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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Animals: Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted


1) Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt); 2) It's All Over Now Baby Blue; 3) Fire On The Sun; 4) As The Crow Flies; 5) Please Send Me Someone To Love; 6) Many Rivers To Cross; 7) Just A Little Bit; 8) Riverside Country; 9) Lonely Avenue; 10) The Fool.

Burdon dismissed the band soon after Love Is failed to make the big time, and for the next de­cade, there was no sign of the Animals, as Eric gravitated in and out of various projects, first with WAR, then on an entirely solo basis (not that the period did not have an excitement of its own, but this will be duly covered under the «Eric Burdon» section).

Eventually, nostalgia — or, perhaps, some earthlier feelings, such as cash pressure? — took over, and in 1977 Burdon and Price ended up reassembling the entire original line-up from 1965. Old time fans were rejoicing, but for the original five Animals, the studio hours must have been really hard, because what exactly were they to record? Obviously, there was no question about Burdon dominating the proceedings like he did on each record since 1967 — getting back the primordial line-up meant also going back to a more democratic kind of arrangement. On the other hand, what would be the point, in 1977, to return to the same brand of, by now, way obsolete R'n'B that used to be their main occupation?

These are tough questions, and, unfortunately, the resulting album does not manage to find the right answers. Like in the old days, they mostly revert to doing covers, and some of the covers are respectable oldies, like Ray Charles' 'Lonely Avenue', but they also do Curtis Mayfield and Jim­my Cliff and, most importantly, they try their best to not make it sound like an exercise in retro­spection. They do steer clear of all new trends — disco, punk, New Wave etc. — but neither do they sound like they are hopelessly stuck in the Sixties.

And it does not click. It goes down uneasy. The most transparent proof would be to compare their original recording of 'Just A Little Bit' (back then, called 'Don't Want Much' and easily available on the two-disc Columbia set) with the 1977 reworking. The aggression is toned down, Burdon trades his rock'n'roll growl for a moodier, «sexier» approach, Price mostly uses the organ for oc­casional flourishes, and I never manage to get the point.

Nor do they seem to recapture their blues glories all that well, either: 'As The Crow Flies' is com­pletely pro forma — where, in the past, Burdon and Price would be ripping each other's throats, competing for whoever was able to generate the higher excitement level, here they seem to com­pete for whoever is able to exercise the most restraint. It is odd to hear Burdon sing like Lou Reed, and it is even odder to hear Price trade in his organ for a tasteful, but minimalistic electric piano backing. Alan Price is really a phenomenal keyboard player; why do we have to hear him play like some anonymous backer in a late Eighties' Eric Clapton stage band?

This does not mean the record is unlistenable, or even boring. Eric does plenty of good screaming work on 'Lonely Avenue', reaches his highest «confessional» standards on 'Many Rivers To Cross', rocks out on 'Fire On The Sun', and does not let Bob down with 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' (the latter is given a particularly minimalist arrangement, with Price not so much playing the piano as marking the time with it, so that we can give Eric our full attention. It is worth it, ac­tually). Plus, while evading the trends, it never once sounds like «generic Seventies soft rock» or something like that; play it without knowing and you will not be able to guess the year correctly, or even the decade — «retro-bands» or, simply, bands that laugh at trends are still recording simi­lar-sounding albums even today, except that not all of them are this good.

In the end, it is a moderate thumbs up and an enjoyable listen, but it did not prove the most im­portant point — namely, that The Original Animals had a solid reason to reconvene, much less waste time, money, and efforts on trying to hit the market again. Consequently, they went their own ways once again, and stayed that way for six more years.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if Curtis Mayfield ever covered any of these songs, but the Mayfield credited on "Please Send Me Someone to Love" was actually written by Percy Mayfield, the guy who most notably wrote "Hit the Road, Jack" for Ray Charles (which the Animals also covered on the rare Animalism LP). Funny enough, apparently as a writer he's better known for "Someone" than "Jack", which is quickly associated to its performer.