I have a Holy Grail search list, albums for which I’ve been looking so long that I’ve basically given up finding them. That said, on occasion I do find one, and it is a highlight of my music-collecting life. This 2004 UK compilation CD was on that list, and I recently found a reasonably-priced copy! In Sweden! And now it is here in my house and I am thrilled!
I’m a fan of Gowan’s from way back. As a kid, I had the Strange Animal cassette, and I got to see that tour here in the town where I now reside, probably 1985. I was hooked. Got the records all along, and saw him twice more live, over the years. And I’ve never really given up on him. I do need to get more into his Styx work… Anyway.
Suffice it to say, as a fan, this collectible was a major score for me. Thrilled, I said earlier. Oh yes, indeed.
It’s a pretty decent track selection, overall, weighing heavier on his later solo albums. Have a look at the track listing below, you’ll see what I mean. You know something, this guy has written a lot of great songs, and his voice is distinctive. One of a kind. I’ve been following his career since I was a kid of 10 or 11, and I still love listening to him today. A comp like this is a sure indicator of his avility and longevity.
This is a cool compilation of tracks because it doesn’t necessarily focus just on the hits (if it did, When There’s Time For Love would be period-correct and warrant a spot here, for example). I don’t always go for live tracks on a hits compilation, but I don’t even think this is a hits compilation. It’s just a neat collection, and it flows well enough (Make It Alone and Moonlight Desires sounds a bit dated next to the others, but whatever).
This CD is a tough find at a decent price, but if you can get your mitts on this comp, I would definitely recommend it. Of course, I would also recommend you own all of the albums. And just so you know, I still have my old Strange Animal cassette. How could I get rid of a touchstone?
One oddity: He thanks “Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Lala and Po in the credits. Ooookay…
For Those Of You Who Care: Nowhere in the packaging for this CD (or on the internet, that I could find) does it list the original albums from which these songs were culled. So, I’ve done the work for you. With annotations. Because I love you. Aw go on, you know it…
a criminal mind (solo live) 
wild summer night 
lost brotherhood (solo live) 
I’ll be there in a minute 
soul’s road 
the good catches up 
laura (solo live) 
moonlight desires 
your stone walls 
guns and god 
you’ll be with me (solo live) 
make it alone *
healing waters **
Albums (with # of tracks included):
 1982 Gowan (1 track)*
 1985 Strange Animal (0)***
 1987 Great Dirty World (1 track)
 1990 Lost Brotherhood (0)***
 1993 …But You Can Call Me Larry (4 tracks)
 1995 The Good Catches Up (4 tracks)
 1997 Gowan au Quebec (solo live) (4 tracks)
* from , but UK disc says previously unreleased on CD (in UK, I guess)
** tribute to princess diana (officially unreleased – previous to this, I presume?)
*** no studio versions included, but live versions from  appear.
I have been blasted back to the past, folks, and I’m lovin’ it.
It is entirely appropriate for this to be my first entry under the new KMA CanCon flag. After all, Strange Animal is one of the first records I really loved as a kid. I believe I’ve told this story here before, of how I was just a kid of ten or so when we saw the tour for this record right here in Owen Sound at the Bayshore Arena. I had the sleeveless tour t-shirt, the cassette tape in constant rotation (I still own that copy, amazingly enough), and I knew all the words. It wasn’t the first tape I ever bought, but it was among the first to really fire my young imagination. I loved every minute of it. Over the years I would re-visit it and, while I knew the music was dating itself, I’ve always held a special place for it in my musical mind for the sheer nostalgia of it.
Now here we are, twenty-frickin’-five years later. Imagine. 25 years. That’s a lot of lifetime, but I have always held that that record was a great one, for me and for this country. It united us in many ways, loving the brilliant (and, in retrospect, kind of hilarious) videos for Criminal Mind and Strange Animal, singing along with Gowan’s unique and unmistakeable voice. I was emailing with my winger Michael (who was with me at that show in ’85) recently, and we discussed this re-release of our formative record. Neither of us thought of the release as tacky or inappropriate. It felt right, like an old friend coming back for a visit. Of course, I went right out and bought my extra-special edition copy, with the remastered album, as well as a DVD with a documentary, the videos and other stuff all over it. Better yet, my copy was autographed by the man himself. The only thing missing is a booklet. What CD doesn’t have a booklet these days? This one. Still, in all it’s a sweet package indeed.
On playback, all the original greatness of the songs is still here. After all these years, though, it’s now apparent to me how much the bass holds these songs together, let alone the piano work. And that ubiquitous “plink plunk” sound in almost every song. Cool! Obviously the (above-mentioned) hits stand out, since they were played to death all those years ago on radio and Video Hits (remember VIDEO HITS?!?! Hahahahaha) . I’d somehow forgotten, though, that they were buried side by side at the end of side ‘b’ of the album. They weren’t afterthoughts, just very strong closing statements. And what fantastic songs they are, the both of them! But there’s a slew of lesser-known tracks before them that are equally worthy of hit status:
Cosmetics pokes fun at runway wannabes, Desperate sounds like it’s straight off the Flashdance soundtrack, and City Of Angels remains a very pretty, probably slightly paranoid song. Walking On Air is pure 80’s pop bliss, Burning Torches Of Hope makes me wonder if the future he imagines in the song is what we have achieved these days (I’d say no, but that’s just me), and Keep The Tension On remains a message we could all do with being reminded of a little more often.
It’s Guerilla Soldier that saddens me most, of all these tracks. Still as harrowing as it ever was, listening to it now makes me realize that we’re no further ahead in our behaviour on this planet. We’re still mired in pointless wars led by arrogant governments, accepting unnecessary deaths in the name of causes we can’t even comprehend let alone believe in. Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) was right when he said (and I’m paraphrasing, here) that the surest proof that there’s intelligent life in outer space is that they want nothing do with us. This song proves it. We really should be further ahead.
So, in sum… Really, this record is a classic. I don’t tend to use that word a lot, because it gets passed around far too easily. But, after re-visiting these tracks, I firmly believe that Strange Animal stands out in Canadian music history as a true classic, a defining record of a generation, and a template of brilliantly conceived pop music to boot.
Here it is in all it’s glory, re-mastered and packaged to happily remind us of just how important it was. Best of all, I still knew every single word of every song.
O Ominous Spiritous, indeed!