When I was a kid in the 80s, Cold Chisel had only been broken up a couple of years, and their legacy as one of Australia’s biggest bands of the 70s and early 80s meant their music was still everywhere. When I was drinking in pubs in the 90s, I realised that Chisel’s brand of blue collar rock was still being played everywhere where beer was cold and cheap. Now, I work at a radio station that specialises in classic rock, and Cold Chisel is played daily. And I really hate Cold Chisel.
At least, I assume I do. But I have always based that hatred on the half a dozen or so songs that have been crammed down my throat my entire life. So I thought Aussie Week 3 was a good excuse to give an entire Chisel album a go. Either I’ll have more evidence to back up my diatribes against them, or I’ll be proven wrong and have a substantial discography to indulge in.
I love loud music and rawkus rock. I love a lot of music where the vocals could be describes as “screaming”. But there’s something about the voice of Jimmy Barnes at full tilt that just pierces my ears in all the worst ways. So when Circus Animals opens with You Got Nothing I Want, it already had me on the back foot. This is one of the Chisel abominations that has been forced on me constantly throughout my lifetime. It also starts with Barnes at full scream with the opening beat. This album really couldn’t have come at me in a worse way.
While Bow River is another Cold Chisel song I was more than familiar with before today, and assumed I hated, hearing it back to back with You Got Nothing I Want made me appreciate it a whole lot more. It has some light and shade, I has actual melodies, it has Barnsie singing a little more than screaming. And best of all, it has a shredding Ian Moss guitar solo.
Next up is Forever Now. A song I would hear at least fortnightly at my day job, but a song I never knew until now was called Forever Now. It’s always just been, “that fucking Chisel loneliness song”. While this opening trio of songs has done nothing to make me change my opinion of the band, I can’t help respecting the fact that all three are enduring hits three decades after the record came out. That’s a pretty impressive legacy.
Taipan, proof that whit guys from Australia have no business attempting delta blues infused, sleazy soul rock. Although, once again, the guitar work of Moss is almost reason enough alone to sit through the rest of this culture appropriation bullshit. Which makes the shred heavy opening of Houndog the most promising thing on Circus Animals to this point. Too bad it’s quickly ruined by Barnes at his most assaultive on the mic.
Later, it’s time for another Chisel standard I’ve known my entire life., while apparently having no idea it was titled When the War is Over. It’s Australia’s bogan pub rock kings showing their tender side. And like Bow River, I might not like the specific results, but I like the reprieve from the standard Chisel meat headedness.
So, Circus Animals did nothing to make me change my opinion of the band’s music, but it has given me a new respect for what the band accomplished. With four of its 10 tracks becoming enduring, culture defining, iconic classics, even I have to admit there was something to this band and this record.