When Cold Chisel finally called it quits in 1983, Jimmy Barnes was on his own. Though instead of moping around the house wondering about his future he quickly put a band together and hit the road. His choice in musicians was interesting to say the least. There was Ray Arnott, who had played drums on and off with Cold Chisel; Chris Stockley, guitarist with country-rock group The Dingoes; Bruce Howe, bassist with prog-rock outfit Fraternity, along with Mal Eastick, an accomplished blues-rock guitarist in his own right. In other words, Jimmy chose to work with a select bunch of older, more experienced musicians, people he could learn from and assist in establishing his solo career.
Bodyswerve was recorded at Sydney’s Rhinoceros studios in a mere six weeks, with the same line-up that had been with him from the start. It’s a raw record, that’s for sure, very different from what was generally considered popular at the time (I doubt too many Spandau Ballet fans would have rushed out to procure a copy), however what it lacks in refinement it more than compensates for in terms of heart and energy.
First up is “Vision”, a song which I must admit seems a little underwritten, but a semi-decent opener all the same. Barnes’ vocals are somewhat on the rough side of life, or at least rougher than usual (for him), though still affecting, even if the whole thing doesn’t really quite manage to take off, like a 747 left revving its engines while waiting for permission from the control tower to tear down the tarmac. Far better is “Daylight”, a tough, working class rocker, where the only thing Barnes is concerned with is to sleep in and recover from a big night on the piss. “Promise Me You’ll Call” is one of those rough-as-guts rock ballads which shouldn’t work, but does, due mainly to Mal Eastick’s superb guitar playing, and the earnest sentiment of the song itself (Barnes wrote it for his daughter).
“No Second Prize” is probably about the best thing Barnes has ever written, a song which dates from his Chisel days, and one which they apparently recorded but have never released. Apparently it was dedicated to Alan Dallow and Billy Rowe, who were a couple of Chisel roadies who tragically perished in a truck crash in 1980 (something from which the band never quite got over it seems). The theme itself could apply to anyone really who has ever felt that their own back was “against the wall”. Barnes gets political on the guitar heavy “Boys Cry Out for War”, while “A Week Away from Paradise” is a boogie-rock number similar to “Rising Sun”, only heavier.
Barnes reflects on mortality by choosing to cover Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, an interpretation which isn’t all that bad I have to say. It was actually Rod Stewart who suggested to Jim in the late ‘70s that he should listen to more Soul and R&B. Advice the younger singer clearly never forgot, as his vocal delivery here is probably the most affecting of the entire record. On “Thick Skinned” Barnes laments over his wife’s disapprobation of him as a husband, but I reckon Jim probably gave as well as he got, and more, so much so that he likely deserved it.
Now if there is one male singer qualified to cover “Piece of My Heart” it would be Jimmy Barnes, whose own voice has a similarly raspy, sand-paper timbre as Janis Joplin herself (who made the song famous of course). And while Barnes doesn’t really add anything new (how could he, the original Big Brother recording will always be definitive), it’s a song Barnes was no doubt born to sing, and he does so with a conviction and passion few others would even have the balls to attempt.
“Fire” is a Mal Eastick composition, and it shows, due to its somewhat more sophisticated structure and polished rhythms when compared to most of Jimmy’s own efforts, which were relatively Bronze Age at best. We finish with “World’s on Fire”, another guitar-laden rocker with plenty of social observation as well as some self-reflection on the part of the lead singer himself.
Bodyswerve would eventually go straight to number one in the Australian charts (which must have really pissed off fans of Culture Club and The Thompson Twins – we are talking 1984 after all), due mainly to Barnes’ seemingly endless touring schedule and round the clock radio promotions. And while far from being perfect (which album ever is?), Barnes obviously saw it as a learning curve more than anything else, and a stepping stone to bigger and better things, by starting from scratch and doing it the hard way, instead of relying on flash producers and even flashier musicians. The following year he would travel to America, hoping to try his luck there. What resulted would establish him as one of the most popular rock vocalists in Australia, far surpassing even his days with Chisel. Because in 1985 he would release the anthemic Working Class Man.