THE ANIMALS: ARK (1983)
1) Loose Change; 2) Love Is For All Time; 3) My Favorite Enemy; 4) Prisoner Of The Light; 5) Being There; 6) Hard Times; 7) The Night; 8) Trying To Get To You; 9) Just Can't Get Enough; 10) Melt Down; 11) Gotta Get Back To You; 12) Crystal Nights; 13*) No John No.
«Third verse, different from the first», as Joey would say. For the Animals' last attempt at a meaningful and productive reunion, they finally decided to shift their sound. Unfortunately, the decision happened to be taken at a time when geometry-defying hairstyles were only the second worst thing after the current trends in music-making, and it is not a pretty sight witnessing one of the world's former champions in white R&B go all synth-pop on their audiences.
Frankly speaking, it is not even clear how much of a true «reunion» this is. In addition to all the regular band members, there are at least four additional people, two of which — Zoot Money on keyboards and Steve Grant on guitar — seem to have a much stronger hand in the playing and arrangement departments than the «true» Animals. The songwriting, this time around, is mostly original, with the exception of the old blues number 'Trying To Get To You', but Burdon is the only Animal that gets any credits; the rest go to corporate songwriters. In short, it is more like a solo Burdon album with nice surprise cameos from his old pals (and no one would guess that anyway without looking closely at the liner notes).
Furthermore, it looks like Eric had finally gulped down the last drops of the old «creativity and experimentation» elixir. Before We Were... could at least be understood as the result of a simple desire to take it easy and go back, for a sec, to being the old careless rambunctious boys of the days of yore, playing simple, but fun, entertainment for the crowd. Ark, on the contrary, is an album filled with new songs and melodies, looking as if it had something new to say — but, when you get down to the bottom of it, it hardly says anything worth paying close attention to.
It is not a bad album. It could have been much worse. They could have gone to Diane Warren, who had just made a name for herself in 1983. They could have tried to sound like Rod Stewart. Instead, Burdon most definitely sounds like Burdon — his voice is still in great shape — and the outside songwriters at least take enough care so as not to ruin the classic Animals legacy entirely: no power ballads, no disco, no hair metal.
In fact, guitarist Steve Grant can write a mean tune: his two numbers, 'Loose Change' and 'My Favorite Enemy', are the liveliest, catchiest, and least troublesome tunes on the album, and both have clearly been designed with Eric as the preferred vocalist in mind, especially the latter, which lights up rather slowly, but eventually does go up in smoke and propels Burdon back into all-out screaming mode as the rest of the band rally around him and clearly enjoy all the fun.
Less convincing, in my opinion, is the overtly MTV-oriented stuff like 'The Night', the album's lead single, molded into a sci-fi-ish New Wave pop tune. It's not even the silly keyboards — silly keyboards per se cannot spoil anything — it's that Burdon is simply uncomfortable when trying to adapt to this new style, about the same way that someone who has never worn a suit and tie would be uncomfortable when having to don them for an official reception. You know he'd rather sing 'Boom Boom' than shake his bum to these synthesized rhythms.
Naturally, there are missteps all the way: 'Love Is For All Time' puts the band into reggae mode, a first and, fortunately, last for them; 'Being There' seems to be a song about the movie Being There — great movie, piss-poor song; and, although 'Trying To Get You' is given a much more dramatic, desperate sheen than it used to have in the Presley era, it could certainly benefit from more blues guitar and less post-Kraftwerk keyboards. Etc. etc.
As an attempt to put the Animals back on the chessboard in the MTV era, Ark is a predetermined failure; at least the Rolling Stones had played back to back for the entire preceding decade, and were somewhat ready to face the upcoming challenge — these guys, on the contrary, had no regular bonding for more than fifteen years, and it would have been a marvel had they succeeded in «re-gelling» altogether, let alone in an Eighties fashion. But as a slight memento of the era, and as a record that features a bit of decent songwriting crossed with a bit of superior singing, it works, and, at the very least, 'My Favorite Enemy' has never left my best-of-all-time playlist ever since it got there, a long time ago. Therefore, although the brain keeps trying to plant a vicious thumbs down rating here, the heart still crosses it out with a thumbs up, if only moderately so.