Continuing the elegantly restrained and artistic route of Workshy but having fun with new variations as they went, the five members of Animals That Swim made a fine second album in the shape of I Was the King, I Really Was the King. Drummer/vocalist Starrs again stepped to the fore as a wryly individual singer, either collaborating with Barker on lyrics or interpreting the other's work with the appropriately dry passion suiting the band's music. Thus there's the portrait of the recuperating anti-TV crusader -- sort of -- on "Despatches From Lula" or the amazing, slow-burning feedback and fire of "The Greenhouse," about a pot grower up north forced into exile back in 1973. The key charm of the group, though, revolves around its music, still a rich combination of influences from Tom Waits' burnt cabaret and Randy Newman's barbed pop to more conventional sources such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Crabtree's trumpet once more gives a very specific identity to the songs -- it isn't simply added on, but becomes part of it, replacing what might have been in a less inventive group go-nowhere guitar or keyboard soloing. Generally, I Was the King is more energetic than Workshy, a bit more pop-friendly all around (there's nothing quite so slow and elegiac as "King Beer" here), sometimes suggesting Marc Almond's more rock-focused solo work here and there. Fine numbers include "The Longest Road," one of Crabtree's best performances featuring on an at once brisk and melancholy song with a wonderful, subtly addicting chorus, the shimmering Euro-tinged, almost instrumental "Shipley," a bit like a classic Simple Minds track performed by a different band, and the just epic enough guitar and trumpet combination on the concluding "The Good Old Way."
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett