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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Eric Burdon: Eric Is Here

ERIC BURDON: ERIC IS HERE (1967)

1) In The Night; 2) Mama Told Me Not To Come; 3) I Think It's Gonna Rain Today; 4) On This Side Of Goodbye; 5) That Ain't Where It's At; 6) True Love (Comes Only Once In A Lifetime); 7) Help Me Girl; 8) Wait Till Next Year; 9) Losin' Control; 10) It's Not Easy; 11) The Biggest Bundle Of Them All; 12) It's Been A Long Time Comin'.

This strange and generally forgotten album is not even all that easily allocated within any one particular discography. One one hand, it is credited to «Eric Burdon & The Animals», just like Winds Of Change, Eric's second album from 1967; on the other hand, Winds Of Change, like the three albums that followed it, at least did feature an actual band that Eric decided to call «The Animals» — with Vic Briggs and Danny McCulloch — whereas on Eric Is Here, the only other officially credited «Animal» is drummer Barry Jenkins, retained by Eric from the 1966 lineup. All the other credits go to Benny Golson and Horace Ott — arrangers and conductors, responsible for the orchestral treatments of the songs. (Allegedly, a few other members of the old Animals are said to be featured on some of the tracks, but nobody can properly confirm who or where).

In the end, misleading labels aside, it is perhaps easiest to simply treat this record as the first of Eric Burdon's solo projects — a side mission for the beginning of 1967, something to keep him busy until his next band was properly assembled. In fact, he did begin work on it as a solo album; I think it was largely because of his contractual obligations to MGM Records that he was forced to keep the word «Animals» on the cover somehow, despite the album title very clearly hinting at the solo nature of the project. And a pretty bizarre project at that: Eric would probably be the first to agree that it was the farthest thing from a proper «Animals» record that he could have come up with at the moment.

Although Eric was not a sworn enemy to pop music (wasn't ʽWe Gotta Get Out Of This Placeʼ written by Mann/Weill, after all?), nobody could have guessed that his first move upon getting out of the proper Animals would be to release a pure pop record — an orchestral pop record at that, with nary an electric guitar in sight, although, admittedly, there are rhythm sections, key­boards, and brass-based rather than string-based arrangements as well, so that much of it sounds like Motown rather than Mantovani. Anyway, such a record could be expected of Tom Jones, or Cher, or from Manfred Mann at least, but the sight of wild bluesman Eric Burdon suddenly len­ding his talents to a bunch of would-be show tunes must have been much too much to take for even those music fans who, in early 1967, thought themselves ready for anything.

But leaving preconceptions aside, Eric Is Here is not nearly as bad as it is sometimes depicted; at the very least, it is far more comprehensible and less irritating than Eric's subsequent first attempt at psychoambition with the embarrassingly amateurish Winds Of Change. There are some good songs here, albeit mixed in with bland filler, and Burdon's voice is quite well suited for soul-pop (not that ʽDon't Let Me Be Misunderstoodʼ left much to worry about), especially if the soul-pop in question comes from the hand of Randy Newman, Mann/Weill, or Goffin/King.

The album yielded only one single: ʽHelp Me Girlʼ, written by yet another American songwriting duo, Scott English and Larry Weiss — and it is an attractively depressed anthem, with a creative arrangement of melancholic organs and triumphant brass, never mind the fact that few people could match Eric for the sheer Geordie intensity of his "cause aaaaaaaim going insaaaaaaane!...". It is at least as good as a Kinks love song circa 1965-66, and Eric does it full justice. But he is also good at getting into the spirit of Randy Newman songs, be it the antisocial comedy of ʽMama Told Me Not To Comeʼ or the bitter sarcasm of ʽI Think It's Gonna Rain Todayʼ (whose arran­gement, heavy on brass fanfares typical of optimistic jazz-soul, only further attentuates the irony); aw heck, he is good at getting into everything, provided the material is decent enough.

The material is not always decent enough, though. Some songs are silly optimistic romps (Ritchie Cordell's ʽBiggest Bundle Of Them Allʼ), some are spoiled by unnecessary rosiness (ʽTrue Loveʼ does not require a kid choir chanting the title — what is this, Sesame Street?), and some do not represent the songwriters at their best (Goffin/King's ʽOn This Side Of Goodbyeʼ, first recorded by The Righteous Brothers, sounds like one of Carole's lazier efforts from her usually hook-filled decade). In all honesty, such is probably the fate of every «pure pop» album from those (or any other) times, at least those that paired professional songwriters with professional singers; but given that Burdon was never a professional pop singer, it's very much a matter of roulette about whether he gets it right or not, and he certainly cannot redeem a weak tune just by belting it out as loud as he can. Yet at least he shows signs of good tastes when he gives Randy Newman a clear preference over everybody else (3 out of 12 songs are Randy's) — for the record, I do not know whether Eric Is Here or A Price On His Head, Alan Price's second solo album, came out earlier, but it can hardly be a coincidence that both of the former Animals got so infatuated with Newman at just about the same time.

Still, since we're on it, Price definitely did the pop schtick better than Burdon — after all, he was a keyboard player, well accustomed and attuned to the music hall ideology despite largely having to cover it up in the blues-based Animals; for Eric, this was still a largely alien genre, although you can certainly hear echoes of it all through the «Eric Burdon & The Animals» years and even later. I will not give the record a thumbs up (though I'd be happy to do so for some individual songs, like ʽHelp Me Girlʼ), because it is clearly not a win-win type of experiment; but neither is it a complete failure, and among the long list of bizarre things done by various people in the age of Aquarius, it is worth a listen or two.

3 comments:

  1. At least two of these songs are assumed to have been recorded by either of the 1966/1967 lineups of the Animals/EB & the Animals: "Help Me Girl", hence its inclusion on the expanded Animalisms, and "Mama Told Me Not to Come", as it appears on a similar release to the expanded Animalisms, one that has that UK LP's US equivalent (Animalization) as the main album.

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  2. Eric looks so wasted on the cover! I remember liking the album on the initial listening but not coming back for the second one somehow.

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  3. Not that this has anything to do with the music, but MGM Records had a great-looking logo.

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