat» is unoriginal, and its «fat» decidedly oversaturated; the brain is not happy. But the heart clearly states that, as long as Eric Burdon sticks to singing the stuff that he is covering rather than fucking with this stuff, it will never have a problem with this particular artist. Assessing the rate of singing to fucking to be approximately 7 : 3 on this album, thumbs up are guaranteed.