Burdon and his Animals trip the light fantastic in the sunset of the summer of love
The Animals first came to prominence in 1964 with their cover of the old blues standard “House Of The Rising Sun,” a recording which cost almost nothing to produce and yet became an enormous hit on both sides of the Atlantic, thanks to Eric Burdon’s distinct menacing vocals and Alan Price’s swirling hypnotic organ. Other singles such as “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” would ensure that the Animals would go down as one of the finest English blues bands of the mid-sixties.
But by 1966 the original lineup was all but over, with bassist Chas Chandler going on to manage Jimi Hendrix, and Burdon moving to San Francisco to immerse himself in the burgeoning hippie scene, imbibing large quantities of LSD in the process. Re-christening the group as Eric Burdon & The Animals, Burdon set about reinventing himself as some sort of psychedelic journeyman, who was determined to ‘turn you on’ and change society as a whole.
One of the better LPs from this (short lived) period was The Twain Shall Meet, recorded in December 1967, and released in May the following year. While not quite as trippy as the previous Winds Of Change album, Twain benefits from stronger songwriting and a more focussed approach overall, starting with “Monterey,” Burdon’s inspired tribute to The Monterey Pop Festival. The song’s driving beat is augmented by sitar, electric guitar, and a number of imaginative sections devoted to several of the main players who performed there, such as Ravi Shankar, Hendrix, The Byrds, The Who and The Grateful Dead.
The rest of the record is a good to very good mix of pop, rock and blues tunes all played via the kaleidoscopic lens of hippie culture. “Just The Thought” and “Closer To The Truth” are closer to Burdon and the band’s world view, the former with its wistful references to a staircase that “leads to nowhere” and “flowers growing out of my wall,” while the latter sees Burdon revisit his early days in London when he was singing Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon.
“No Self Pity,” in spite of good intentions, comes across as little more than a dated hippie diatribe, as does “Orange & Red Beams,” whose pretty production and arrangement falls flat of whatever original motivations its authors may have had in mind. Burdon’s commentary on the destruction of war is expressed on “Sky Pilot,” a song that probably wouldn’t exist without the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love, although unlike those previous two albums, apart from Tom Wilson, whoever else was responsible for the mixing and producing did a terrible job, even by 1967 standards. Which is a shame, since the track is strong enough to stand alone sans all the ‘special effects,’ making it simply too ambitious for its own good.
“We Love You Lil” is an ominous instrumental apparently meant to alter the listener’s mind, followed by the hippie love-in of “All Is One,” where bagpipes (you better believe it) and sitar compete for the listener’s inner consciousness. Oboes, flutes and horns also compete for the listener’s spiritual salvation, as Burdon does his best to take us on a journey towards enlightenment, before the song ends in typical English whimsical fashion.
Soon this second incarnation of the band would go their separate ways, which was probably a blessing in disguise, as Burdon went on to find success with War, with whom he continued to explore his penchant for combining poetry with rock (or in War’s case funk-rock), most notably on “Spill The Wine.”
After all these years, The Twain Shall Meet stands as an entertaining if imperfect document made at a time when philosophy and rock were beginning to merge in ways not imagined just a few years before. The remastered edition is blessed with five bonus tracks, in the form of the original single mixes of “Sky Pilot,” “Monterey,” “Anything,” and “It’s All Meat,” making this the definitive version.