Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #10: Jimmy Barnes - "Freight Train Heart" (1987)

Americans don’t know much about Jimmy. He’s an Aussie and really had most of his success down there. You may know one song which was a collaboration with INXS on the song “Good Times” from the Lost Boys Soundtrack. One of the best songs INXS ever did, actually. They did two songs together for that movie, both were great and the two sounded perfectly together. But, that’s probably all you know.

Jimmy has one of those voices where you can see the veins shooting out in his neck and hear the nicotine and whisky caked all over his vocal chords. It’s passion to the furthest degree. In the 80s, his voice was perfect for the Heartland, countrified rock that was popular at the time. Maybe it was Reaganomics, maybe it was the 20th anniversary of the summer of love and Rolling Stone magazine, maybe it was the reforming and unique commercial success of hippie bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, or maybe it was the Cold War. Whatever was going on, a sense of politics and purpose infused most mainstream rock, especially in 1987. Yes, most of the music sounds 80s today, but it was sure earnest and sincere.

Jimmy isn’t being overtly political, but when your sound is so steeped in the heartland of America, you’re sending a message whether you mean to be or not. The message is save the farmers, preserve the terrain, and respect the working class. Those ideals were on the verge of extinction then. They’re all but gone now.

Freight Train Heart is Barnes’ best album and probably the only one you’d ever need. It kicks off with “Driving Wheels”, which sounds just like what a song about being a truck driver should sound like. Turning the key at the crack of dawn, mug of coffee in the cup holder, ready for another long day on the interstates of America (or maybe Australia in his case), building as you go from 1st to 4th gear, with the chorus chiming in just as you hit 5th. Most of the album is like that. Pianos, harmonica, Stevie Ray Vaughn-like guitar, black women singing back up, drummers working the cymbals in time. Blues mixed with rock mixed with country mixed with soul. They call it “pub-rock”, but, to me, that implies a sound only large enough for the local bar. This is bigger.

On the softer side, there are some really effective ballads like “Waiting For The Heartache To Come”, and, especially, “Too Much Ain’t Enough Love”. In fact, “Too Much” might be one of the most restless, yearning ballads of the decade. At the 2:58 mark his voice goes up one more octave on the chorus and the sweat has to be dripping down his nose by then. Weird thing, the first 4 seconds of “Too Much” are pretty much sampled from “Human” by the Human League. You’d know that first “BOWM” noise anywhere. Man, I still love that song!

Jimmy did a song for one of my favorite movies of the 80s called Gung Ho called “Working Class Man”. That’s the perfect fit for these songs, as the background in a movie about disgruntled American auto workers and their patriotic fight against Japanese superiority in the auto world. Imagine that and you’ve nailed Freight Train Heart. He didn't have the same success as the Mellencamps and Hornsbys and Springsteens, but he deserved to.

The Nugget - "Too Much Ain't Enough Love". It has to be. The desire is almost unnerving in its rawness.


RR said...

been too long since you posted. come on. let's hear about the home run derby.

Marilyn said...

I agree with rr. I check ten times a day and still see Jimmy Barnes. I need my fix of your edgy wit and wisdom! Love you, Mom