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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Animals: The Twain Shall Meet


THE ANIMALS: THE TWAIN SHALL MEET (1968)

1) Monterey; 2) Just The Thought; 3) Closer To The Truth; 4) No Self Pity; 5) Orange And Red Beams; 6) Sky Pilot; 7) We Love You Lil; 8) All Is One.

No matter how dated or downright silly we may find Burdon's output from this period in general, the sheer amount of creative passion is astonishing: no less than three albums — one of them a double LP! — had been released by the band in 1968, which would, perhaps, be normal for the likes of Frank Zappa, but certainly not for the rowdy Brit who, only a couple years ago, had seri­ous problems about coming up with any kind of original material.

It would be highly irreverent to disrespect the enthusiasm, much less doubt its sincerity. And, beyond that, parts of The Twain Shall Meet work as fascinating period pieces, absolutely un­imaginable to­day. It is easy to smile at the ongoing naïveness such as seen in 'Monterey', Bur­don's fanboy report on The Festival where, once again, he succumbs to the historiographic temp­tations of listing all the greats ('The Grateful Dead blew everybody's mind... Jimi Hendrix, baby, believe me, set the world on fire...'). It may be hard for us today not to judge Monterey from the point of view of such pompous, but safe and cozy events like Woodstock '99 or Live 8, but back in 1968, standards were different.

Plus, from a different point of view, 'Monterey' is just a cool sitar-driven psychedelic rocker with an impassioned vocal performance — nothing wrong about that. Melody, drive, and real senti­ment, a definite improvement over 'Winds Of Change'. The other highlight for the ages is 'Sky Pilot', Burdon's anti-war anthem replete with blazing guitar solos and air battle overdubs and, more importantly, one of the catchiest choruses ever recorded: 'Sky pilot, sky pilot, how high can you fly? — you'll never, never, never reach the sky!' Most importantly, though, it gives us an ul­tra-­serious Eric in an «epic» mood, which we have not properly — that is, within the context of a real song rather than merely a musical sermon — experienced ever since the recor­ding of 'House Of The Rising Sun'. The effect, predictably, is magnificent.

The rest of the material is far more experimental, and, therefore, hit-and-miss. In the good news, there is not a lot of preaching, as the boys concentrate more on revolutionizing the world of music than on giving us a good metaphysical grounding for it; so, no unlistenable trash like 'Winds Of Change' or 'Man — Woman'. In the bad news, «revolutionizing» still, quite frequently, means «vandalizing». Side 2, after the opening punch of 'Sky Pilot', does not deserve more than one his­torical lis­ten, consisting of a lengthy, powerful, but extremely monotonous guitar freakout ('We Love You Lil') and a drunken psychedelic jam ('All Is One') where the idea is to cram as many different instruments as possible into the framework and make us believe that they are all one — nice try, but one need not go further than Gustav Mahler to find that out, and the Animals do not qualify as serious competition.

The first side is marred by a couple non-Burdon sung tunes ('Orange And Red Beams', in parti­cular, is a pretty weak Danny McCulloch original, and his voice is a very ugly counterpoint to Burdon's, sounding as if Eric, out of pure misery, brought in a weak old semi-demented relative to give him his last chance), as well as silly production ideas (as Mark Prindle best put it, "Why does half of 'Closer To The Truth' sound like it was recorded on an empty aluminum can jammed into a tape recorder, and the other half sound like a drunken guitarist wobbling back and forth across a room?"). Nevertheless, 'Closer To The Truth' does rock, and a couple other psychedelic tunes are real psychedelic tunes rather than sad psychedelic nonsense.

There definitely is progress here, and the new band is beginning to find solid middle ground be­tween unbridled experiment and conservatism; but whoever hates Winds Of Change will most li­kely not be bawled over by The Twain Shall Meet, either, if only because the twain shall meet, but, at this point, they have not met yet. Still, no record that has 'Sky Pilot' and 'Monterey' on it deserves anything less than a thumbs up, because the heart cannot be denied.

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