LITTLE ANIMALS - The Beasts of Bourbon (Alberts/Sony-BMG)
That this album was ever made is a thing of amazement in itself. It's been 10 years since the last studio outing and although many of the stories may have been apocryphal, that hardly matters when you're talking about the Beasts of Bourbon. Members have been variously dead, missing in action, in rehab or simply not inclined to be in the same room with each other in the period since "Low". "That "Little Animals" is better than anything they've ever done is a bonus.

Criminal to call on a cliche but this truly is "all killer, no filler". There's not a wasted track. That it's dirty and raw hardly needs to be said, but "Little Animals" is also brimful of the sort of attitude and spontaneity that puts it on the next plain. Producer Skritch (Tex Perkin's solo band drummer and behind the kit for overseas dates when Tony Pola's past, er, adventures don't allow him a visa) hasn't overplayed his role. There's lot of glorious leakage but no one element out does another. "Little Animals" was committed to tape in a few days with no mucking around - and sounds great, at least partly because of that.

There were suggestions that the band was pulling up short in the songs department before they went into the studio, but it's not apparent from the finished product. Rumour also had it that "Little Animals" was a stylistic return to "The Axeman's Jazz" - at least in part. In the end, there's minimal country referencing but it's not the pounding jackhammer aesthetics of "The Low Road" either. We're presented with a crunching rock and roll album, but with more of a Stonesy "loose-tightness" to the playing than almost anything else in the back catalogue.

As an opening statement of intent, "I Don't Care About Nothing Anymore" is as good as anything I've heard. He might not give his money to the motherfucking poor or give a flying fuck what critics think, but Tex Perkins (or whoever's persona he's taken on) does have a caring bone in his body. Truth be known, it's probably a bone that he wants to plant in someone else's body but it's a wonderful, skulking and at the same time strutting tune that gives ample platform from which guitarists Spencer P. Jones and Charlie Owen can lob a couple of guitar hand grenades. Pola and Brian Hooper's bass lock in with murderous intent and Tex is in fine fettle with that gravely psychotic vocal which persists for much of the album, with only the occasional concession to crooning.

Not that a softer song like the title tune is middle-of-the-road; it's the view of the day's end from the perspective of an abattoir worker who clearly enjoys his occupation, and it's delivered with such a skewed and malevolent sense of swelling menace that it could easily cast Tex as Jeffrey Dahmer. Little animals are tasty and "so useful" but you're free to read the lyrics as a metaphor.

I read a comment somewhere that the album was all about "Master and Slave", the extended (by Beasts standards) work-out that sits around the middle of the record. Maybe so but that song goes hand-in-glove with "New Day of the Dead" at the back end, one of those wrought, strung-out windows on a war-torn world that only a band as "lived in" as the Beasts could pull off without getting into pretension.

There's soemthing for everyone. The taut rockers are here ("I'm Gone", "I Told You So") and so is the brutal stomper in combat boots ("Sleepwalker"), while the closer "Thanks" is a subdued and ironic chronicle of self abuse that rounds off things perfectly. The perfect cocktail.

I think of "Low" as a few great songs but not a cohesive album, and the intervening live "Low Life" as a superb holding action that defined (and preserved) the Beasts in the "on stage" state they've occupied for the last half-decade. "Little Animals", on the other hand, is a new chapter that had to be written if the Beasts were to lurch on. It's also one you can't afford to pass on and probably the first great Australian album of 2007. – The Barman


LOW LIFE - The Beasts of Bourbon (Spooky Records)
If you're a fan of the dark and dirty stuff, the release of a new Beasts album is very good news indeed. "Low Life" is the Beasts at their brutal best, live and unadorned. If you think you heard it all before in the live sense (e.g. the double "From the Belly of the Beast" from the early '90s and the live EP that came with the "Beyond Good & Evil" compilation of 1999), think again. "Low Life" puts both in the shade.

These dozen songs were recorded at The Tote in Melbourne in 2003 and comprise just about the archetypal live set by the present line-up, give or take the odd tune. It runs the range from "Drop Out" from "The Axeman's Jazz" days to "Saturated" from "Low", and all points inbetween.

The Beasts are almost such an institution in Australia as to defy sensible criticism. To see them (and Tex Perkins in particular) to Rock God Status by mainstream local music writers in the early '90s was a rare delight and almost gave hope that the rest of the country got "it" (whatever "it was). It was someone not of the mainstream, Rowland S. Howard, who described them as a "gang of lazy, insolent, sneering, lascivious and threatening men" and "living proof that punk rock if content not style". That'll do me, and it should satisfy you too.

To the music and "Low Life" is as live as it gets, in the aural sense. Tex's magnificent, snarling vocals are right up front, and the guitars jump so far out of the mix it's scary. The engine room sits in the soundscape like a slab of concrete. Label honcho Loki and co-founding band member Spencer P. Jones did an ace job on the production.

It's often been said that the Beasts play best when riled and someone must have pissed them off mightily on the night that this was committed to tape.There's no consideration given to the more subtle moments of their mid-period albums - it's been that way for years - and the country punk twang of their original days long got steamrolled into the sticky carpet of a pub by a cement truck. This is rockist and basic in all senses of the words, and no brigade of New Rock upstarts can hold a candle.

While the Beasts of Bourbon only sporadically reform (most recently for a couple of Aussie shows, prior to a Spanish festival date), it would be a pity to see "Low Life" as a swansong when it serves as a bracing and raw introduction for a whole crop of potential fans, only recently awaking to Real Rock and Roll. Time will tell if they keep regrouping. Meanwhile, "Low Life" is a loud and proud view of the high life, as practised in rock and roll's gutter. – The Barman




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