Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 21st 2019
Barnes is on song
Cold Chisel is one of my favourite bands. Let me get that out of the way to start with. Their track 'Flame Trees' brings up some very pleasant memories that are all I have left of Barbara. They did one of the best versions of 'Wild Thing' I've heard and their 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' is pretty damn impressive. And don't even get me started on the East album, an Australian classic.
However, once Chisel went their separate ways, Jimmy Barnes continued to put out tracks and albums that have, themselves, become Australia classics. His version of 'Working Class Man' is almost an unofficial national anthem (much like Chisel's 'Khe Sanh' before it). His Soul… albums are ones I really enjoy, and Double Happiness was played way too often when that album came out.
In May/June of this year (2019), he released My Criminal Record.
On the heels of his twin autobiography attack (Working Class Boy and Working Class Man) and the Working Class Boy documentary, this album continues the confessional tone of his recent offerings. But, more than that, Barnes has rediscovered his singing voice. This is an album that is a joy to listen to. His old Cold Chisel sparring partner Don Walker co-wrote a few of the tracks, and his piano can be heard, especially on the title track (and first single).
This is an album worthy of being added to not only Barnes' fantastic output but also to the canon of Australian albums that deserve to be remembered for a long time to come.
'My Criminal Record'. This track starts that autobiographical feel of the album starkly and blatantly. With dominant piano, it's the sort of song I can imagine hearing in some smoky pub somewhere. There is no screaming – this is Barnes singing the blues. What a great way to start the album.
'Shutting Down Our Town'. There is a definite country-rock feel about this track, but maybe that's not a huge surprise when you realise Troy Casser-Daly was the song-writer. The fact it has a different feel and sound to the opening track already tells you that this album is not going to be a one-trick pony. Again, Barnes sings this song, and you get the impression he feels it. It might not, for him, be about a rural location, though – this is what has happened to the satellite city of Elizabeth, South Australia, where Barnes grew up. So poignant today, and becoming more and more so. What a great track. My favourite on the album. (Edit: I saw the video clip after writing this – yes, it's about Elizabeth…)
'I'm In A Bad Mood'. Now we have rock-growler Barnes. Again, another different feel. This is driven along by Barnes' vocals, and he sounds angry. I can imagine this being screamed in a pub at two o'clock in the morning by a bunch of drunks who do not want to go home. It's that sort of track.
'Stolen Car (The Road's On Fire, Pt. 1)'. Now we slow down for a driving song. "Life is like a stolen car/ That I'm pushing way too hard…" Interesting metaphors, a nice guitar solo, and the album has started with an absolute bang.
'My Demon (God Help Me)' follows in the same vein, but with a chorus that would not be out of place on a Dan Sultan single. Another song with a distinctively autobiographical tone, and some nice guitar playing as well.
'Working Class Hero'. Yes, that 'Working Class Hero' – the John Lennon classic. With a driving drum playing a marching tune, as if going to war, and building up to guitar parts, underscored by organ… this is a very good cover of the original song. It sounds, again, like Barnes is living it as much as Lennon did 50 years ago. Is it as good as the original? I played it for a Lennon fan and she said a definitive, "No!" But I reckon it's on a par.
'Belvedere And Cigarettes'. I didn't mind this track, but it did very little for me. A nice guitar solo, and Barnes back to his gravel-voiced style. Just there, really, in my opinion.
'I Won't Let You Down'. This song would not have been out of place on any of Barnes' 1990's solo output. It rocks along with a driving drum-beat, not too fast, with a chorus augmented by female singers with glorious voices. One of my favourites on the album.
'Stargazer'. We slow right down for this one. A sad song, about a love that's falling slowly apart, but they are going through the motions: "And she don't even look up to me/ When she's on her back at night…" It's pretty stark, and a good track to boot.
'Money And Class'. Another angry song, another song that sounds like it is autobiographical; the driving beat of this song accentuates the emotions that seem to be fuelling it. Powerful song.
'Stolen Car (The Road's On Fire, Pt. 2)'. Not just a retread of the first song, but this is faster and sounds a little more like a Cold Chisel song. Same lyrics, sure, but with a different musical sense, and I prefer this one.
'If Time Is On My Side'. Written by Mark Lizotte (aka Diesel, Barnes' brother-in-law), this song has a 1980's feel (especially with the male "whoa-wha-oh!" chorus) that is a nice change of pace. Another of my favourite tracks on the album.
'Tougher Than The Rest'. A Bruce Springsteen cover! Like this album couldn't fall any more into my own personal version of awesome. Look, it's good, it's been Barnesified, and the musical backing is a little richer, but considering the original is one of my favourite Springsteen songs, sorry, he doesn't quite match it. He does a good job, but Bruce did it better.
And, because I am a sad man, I actually got the deluxe version with four extra tracks.
'Reckless Beauty'. This sounds like something he might have recorded after being influenced by the Soul… albums he did. It's got that feel to it (albeit, sans horns), with a nice organ blast and those glorious female harmonies again. Surprised it's not on the main album, actually. A pleasant bonus.
'Waitin' On A Plane'. Standard rocker. Again, this is not a bad track, but I can see why it didn't make the cut for the main album.
'Tougher Than the Rest (Alternate Mix)' & 'I'm In A Bad Mood (Bob Clearmountain Mix)'. Just remixes of tracks already on the album. The first is more keyboard heavy; the second is slightly heavier. Standard bonus tracks, and neither of them is actually bad.
This is another really good album by a member of the old brigade. When classic rock stars like Barnes (and Stray Cats and Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen and… oh, look, go through my archives… there's plenty there) release such great albums at this stage of their careers, and yet the alleged rock music listened to is so anodyne, I wonder if music choice is done less on the actual music and more on the corporate image.