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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Animals: Winds Of Change


1) Winds Of Change; 2) Poem By The Sea; 3) Paint It Black; 4) The Black Plague; 5) Yes I Am Experienced; 6) San Franciscan Nights; 7) Man-Woman; 8) Hotel Hell; 9) Good Times; 10) Anything; 11) It's All Meat.

By the end of 1966, Burdon's ego got the best of him. Disbanding what remained of the original lineup, he assembled an entirely new team — people who only knew him as Eric The Great and would, therefore, kowtow before his will — and re-christened it «Eric Burdon & The Animals»: first part for honesty's sake, second part so that people would go on buying the records. People were not that easily duped: Winds Of Change only got as high as No. 42 on the Billboard, and each of the three following records only sank lower and lower.

No one is to blame but Eric. As the scene of pop music was exploding from the cumulative ta­lents, invading «high art» territory and splitting into dozens of distinct genres, all of this bliss went to his head — and caused irreversible reactions. Suddenly, Burdon began to think of himself as a prophet of the new movement, that one individual whose responsibility included not only summarizing the achievements of his contemporaries — in an artistic form, of course — but also creating an entirely new synthetic form of art itself, where the lines between music, poetry, thea­ter, and social philosophy would no longer exist. The idea took complete hold of him, and his new band of talented, but submissive musical companions (slaves?) was to help him realize it.

It is not to be denied that Eric Burdon, in 1967, before he became old and ugly and began to re-record 'The House Of The Rising Sun' for peanuts, was still young, fresh, powerful, and talented. But even so, there was hardly any other artist at the time, both in Britain and overseas, who would be less suited for this grandiose venture than the Animals frontman. Drastically inexperienced as a songwriter, not playing any actual instrument, his best talent was lending his voice to rearrangements of classic blues and R'n'B. Prophet? Guru? You must be joking.

Winds Of Change is — in my opinion, has always been — one of those proverbial records that give the late Sixties their bad name. We sometimes tend to forget that, for each true artistic break­through, there were ten silly, badly dated «experiments», and few have dated worse than Burdon's original declaration of creative freedom. Out of the record's 11 tracks, more than half are not «songs» at all, but Statements with a capital S-.

The title track States Change, recounting the his­tory of popular music for the past half century. 'Poem By The Sea' States Romance, presenting Burdon as the tormented loner. 'Paint It Black' States Stream-Of-Conscience, taking a compact pop number from the hands of the Rolling Stones and showing how much farther you can go with it (but why should you?). 'The Black Plague' States Serious Art — where would we be without a little medieval influence, to link The Now with The Then? 'Yes I Am Experienced' States Dialog — because if Jimi Hendrix asks 'Are You Experienced?', someone has to answer. Guess who that someone is. And so on.

Basically, the first side of the album is so explicitly weak that, for a long time, it was painting my overall impression of the whole thing — black, black, black. With minimalistic musical backing, it is a one man show all the way, and the show combines peak-level naïveness and idealism with unbridled pomp so clumsily and unattractively that it must take a very special mind to fall under its charm. Besides, it is pretty doggone hard to fall under the charm of 'Winds Of Change' when that wretched sitar and John Weider's violin keep blasting at your ears all at the same time.

The flipside, however, does have several traditionally-oriented songs, mostly rhythmic mid-tem­po ballads with pleasant arrangement touches (cute baroque guitar flourishes on 'San Francisco Nights', Morricone-style brass flashes on 'Hotel Hell', strings gushing on 'Anything', etc.), as well as one heavy rocker ('It's All Meat') that also preaches ('When Erkel Darbies walks, when Eric Clapton talks... it's all meat on the same bone!'), but, at least, does rock.

These songs, credited to the entire band — much to Burdon's honor, although that gives very little indication as to who was the driving force behind the melodies — are well-written and touching, much more so than all the impressionism and preachiness on the first side. (The worst bit, by the way, a long percussion-backed rambling, in a flash of brilliant provocativeness entitled 'Man — Woman', has surreptitiously made it onto Side Two, fucking things up even in this relatively safe haven). 'San Francisco Nights' and 'Good Times' have, over the years, held up so as to even be occasionally covered by other artists. Alas, back in sunny 1967 Burdon probably thought that it would be 'Poem By The Sea' and 'The Black Plague' that truly represented the spirit of the times.

Certainly, Winds Of Change is unique enough for its age, and, intellectually, it would be unjust not to notice that uniqueness. But it is poor, shrivelled uniqueness, like the swimming pool scene in The Graduate, one that withers and dies with time, and it would be equally unjust not to notice that. I once used to think that Winds Of Change was the worst thing ever to come out of the de­cade. Clearly, that was an exaggeration, triggered by the staggering discrepancy between the clas­sic material of the early Animals and this incomprehensible, unforgivable change. At least it is mildly interesting, and the ballads are fine. But my overall negative judgement — thumbs down, down, down! — stays the same.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you on this album. I'm not sure how Mark Prindle even dared to give this album 3-stars out of 10 (for some reason, he hates Eric Burdon's debut solo album credited which is credited as being the Animals 1/10).