Really, reviewing an album like “Animal” is hard, mainly because talking about it spoils the masterful story told here. I can’t go out of order and tell you what the best songs are, nor can I signal out any one track for being a standout, because that wouldn’t be doing this album any justice. You take away even one song from this collection and you’ve ruined it. That’s not a sign of bad artistry mind you. It’s the polar opposite.
That cute little kitty-cat on the cover is not meant to just showcase an album picture. It signals the struggles that come to every human. As Chris states in the opening title track, “inside every man, an animal runs wild”. The animal in this particular situation affects a man’s relationship with his lover, and as a result causes him to forget what love is as well as forget who he is. And one of the most brilliant parts of this album is that the man fights back against this animal. It never fully controls him, but even though the man is fighting back, there’s moments where it’s just not enough. He acts reckless for awhile, living in mystery of what this animal is, further causing him to run away from his home.
And even when he does kill the animal (that is, find out what the animal actually is, which is loneliness, which I believe he finds out in “Karnes County 2002”), he still has to pick up the pieces of who he is, and repair the man that the animal destroyed. That’s where his old lover comes in. And although he knows what he has to do now, it’s not as simple as that. Heck, just seeing an old picture of her at a bar causes him to relapse and almost let the animal consume him once again. However, the fight isn’t over yet, and as he finally picks up those pieces of himself, we reach the end of this man’s journey. But even in the end, when the man finally wins his lover back and has a newfound perspective on who he is, the ending isn’t as happy as you may want it to be at that point. The man is a loner at his core, and he states to the woman that he doesn’t know if he can ever truly love her. He just knows that he can’t survive without her. It may not be the happy fairytale ending that everyone loves, but keep in mind that the journey to finding ourselves is never over. We are living it right now as we speak, and even though we may not have an animal of loneliness running inside of us, we all do still have an animal that can eat us alive at any minute.
You could write a book on the story of this album before you even get to the production here. Really, while the lyrics are cohesive in nature, the production is as well which only accentuates the brilliance of this album. The opening spacious, intense title track has a mysterious aura about it that sets the stage of the album, leading into the heavy rock tracks which permeate the majority of the first half of this album. I think they’re intense here because the beginning is where the man is essentially losing his mind and letting the animal take over. When we get to the middle, the vibe is more relaxed and even a bit more reliant on some acoustic instrumentation (particularly “This City”) because this is the part where the man has started to figure out what needs to happen next. When we finally reach “Waiting On Myself”, we find ourselves back into the rocking territory. But it’s different this time around. Instead of the animal controlling the man, the man now controls the animal, and that my friends is a battle well fought.
Keep in mind that my interpretation of this album is not concrete. Some might argue that the man kills the animal for good at the end, some might argue that loneliness isn’t the issue, and some might argue something entirely different. That’s the beauty of art. It never reveals itself in plain sight. You have to listen for yourself and connect it with your own life.
With “Animal”, it’s hard to muster up any criticism. I will say that “Borderland” and “Almost Gone” probably would have worked better if they had switched places in the tracklisting. After all, in “Almost Gone” the narrator is still stuck with animal, resorting to calling his ex-lover and even making mentions of hating his town. In the song before it, “Borderland”, he’s proclaiming that he needs to get out and find himself, a step towards overtaking the beast within him. The songs work as they are, and this is only a minor gripe. If this is the only thing going against it then you know you’ve gotten a hell of an album.
Although this may be my first review for Country Music Minds, I can say with confidence that “Animal” by Chris King is the first album of 2016 to truly blow me out of the water. “Animal” is an album for music lovers first and foremost.
Best Tracks: All of them, but more specifically, “Never Make It Last”, “Animal”, and “Take It Down”