Strange Animal

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

 

 

#727: An Aaron Xmas

GETTING MORE TALE #727: An Aaron Xmas

How many Aarons do you know? I know several, but only one that bombards me on a regular basis with mystery parcels!

We’ve written about Aaron many, many times in these pages.  There is a whole series of videos called Mike and Aaron go to Toronto, where we spend our money on all things musical.  Then there are the numerous albums and even holy grail items he’s found for me over the years.  Aaron is a non-stop fountain of music!

The truth is, he sends me far more stuff than I send in return.  Hopefully he’s not keeping track too hard.  But now it is Christmas!  I sent him a couple CDs last week (Max the Axe and Styx), and he has returned the favour with interest (as he usually does).  Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?

Riiiiiiiip!

Christmas came early indeed!  Aaron and I have discussed Gowan before.  Many today know Gowan as the lead singer of Styx, but before that he had a couple decades worth of a solo career under his belt.  I told Aaron, “I want to start a Gowan collection, all of it.”  Amazingly I didn’t find any last time we were in Toronto, but Aaron doesn’t quit.

Check this out:  the two Gowan albums I wanted most!  Strange Animal, and Lost Brotherhood.  Woah!  What names in the credits!  Tony Levin on stick and bass, on both albums.  Alex Lifeson (Rush) and Kenny Greer (Red Rider) on guitar for Lost Brotherhood.  Talk about the best of the best of the best.  And between the two albums, I get all the Gowan songs that I like (so far)!  Those would be “Strange Animal”, “A Criminal Mind”, and “All the Lovers in the World”.

But that’s not all!

Clearly, Aaron remembered that I once had a crush on “Sporty Spice”, Melanie C.  I even owned her first solo album Northern Star.  I still think Mel C is the best Spice Girl; she even worked with Bryan Adams.  She’s arguably the most talented and the one with the most integrity.  My crush is long gone, but she’s still beautiful today; even more than 1996.  Yeah, I still like Sporty!  Knowing this, Aaron bought me the “Unofficial” Sporty Spice In My Pocket book.  From this, I learned that Mel C once worked in a fish and chip shop.  What a couple we could have been.  I love fish!

 

You know, I wasn’t actually looking forward to Christmas, until now.  It’s been a horribly downer year for us.  Thank you again Aaron for the thoughtful gifts.  I’m feeling the spirit now!  Maybe I’ll go put some Christmas lights on.  I’m a “Strange Animal”, that’s what I know, but Aaron seems to know what makes me tick.

Thanks buddy!  Did you know that Sporty Spice was kicked out of a gym in Japan because they saw her tattoos and thought she was Yakuza Ominus Spiritus!