Review Summary: The album's innovation cannot be denied, but this merely a training ground for the trademark Animals sound.
In 1964, there were two British R&B groups that mattered. One was the Rolling Stones, the embodiment of the frenzied, energetic and aggressive nature of the genre. The other was the Animals, proudly representing the bluesy, gloomier side of R&B. While the former has enjoyed 50 years of huge commercial success as well as consistent praising from critics, the latter ensemble is usually treated as an artifact of a long-forgotten era.
The reasons this band made its mark among the hundreds of R&B acts during the early ‘60’s were two. First and foremost, this was the only, and first, rock group at the time to boast an organ, not just as a background, but as the basis for its sound. It’s needless, really, to mention the importance of such an innovation when the piercing lead organ throughout the record serves as an omen for the work laid by the seminal prog-rock bands of the early 70’s –or Deep Purple for that matter. The second reason was, of course, vocalist Eric Burdon. Where Mick Jagger interpreted his influences in a sharp, youthful and attacking manner, Eric used his deep, thick and rough voice, as well as his large range, to add a certain maturity and drama to his performances.
The remaining members, though, don’t cut it (thus somewhat justifying the band’s “museum listening” reputation). The rhythm section is professional (unlike, say, early Kinks), but there are no interesting drum fills, memorable bass lines or clever interlocking rhythms here (unlike, say, the Watts/Wyman combo of the Stones). What is more, they mostly boast neither a lot of energy and spontaneity, which is needed for the faster numbers, nor swing and heaviness, a requisite for slow blues numbers. Things aren’t better with guitarist Hilton Valentine, either. He is merely competent
, constantly overshadowed by the organ while he provides ordinary R&B riffs and licks, but even his few solo spots seem obligatory.
As a result, the highlights are the numbers that showcase the whole band’s strengths or, at least, the two main stars of the album. House Of The Rising Sun
needs no introduction, being the only song that is remembered on a global scale by the Animals. Everything is in its right place here; the plaintive guitar arpeggios, the subdued, crystal-like rhythm section and, of course, Eric with Alan spicing with magic the whole affair with desperate howls and ominous licks, respectively. The Girl Can’t Help Out
and Talkin’ ‘Bout You
are special ones; the only chance on the whole record (and maybe the group’s career) to witness the band as a fast, rip-roaring rock’n’roll machine and they work beautifully, because the whole
band commits to the performances. The only other song worth your time is the great blues-pop (?) number Baby, Let Me Take You Home
, bolstered by mournful organ playing to contrast the up-tempo nature of the tune, as well as another terrific performance by Eric.
The rest of the covers, though, don’t offer much. First of all, there is the aforementioned problem of the rhythm section and the guitarist being skillful, but mostly derivative and not too exciting players. Second, Night Time
and Around and Around
, while nice, are overshadowed by much better renditions from CCR and the Stones, respectively. Third, Alan Price relies too much
on the I-IV-V chord progression when playing, resulting in all the mid-tempo tunes sounding like one samey, overlong bluesy mush. Their only saving grace is when he is soloing, but a great solo doesn’t make a great song.
Overall, this is a good, but incredibly formulaic and, frankly, primitive effort. Following records would feature intricate bass/drums interplay, some fine guitar playing and brilliant keyboard riffs and licks, but this one relies too much on traditional R&B patterns instead of expanding on its innovations. A historically important release, even if you only need four of these songs. Oh, well.