REVIEW: Gowan – Strange Animal (1984)

GOWAN – Strange Animal (1984 CBS)

Strange Animal was only Lawrence Gowan’s second solo album, and one of his best sellers.  It’s also one of his most dated sounding, with programming and production honed in on the 1980s.  Regardless, you can’t knock the musicians:  Tony Levin (bass/Chapman Stick), Jerry Marotta (drums), and Chris Jarrett & David Rhodes (guitars).  Gowan basically lifted his studio band from Peter Gabriel.

Opener “Cosmetics” was a single, though just shy of cracking the Top 40.  It’s terribly dated sounding, with that wretched brittle synthetic sound that even Queen resorted to at one point.  So you might love it!  The piano is delectable and Gowan is as smooth as pie.  “Desperate” is darker, but I sure do hate synth hand-claps!  Fortunately this is a great song, akin to 80s Phil Collins.  Another really smooth one is “City of the Angels”, like a waltz at midnight.  Progressive rock invades “Walking on Air”, which lightly tip-toes from gentle rock to more aggressive guitars.

A delicate but powerful “Burning Torches of Hope” sits right at the middle of the album, and it is so very 80s.  Levin makes some animalist noise on “Keep the Tension On”, which sounds much like its title.  Taut, powerful, and even heavy in a certain way.  It’s melds right into a march on “Guerilla Soldier”, a killer song with terrific verse hooks.  Massive song!  It feels like this album builds to a close.  Especially when you consider the last two songs.

Finally, at the end of the album comes the familiar hits.  First:  a huge Chapman Stick groove, on the poppy upbeat title track.  “Strange Animal” is an awesome song: strictly fun, and incredibly so!  The melody stays in your head for days, and you’re hooked.  Ominous spiritus, ahh!  And then it’s his most famous song, “A Criminal Mind”, otherwise known as “the one that Styx play live”.  Solo, in the studio, “A Criminal Mind” is just as haunting, just as powerful, and just as unforgettable.  It also had one of the most disturbing music videos we had seen as young kids, and our reaction was revulsion.  On album, it is a capstone of a pretty terrific record.  It really feels like it should have opened.

Though ultimately it is up to the listener, unless you grew up with Strange Animal in the Walkman nestled in your back pocket, the programming and 80s-isms are a bit distracting.  It’s also strange how Gowan left all the big firepower stacked at the end of the album.  In the CD age, it just makes the whole thing more rewarding at the end!

3.5/5 stars





  1. Talented fella this Gowan fella is. I caught this tour when Gowan played Tbay back in 85 or 86 but it was for this record.
    Got some free tickets so we went. Good show live but only know a few tunes at the time. Also caught Larry when he played out fair in 89. He had Steve Shelski (Coney Hatch) on guitar.
    You’re right though how many albums have there two biggest hits at #8 and 9 on the record?
    End of the album Gems as I call em!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did he have the merry-go-round keyboard back then too, or was it modeled after a different piece of playground equipment? Slides, swings, monkey bars?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, he did not have the merry go round keyboard.
        Gowan is a huge talent and basically has kept Styx above water with his talent.
        The twirly keyboard is fun that’s all. A good live gimmick. It’s what Larry brings to that band that matters and to be truthful if it was STYX with DeYoung now I don’t know if I would be interested as much in what they are doing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, the dude’s obviously a great keyboard player. It’s impressive he can spin on that thing while playing, all without throwing up.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Come to think of it, Gowan would be really good in a production of Peter Pan. If he played Tinker Bell that is.


      2. How do you be a frontman with a stationary instrument? Oh sure, you could use an old fashioned “guiboard”, but then you’d look like a reject from the mid-80s. Tommy Lee figured out ways to make his drum kit mobile, spinning, going on a rollercoaster track. People make fun of it (He sounded better upside down!) but it’s a brilliant way to engage the audience. Likewise the moving keyboard. Fucking brilliant that thing. Now he’s not just stuck there playing keys. Now he’s able to move around and put on a show. Nothing wrong with it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never heard any of these. I didn’t know who he was until Styx, and I can’t say that made me want to listen more. He was such a ham and cheese sandwich with his fruity spinning keyboard. And I thought Dennis DeYoung flamboyant. I seem to him having a weeny nasal vibrato like DeYoung though, but that might just be because he was singing those awful songs.

      “I’m sailing on a boat, come raise your madst half port, starboard for me! I peed off the side of the boat! Arrested for indecent exposure!”

      I wish I liked Styx better, because they have some good stuff (the Tommy Shaw stuff), but they were so campy. It rubs me the wrong way to see Gowan pole dancing on his stupid vertigo keyboard spinner. They seem to want to reach the same target demographic as The Wiggles.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I wasn’t dissin’ The Wiggles! I was just saying Styx is supposed to be a serious band, yet they smile and bop around like they’re appealing to kids. They should just bust out a bunch of bright colors and kazoos and sing about the benefits of washing your hands for twenty seconds as Gowan’s feet lift off the grand as he’s spinning rapidly on his merry-go-round keyboard. May as well play some circus music and make a gimmick of him, seeing how fast that keyboard can spin without him flying off into the audience. Play some Julius Fucik, entry of the gladiators.

          Have an elephant behind the drummer and have James Young tame a lion with his crazy eyes and his Gary Busey smile as Tommy Shaw jumps through a ring of fire on a motorcycle with playing “Renegade”. There’s a fucking concert to distract from how vanilla, camp, and sissy their shitty music is.

          If it wasn’t apparent, I was just trying to see how far I could take the insults at this point. HA!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh man, this was MY album, when I was a kid. My best friend and I played the living hell out of it. We saw him on this tour, here in my town. Now I play it for my kids (they love it too).

    I have been blogging about music for 14 years and never tried to cover this one in full. I’m not sure I could, it’s too close. So if anyone asks, I’ll send them here!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I remember HMO shared a neat post at one point about the penultimate track being called the ‘boneyard track’ of an album – the place where artists try to hide the dud in the running order.
    This album would be the exception, like you said, odd place to hide the title track, but all the more rewarding a finish to the album!


  4. Going back and listening and reading up on some of my fav music from high school is a trip. Always loved Gowan and still do. I caught his live act a few times at Ontario Place Forum, including when he first showed off his twirly keyboard – which I’ll maintain he got built specifically *for* the forum since it was a round stage. Strangest Gowan experience was randomly stumbling into him putting on a free solo keyboard show for about 20 people (including me) at Oakville Place mall outside the record store. Seems like a great guy too – very happy he is still living his dream.


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