The Animals

The Mickie Most Years and More

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Of all the British acts that started messing with the blues in the early '60s, the Animals always sounded the toughest and most committed to the cause. They didn't have a genius guitarist like the Yardbirds or the Bluesbreakers, and couldn't write memorable original material like the Rolling Stones, but Eric Burdon was one of the few singers in the U.K. whose guts and ferocity approached that of his influences (without sounding like he was simply copying what he'd heard), and the tough, no-nonsense attack of guitarist Hilton Valentine, bassist Chas Chandler, and drummer John Steel drove the Animals with style and power, while keyboard man Alan Price gave the band plenty of welcome melodic flair. The Animals were also one of the few bands on the scene that failed to overstay their welcome, with the original lineup breaking up by the end of 1966 (Burdon would assemble a "New Animals" in 1967, but that band ran its course by the end of the decade), and the bulk of their recorded output is collected on The Mickie Most Years and More, remarkably the first American box set devoted to the group's legacy. The set contains remastered versions of the Animals' first four American albums -- The Animals, The Animals on Tour, Animal Tracks, and Animalization -- all in original mono and including bonus tracks, while also including the group's very first release, a primitive but spirited four-track EP cut in a makeshift studio in 1963. In some ways, this package is fundamentally flawed -- the British and American versions of the Animals' LPs were very different, and a compilation containing all tracks would more accurately reflect their body of work instead of a repackaging of the U.S. albums, while the first two albums aren't even presented in their original form, with The Animals losing the admittedly less-than-stellar "Blue Feeling" and The Animals on Tour getting a new sequence and two extra tunes. However, what's here is excellent: the remastering by Adam Ayan is brilliant, preserving the full detail and power of the original tapes, and these four albums capture the Animals in peak form. David Fricke's liner notes reveal that producer Mickie Most captured most of these tunes on first take, and the first three albums are powerful, straight-ahead blues and R&B direct from the rugged side of Newcastle. Animalization was produced by Tom Wilson and boasts a richer and more ambitious sound, while Burdon began putting new focus on songwriting and new keyboard man Dave Rowberry took a more organic approach than Alan Price. It all sounds pretty great here, both in terms of music and audio, and if this isn't the final and definitive look at the Animals' run in the 1960s (especially since it doesn't include the superb 1966 album Animalism, the original band's final stand), it honors a great, underappreciated group and is must listening for anyone interested in British blues and rock.

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