- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

Eric Burdon

My Secret Life

SPV Recordings

After all the fond 40th-anniversary remembrances of the arrival of the Beatles, it hurts a little to recall the less-talented bands that followed in their draft.

The Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits — the rest of the scene doesn’t exactly overwhelm in retrospect, does it?

The Animals were the most memorable act of the second tier of the British Invasion. Like Britain’s other first-tier invaders, the Rolling Stones, the Animals were inclined toward blues rather than Merseybeat. Lead singer Eric Burdon also found interesting post-Animals work with the L.A. funk band War.

He has yet to justify a third act, however.

“My Secret Life,” a blandly competent sauce of blues, boogie, R&B; and Latin-flavored rock, is not quite a stinker. Tony Braunagel’s production is uncluttered and, with backing musicians such as bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson and percussionist Lenny Castro, the grooves are sharp.

The songs themselves, though, are cliches wrapped in tributes. On the unpromisingly titled “Once Upon a Time,” Mr. Burdon hails soul favorites such as Sam Cooke and Otis Redding and, on the chorus, tries to cash in a famous Marvin Gaye hook.

The swinging “Jazzman” is a who’s-who list of legends such as Chet Baker and Billie Holiday, while “Devil Slide” opens with a cheesy fable about the advent of bottleneck-style guitar and a shout-out to Muddy Waters.

A cape-clad James Brown wanders into a Paris traffic jam on the workaday ballad “Broken Records.” Blues legend John Lee Hooker receives his laurel on “Can’t Kill the Boogieman,” by way of the main riff from ZZ Top’s “La Grange.”

The lounge-y grind “Heaven” rehashes the hoary fantasy about musicians who died too young playing together in the afterlife. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin gather in a heavenly bar with blue neon, and, whaddya know, Billie Holiday shows up again.

What this who’s-who affair ends up doing is shrinking Eric Burdon.

When he sings “Let’s get it on” during the creaky refrain of “Once Upon a Time,” for example, you wish you were actually listening to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” instead.

It doesn’t help that Mr. Burdon’s old baritone is half shot. Mostly, he narrates instead of sings. When he does sing, he heaves in and out of pitch and digs hard for diaphragmatic growls.

By the time of “Black and White World,” a nostalgia-wallowing celebration of old movies, it becomes clear that Mr. Burdon hasn’t seen the world in color for a long, long time.

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