When drummer Steve Prestwich unexpectedly passed away in 2011, one would have understood if the remaining four members of Cold Chisel had of chosen to call it a day, at least as far as the band itself was concerned, and allowed posterity to do the rest. Not so. After what must have been an extremely painful and difficult period, they eventually decided to carry on. Because playing with other drummers wasn’t exactly a new thing for Chisel. When Prestwich quit the band in 1983 (although some say he was sacked), they hired Ray Arnott as his replacement for much of that year, until Steve was convinced to rejoin several months later to play on what everyone then believed would be their final ever tour, known as The Last Stand.
If The Perfect Crime turns out to be Chisel’s last, at least they can say they went out with a bang and not a whimper. All the familiar themes are here: women, hard liquor, broken hearts, and that all important long dark road. Remarkably Jim Barnes’ voice has hardly changed since the band’s pub rock heyday, and belies his age in a way many singers of his vintage could probably only dream of.
On opener “Alone for You” Barnes barks his vocals at the listener like a dog on a chain who wants to break free but knows that it can’t. Don Walker always knew how to keep Jim on a tight leash when necessary, deliberately writing songs that would fit within Barnes’ singing range, because let’s face it, the man was no Joe Cocker, except for the fact that they were both born with a larynx made of gravel. It’s a strong, yet strangely restrained way to begin the album, though sets the mood for the rest of the LP rather nicely.
“The Backroom” is the sort of song I can imagine every jukebox in country Australia can’t live without on a Saturday night. For fans of jazz-fusion this would no doubt be anathema to their more sophisticated synapses with its blues-rock meets Hicksville arrangement, like comparing boutique beer to your standard stubby of VB or a can of XXXX Gold (yes, many Australians couldn’t give a XXXX what they drink). But Chisel remain the Everyman’s rock and roll band, and “On All Broke Lucy” and the title track, “The Perfect Crime”, they prove that they can still belt it out just as well as any group half their age.
The band reflects on mortality on “The Long Dark Road”, where Ian Moss plays some of the most intense guitar of his career. The semi-rockabilly “Four in the Morning” keeps the energy levels from sagging, before the bluesy “The Mansions” (based on a true story apparently) rudely thumps through your speakers like Robert Johnson with a stack of Marshalls. “The Toast of Paris” is the sort of song an earlier Chisel would have relegated to the vaults, no matter what its merits may be.
Ian Moss delivers the goods on the excellent “Shoot the Moon”, a blues-jazz number, which establishes what I’ve known these many years, that Moss is one of Australia’s greatest blues-rock instrumentalists (he also has an outstanding voice by the way).
What “Mexican Wedding” is doing on the album is anyone’s guess. It’s entertaining, lyric wise (Drinking and fighting… pissing all over the lawn… slamming tequilas… federales smoking and scratching their balls), but should have been a b-side. “Get Lucky” almost borders on Americana, before the quasi-disco of “Bus Station” rolls along with its lonely narrative. Sure, it might be concerned with taking pills and eating Chiko Rolls (the latter no-one has ever to this day been scientifically able to establish what a ‘Chiko Roll’ really was much less exactly went into one), though it certainly ain’t no “Flame Trees”. The band obviously at this point decided to go down the orchestral route with “Lost”, something very unlike Cold Chisel, and the sort of thing many fans years ago would have rejected outright by throwing empty tinnies at their turntable.
The sentimental “Romantic Lies” sees the band revisit their early jazzy days, a la “The Party’s Over”, and would have been a fine and classy way to end matters, except we get yet another thumping rocker in the vein of nearly every other thumping rocker performed so far. “Blue Flame” has its virtues, and deserves to be heard, however at this point I’m probably ready to listen to something else.
One of the wonderful things about the original LP format is that it placed a limit on what artists could release. Now, in the CD age, the listener is given every scrap and morsel, all on the one disc, compelling him (or her) to sit through far more than what is perhaps necessary to the experience. My own advice is, always leave the audience wanting more.
The only way I can describe this album is that it is a kind of hybrid between East and Circus Animals. And like that elder lion one sees at the Zoo, the one who always seems content in its dotage. Don’t be fooled; although it might be aging, it still knows how to roar.