Some records should not be taken lightly. This one is the real deal, an unexpected gift from the gods. This is a brand new Beasts Of Bourbon album, recorded and mixed in three days in the Melbourne winter of 2006. It’s their first album of new songs in nine years. And it will kick your arse.
LITTLE ANIMALS arrives against considerable odds. Last time Tex Perkins, Spencer Jones, Charlie Owen, Brian Hooper and Tony Pola made a record, its title turned out to be succinctly prophetic. At the end of ’97, GONE saw them off on the longest hiatus of the Beasts’ 23-year tenure, for reasons best unasked or forgotten.
“There was a while when it was best not to see each other,”says Tex. “The last time we saw each other people got hurt. There were injuries. I think we were all happy to go our separate ways. But wounds heal. And you forget.”
History doesn’t. Over six albums of excoriating, low life rock’n’roll, the Beast of Bourbon had carved their name large and indelibly in Australian rock lore. In (evil) spirit they’re kin to AC/DC, the Stones and the Birthday Party; in real life their lineage encompasses the Johnnys, the Surrealists, the Cruel Sea, the New Christs, Louis Tillet, Paul Kelly, Roland Howard, Andre Williams, Tex, Don and Charlie and too many crash-and-burn blues/punk rock outfits that fell foul of the old death or glory equation some time over the last quarter-century.
Just over three years ago, someone had the temerity to offer them a gig. After six years away, Sydney’s Homebake Festival of December 2003 witnessed a band, somewhat miraculously, at the peak of its powers. The rehearsals weren’t bad either: Two gigs at the Tote Hotel in Collingwood in August ’03 were recorded, and then released as LOW LIFE in late 2005.
By that time, the Beasts had forged a workable truce, perpetrated several knuckle-grazing tours of Australia and Europe, and secured an invitation to their fourth Big Day Out in January 2006 (their first was that time they wiped the floor of the Hordern Pavilion with a hot pop act called Nirvana in ’92).
It was on yet another tour of Europe in May ’06 that Spencer offered “Thanks”, the song that would became the impetus for a seventh Beasts of Bourbon album. He’d first played it at a benefit gig for Brian at the Greyhound Hotel two years earlier (Brian had broken his back in a fall. He played his own benefit gig regardless, propped between two bouncers. But that’s another story). In a hotel room in Wuppertal, Spencer played it again for Tex and Charlie.
“That song started the ball rolling,”Tex says. “For a while we were happy to exist on back catalogue stuff, enjoy that, get on top of it, play what we really liked and what people wanted to hear. After two years of that we’d started looking around at each other and saying, ‘Is this getting a bit stale?'”
So this is what happens. Jonesy says, “Come on, we got some T-shirt money, I got plenty of songs. There’s always another Beasts of Bourbon album that’s better than the last one. Let’s get three days in a studio somewhere and give it a shot.”
Tex doesn’t care either way. He reckons it’s make or break time. “OK. We’ll give it a shot,”he says. “If it’s crap, the Beasts of Bourbon can f— off. I’ll push it aside: ‘We saw it through. There’s nothing there’.
“But then it turns out the f—n’ record’s good!”he shouts. “Damn! This bitch of a thing thinks it deserves the gift of life!”
The labour pains are short and sharp: a day and a half of ragged rehearsals on a wet winter’s weekend, then three days at Newmarket Studios in North Melbourne, with the band’s live mixer, Skritch, in the producer’s seat. The place has the right vibe, Spencer says. That’s crucial, and hard to find. The band sets up drums and amps to record live.
Tex is feeling ruthless. He wants to work on ten songs, max. He doesn’t want to muck around with 15 or 16 and let most of them go to the dogs. He’s thinking of classic, hard rock albums of the ’70s: condensed, high impact. Short intro, first verse, chorus, solo. Bang-bang-bang. Keep it all happening. No fat, no filler and then, “oh shit, it’s over.”
He has an S&M grinder called “Master and Slave”to illustrate his point. Spencer responds with “Little Animals”, “New Day Of The Dead”and “The Beast I Came To Be”. Brian think he’s being left in the dust, so he jams up “I Don’t Care About Nothing Anymore”with Tony, a song so black and vicious it turns into one of the greatest opening tracks on any album, ever.
Other stuff happens. “I’m Gone”is a Tex riff that Charlie makes better and Spencer rescues with a new beat that opens it up, gives it some funk and swing. Tony has to be forced to play “The Beast I Came To Be”. He hates every song they record. After three days he decides it’s actually pretty good.
First among those destined to agree are the folks at Albert’s in Sydney, the label that introduced the Easybeats, AC/DC and Rose Tattoo to the world, and whose commitment to the base metal currency of no-frills Australian rock is reaffirmed by Dallas Crane. It’s the perfect home for the Beasts’ new century renaissance.
The record is mixed, says Charlie, “with two faders: Guitar solo? Turn up the guitar. Pull it down, push the vocal back up. All done.”
“We’ve always referenced the classics,”says Tex. “AC/DC, Rolling Stones… but I think this record, how it’s arranged and mixed, really has that ’70s classic rock approach to it. Everything’s up there. The solos are up. The arrangements are bang-bang-bang. It’s our ’70s radio album.”