The Animals: Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted (United Artists)

LONG-DEAD GROUPS usually come back for commercial reasons – individual careers are slipping, the musicians are no longer recognized in the streets – and the results are predictably depressing: the new appearance is the final reminder of the old death, of glories long gone. The Animals’ “revival” album is a refreshing exception to this rule and a model for other defunct groups (take note, Beatles). It is not a new bid for stardom but a reminder of old friendships.

The Original Animals met in a studio last year to remind themselves of the fun and rigors of playing together; their joint look back was an energizing break in their individual moves forward. Bassist Chas Chandler provided tight, plain production – no orchestras, no electronic whiz-kiddery, no star friends. And the band left the studio separately: Chandler and drummer John Steel to their successful management/production company, Barn; Alan Price to his well-respected niche in British cabaret pop, and Eric Burdon to the new possibilities brought about by the settlement of his years of legal and financial hassles. (Only guitarist Hilton Valentine’s present career is obscure.)

The Animals made only two albums (and a handful of singles) with this lineup originally. Their music meant gracious interpretations of R&B classics, a sound dominated by Eric Burdon – the best British blues singer of his day, if not the most charismatic – and by Alan Price’s churchy piano and organ runs. The rest of the band served as the rhythm section.

Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted is, as the title suggests, the third album in the series: a record of R&B covers, the sound of Burdon and Price. The rhythm section is as firm and unobtrusive as ever; Hilton Valentine’s excellence is still as a rhythm guitarist confined to brief, elegant breaks.

Price and Burdon are playing the music of their past with new maturity and skill. Price’s old, rich chords are rarely used (they emerge with a subtly nostalgic effect on ‘Lonely Avenue’); most of the time he plays stomping R&B or sophisticated, jazzy, electric piano, which he manages to hold just this side of tinkly irritation. His electric piano is at its most moving on ‘Please Send Me Someone to Love’.

And Burdon has never sung better. His voice is rich and deep; he reaches bass notes few rock singers would attempt; his emotional effects are derived from musical skills (he eschews the usual British reliance on volume, gimmick and ersatz agony). The Animals always respected their sources, and on a slow blues such as ‘As the Crow Flies’, Burdon’s sure singing captures the dignity and experience of the blues as well as he ever captured its verve and excitement.

Not everything here works, though. Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers to Cross’, slowed to a blues beat, is too aggressive, too precise, and misses the original’s loose loneliness; the Dylan cover, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’, drags – Burdon does not have the ability of a singer like Van Morrison to hypnotize the listener with subtly varied repetition. But the rest is honorable music, and, like the musicians themselves, we can refresh ourselves at this reminder of where we came from in order to carry a greater faith into rock’s future.

© Simon FrithRolling Stone, 20 October 1977

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