Bar-Kays

Animal

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The Bar-Kays' final LP until their re-emergence a half-decade later, 1989's Animal was essentially a hollow reprisal of 1987's Contagious. Pared down to a trio comprising Larry "D" Dodson, Winston Stewart, and Harvey "Joe" Henderson for that outing, the band was devastated when longtime producer Allen Jones passed away shortly after. Working now with Tony Prendatt, the Bar-Kays hashed together a mediocre set of light urban dance numbers. Not even the occasional flashes of their early fire that punctuate the LP were able to keep them in the spotlight. Too much time had passed and the shift in musical directions was too great to support the Bar-Kays' now-archaic sounds. The songs on Animal are synth-heavy and bass-happy, but such sounds were long past their sell-by date. However, there are some points of interest. The title track is funky enough; Dodson's vocals are always a treat and the performance is thoroughly enlivened by guest guitarist Joe Walsh. Also of note is the deeply funky and sparse "Just Like a Teeter-Totter," which brought the band closer to their heyday than they had strayed in nearly a decade. Co-produced by Sly Stone, the man who had particular influence on Dodson, it was a neat full-circle moment for the band whose roots most had either forgotten or never even been aware of. It's important to remember that the Bar-Kays never stopped being a good band -- it was taste and fashion that twisted the knife and pushed them aside. It's also hard to maintain dewy effusiveness when your career essentially amounts to an album a year. Despite its unevenness, Animal gave the band a Top 50 hit -- how many other bands whose careers span three decades can you say that about?

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