Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Animals -Animalisms plus 1966

If the Animals had never recorded another album except for Animalism, their musical reputation would have been assured — none of the participants ever participated on, or would ever work on, a better long-player. The irony was that Animalism (not to be confused with the group's earlier, British-issued Animalisms, or its American counterpart, Animalization) was only ever issued in America, and came out after the group had ceased to exist and, thus, was scarcely noticed by anybody (which made it a choice occupant of cut-out bins for decades). Recorded mostly during the spring and summer of 1966 by the lineup of Eric Burdon, Hilton Valentine, Chas Chandler, Dave Rowberry, and Barry Jenkins, Animalism proved to be a glorious musical high point, as well as an end point for the band. Even as they were playing out their string, all of the members had begun growing in their musicianship, with guitarist Hilton Valentine taking on a much bolder, bluesier voice on his instrument and keyboardist Dave Rowberry developing a sound as distinctive as that of his predecessor, Alan Price. Part of Animalism was cut in Los Angeles under the aegis of Frank Zappa, who arranged (and probably played on) the opening number, "All Night Long," a surging traditional blues song, and who also worked on the album's ominous rendition of "The Other Side of This Life." Sam Cooke's "Shake" is treated to a restrained Burdon vocal and superb musical acrobatics by Valentine and Rowberry, while B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" becomes the vehicle for a virtuoso workout by Valentine, and a thunderous performance by Chandler and Jenkins. "Smokestack Lightning" is the most successful cover the group ever did of a Chicago blues number (unless you count their version of Donovan's "Hey Gyp," which is also here in all of its Bo Diddley-inspired glory), and "Hit the Road, Jack" represents the best work that Burdon ever did with a Ray Charles number. After years of languishing out of print — with many vinyl junkies hunting down treasured copies — Animalism was finally issued on CD in January of 2006 by Hip-O Select for a limited Internet-only purchase. For the uninitiated, Animalism is the place to start.

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