Cold Chisel opened the '80s with their most widely accepted and artfully constructed album, East. Following it up was a tall order for the Aussie quintet, but they did the trick admirably with Circus Animals. (A live album, Swingshift, was released in the period between the two studio discs.) A ten-song stew of the band's signature guitar-and-piano-driven ballads and rockers, it further confirmed Chisel's depth and breadth as a creative unit. From the outset of Circus Animals, the boys come crashing in through the window like a bunch of rowdies with hell-raising on their minds, cranking out the guitar rock rottweiler "You Got Nothing I Want." Singer Jimmy Barnes' wrote the song about the frustration of a recently completed U.S. tour that had imploded ingloriously. As he belts out the number, Barnes' voice sounds like a buzz saw blade that's flown loose and ripped through a bunch of parked cars. Guitar star Ian Moss takes over the lead vocals for the second track, the up-tempo jangler-cum-thumper "Bow River," which tells a typical Chisel tale of a working-class battler who dreams of better things: "I don't want to see another engine line/Too many years and I owe my mind/First set o' wheels headin' back Bow River again/The first thing you know I'll be back in Bow River again." Moss also chips in with a guitar solo that would take many better-known names from the axe-grinding fraternity back to school. Other hightlights include "Houndog" (not to be confused with Leiber & Stoller's "Hound Dog"), a gripping, grueling riff-fest road song; the strip-club, tom-tom beat of the slinky "Numbers Fall"; the bent-halo ballad "When the War Is Over"; and the coup de grâce, the coke-frenzy-rock of the mini-epic "Letter To Alan," written for the band's deceased roadie, Alan Dallow (another hail-of-bullets solo from Moss). Cold Chisel were as Australian as kangaroos, meat pies, rugby, and Holden cars and, typically, the songs here are filled with local references. The album cover even features the band in front of a dilapidated trailer in the middle of the salt flats of the vast Australian desert. But then, this was a group acutely proud of their roots. A band that actually re-defined "Down Under Rock," and was deserving of a much more prominent place on the world's rock and roll stage.
AllMusic Review by Adrian Zupp