Eric Burdon

I Used to Be an Animal

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In the face of the legend that he once was, it's very fashionable to dismiss Eric Burdon's '70s-and-later output as little more than an afterthought -- which may or may not be true. But from the moment 1988's I Used to Be an Animal kicks into groove, it's clear that Burdon has spent the last few years doing more than kicking over old traces. The putative soundtrack to the singer's recently published autobiography, I Used to Be an Animal chases that band's career through its own chops and changes, pitfalls and high points, but without ever actually looking back. Situations and ambitions are recalled, to be sure. But the ice-sharp production and soaring, anthemic attack merges memory with modernity, to produce an album that still turns unsuspecting heads around -- "what is that you're playing?" The sharpest shock, of course, is the opening title track, a brittle slice of late-'80s funk rap that manages to blend themes as diverse as the Who's "Baba O'Riley," Disco Tex's "Get Dancing," and Falco's "Das Kommissar," and still comes up sassy and fresh. "The Dream," a Last Poets-style proto-rap and the supercharged Stax stomp of "American Dream" follow through with landscapes of their own, while "Run for Your Life" is widescreen motorik menace, nosing a bassline that slides like an avalanche. Again, received wisdom insists that Burdon lost the power of re-invention around the time the New Animals cascaded into his linkup with War. In fact, I Used to Be an Animal makes those departures look positively pre-ordained. There are a handful of familiar touchstones in sight -- "Going Back to Memphis," "Leo's Place," and the seriously Stones-y "Living in Fear" all draw the old blues wailer back into view, to prove that the tonsils are still as tight as ever. But the heart of I Used to Be an Animal is maverick madness, electrifying urban soul that doesn't give a damn for reputation or preconception. In other words, Burdon might not have been an animal any longer. But he was still a raging beast.

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