Monday, June 25, 2012
The Animals: Animalism (1966)
In a way this is comforting -- I sat down to review a record I loved and came away realizing that it isn't really very good at all. I'm not as stoic in my tastes as I sometimes fear, everyone! It's still "recommended" for now because it was a big deal to me when I discovered it a few years ago, and there's some goodwill left over, but I find myself more than a little uncomfortable with the wheezy blooze on here now. I dig the Animals generally; Eric Burdon himself I'm a little more suspicious of, and since the arrangements here are mostly lite and lazy (the major exception being the brooding variation on "Hit the Road Jack," which is quite lively), his vocals are the main thing I have an issue with.
White pop singers in the '60s were not strangers to a certain racial profiling when they approached black music; even my hero Alex Chilton is guilty of this in the "c'mere chillun" cry on "I Met Her in Church." But what Burdon does seems to me to go beyond a well-intentioned but ultimately problematic tribute and into the realm of juvenilia, just this side of prejudice. There's some of this on the Animals' hits, granted, but without the empty worship of garage rock and British Invasion I had when I approached this album initially and thought it a long-lost jewel, I'm put off by the affectation of a "black blues" sound to which, frankly, Burdon has no right. And before you crow about authenticity being a thoroughly socially-engineered concept, the whole issue here is that Burdon is coasting on that idea, he's singing with a costume, singing in blackface, if you will, because he wants to appear "legitimate" and "real." That's all the dumber when you consider how easy it is to hear Sam Cooke singing "Shake," Little Richard doing "Lucille," Howlin' Wolf doing "Smokestack Lightning." As with a lot of the early Rolling Stones covers, I find myself wondering what the point is except rocker posturing. If I can't excuse the Black Keys, I certainly don't see how I can excuse this.
Why single the Animals out, you ask, when all of the first wave of Brit Inv bands were known for famous and obscure blues and R&B covers? Easy. Compare the Kinks doing "Milk Cow Blues," John Lennon singing Arthur Alexander songs, the Stones doing "Good Times" to Burdon painfully grunting his way through B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby." The other bands use the original songs as a jumping off point within their own emotionally fertile and distinct idiom -- the Beatles especially. They don't attempt to replicate or replace the records they're reviving. I get the vibe here that Burdon is just getting off on himself. Honestly I can't say for sure what I was hearing back in 2008 when I went so far as to plug this record unstoppably to a dozen or more people. Maybe I'll hear it again someday.