Aussie rock legend Jimmy Barnes' 17th solo studio album, My Criminal Record, is a look into his past and a chance to release a few more demons following his two-biopic novels A Working Class Man and A Working Class Boy.
Not only was I able to listen to an early release of his new album, but also attend an intimate Q and A session with the man himself. Very cool indeed.
Most men my age, in either Australia or New Zealand, would have grown up with Cold Chisel and Barnesy (affectionately known by his followers) through their formative adolescent years. Songs like Khe Sanh, Forever Now, Bow River, No Second Prize and Working Class Man firmly woven into the fabric of their youth and a staple of any party mix during those years.
So it was with some intrigue and trepidation I turned up to see him, along with some lucky faithful fans, who had won the chance to meet their hero. In truth, I hadn’t listened to him that much of late, but I had watched his Working Class Boy documentary a few months before. That was enough to get me dusting off the old vinyl and rekindling my love for the songs that still bring a smile to my face and catapult me back to the good old days with the boys in Ashburton.
Can I say if you haven’t seen the documentary or read the books you really should, they are quite incredible in a very sad yet brave way. They gave me even more respect for the man on a topic that far too many families have had to deal with over the years and which is far too prevalent here still in NZ.
The event was hosted at the very cool underground venue being the Anthology K Road along with the Rock’s Roger Farrelly having the honour to run the Q&A session.
Troubled childhoods seem to be a trend of late, given I had just seen Shayne P Carter being interviewed by John Campbell about his new book. Sadly much was based around a very similar theme that Jimmy sings about in his new album My Criminal Record, which is actually a great play on words.
When first seeing the promo pictures of his new album I thought ah Jimmy is going through his Johnny Cash Folsom Prisons Blues stage, with him looking all mean and angry outside a local institution. While the look works well with the image and time of his life, it really is all about the criminal record he endured as a kid growing up in a very abusive family situation. This time, instead of writing about it he sings about it and also teams up with some old friends at the same time.
Don Walkers (ex-Cold Chisel keyboardist) has his fingers all over this… literally. From the brilliant opening track of the album’s same name to the first single off the record Shutting Down This Town sounds like it could have easily come off a Cold Chisel LP with heavy influences of the Boss (Bruce Springsteen). In my view, it’s the strongest of all the tracks on the album.
In fact, the whole album has a bright vibe going through it even though the songs themselves are very dark with topics many would leave behind closed doors. Not Jimmy: he’s thrown the bloody door wide open, exposing not only his demons but what caused them, along with a passion and vigour that has been missing from some of his later albums.
This was very clearly articulated in his Q and A session. Not afraid to speak about what he went through, along with other families in the neighbourhood, many experiencing the same atrocities and unable to get out. Something that still haunts him, even now, knowing he escaped but many never had the chance to.
Jimmy also talked about his time with Bruce Springsteen and the friendship they developed while touring together on a number of occasions. Bruce asked him later on if he would sing along with him on a song and asked Jimmy which he would choose. Jimmy replied Tougher Than the Rest (off Tunnel of Love fame), which was his favourite. This same track is one of a couple of covers Jimmy has added to the new album.
The other is, in my view the predictable, Working Class Hero by John Lennon. A song covered many times over the years by some great artists (my favourite version being Marianne Faithfull) and Jimmy does it proud as well. A nod to Diesel has to be added here. His guitar signature is all over this album and his style and capability is like a hand in glove with Jimmy’s voice.
Jimmy announced that he would be coming back with a full band to tour New Zealand in September. This was met with some hollas and whoops from the mainly middle-aged fans like my good self. There was no doubt everyone enjoyed the short interview session with Jimmy and he made it a pleasure to hear about where he had come from and still clearly working on the issues of the past.
We were lucky enough to have the chance to throw a few questions from the floor before he was whisked away, which I’d been hoping for.
Before anyone else had a chance to leap in and hog his time, I asked Jimmy something that had bugged me many moons ago and it went something like this.
“Jimmy, my favourite track of yours No Second Prize was on Bodyswerve (his first solo album) and I wondered why that and a couple of other tracks were also on your most famous album For The Working Class Man?“
He said when doing the first solo album he just wanted to get it out there and under the radar... However, it hit number one in Australia so that didn’t really work out as he had planned. He then went to America where the record label wanted him to record the next album and showcase him to the audience over there. That’s where he met Jonathan Cain, who penned the song, which was about Jimmy’s audience more than about him. He captured the feeling so well it only took five or so takes because it was so much fun to record. He also wanted to have a double album and keep the piece as a single so that is how some of the songs from the original album appeared on For The Working Class Man, but with a little more production than on their debut. With that little mystery solved I left the session content, as did many others I suspect.
My Criminal Record comes straight from the heart and is one of his best, well worth the ten-year wait between drinks. While not every track hits the mark, most do and make this the most interesting and accessible album he has produced for years. It has plenty of soul and, for the fans of Cold Chisel and his solo work, a real return to form.
Will it open him up to a new generation of fans? I’m not sure but I do know that when he hits NZ shores in September I will be there with some old mates singing along to the good times, riding the night away, and screaming out all the bangers like there was no second prize, all the better to have a little bit of Jimmy in our lives.
Tickets available now at Ticketmaster.
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Released: 31 May 2019