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Cold Chisel Retrospective

| 3 October 2012 | Reply


By Shayne McGowan

With last year’s Cold Chisel reunion tour, and an album of new material just around the corner, and the recently released remastered collection, now is the perfect time to take a look at their back catalogue and the music that solidified them as one of, if not the best loved Australian band of the last 30 years.

I think it’s safe to say that, probably like most my age, my first experience with Cold Chisel came through Jimmy Barnes’ solo career. In my childhood, now classic Jimmy Barnes songs were all over the radio, most memorably Working Class Man. As I got older I discovered that Jimmy used to be the front man of Cold Chisel, and I began exploring the back catalogue.

These days, commercial radio stations still play Cold Chisel in heavy rotation, and a whole new generation of Australians are becoming fans of the band. I can’t honestly remember the last time I went to a party and didn’t hear Khe San, or somebody attempting their own karaoke version of the song, thus proving that there is no better time for Chisel to regroup and both tour to the legions of fans that have not been able to see them perform live, and release a new album.

Sadly, this particular reunion cannot be the full original line up. In January of 2011, original drummer Steve Prestwich, passed away after undergoing surgery for a brain tumour. This tragedy seems to have been a major factor in Cold Chisel reuniting, by discovering that life is too short for petty squabbles, and arguments over money.

While we re-discover some gems from the Cold Chisel back catalogue, it’s nice to know that the band has re-discovered their friendship, and their love of playing together.


This is the album that started it all, and it’s also the album that holds the most iconic of all Cold Chisel songs in Khe San. Khe San may over shadow this debut album more than a little, but from the opening track Juliet, their intentions are clear. There is definitely no argument that this was a band that could write catchy, poppy rock songs, and they weren’t afraid to share some very intelligent lyrics with their audience.


From the very opening of this record, we hear the same Cold Chisel sound that we have come to love through their debut from the previous year. In my opinion, some of the very best songs that Cold Chisel have ever recorded appear on this album. Merry Go Round and Dresden are just superb, while Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye) is still used to close their live shows. The most well known track from the album is of course the title track, but my personal favourite comes in the shape of Shipping Steel.


To anybody that has never owned a Cold Chisel album, but is familiar with the tracks that are constantly played on rock and classic rock radio, East would no doubt play like a greatest hits collection. This was definitely the bands most accomplished album to date. A very slick production adds to the Cold Chisel sound without compromising the feel of the band that carries over from their first two albums. Seven out of twelve tracks from this album are still played almost daily on radio, including Standing on the Outside, Ita, Star Hotel, Rising Sun, Choirgirl, and of course Cheap Wine, which contains possibly the most misheard lyric of all time.


This first live album from Cold Chisel was recorded over several nights in both Melbourne and Sydney in 1980, with none other than INXS as the opening band. Swingshift fires on all cylinders. The double album features all of the best known songs from the first three Chisel albums, as well as three cover songs, including a brilliant cover version of Bob Dylan’s classic Knockin’ on Heavens Door. In my opinion, Swingshift is one of the absolute greatest live albums released by an Australian band.


This album opens with the one-two punch combination of You Got Nothing I Want and Bow River, and I honestly feel that no Cold Chisel album opens stronger than Circus Animals. Followed by yet another radio staple in Forever Now, and featuring a collection of very underrated songs such as the phenomenal Taipan, Houndog, No Good For You and Wild Colonial Boy, I would say that Chisel had never been better, than they are on Circus Animals. When the War is Over is of course another one of the great classic Chisel Songs, and is found here at the tail end of the album.


Twentieth Century is definitely my least favourite of all the Cold Chisel albums. This is the soundtrack to a band that is on its last legs. The title track is not a bad effort, Ghost Town is full of fantastic energy and Saturday Night is a popular track from this album, although it is my least favourite of all Cold Chisels catalogue. Only Flame Trees manages to bring earlier Cold Chisel to mind.


In 1984, there were two live Cold Chisel albums released, the first was The Last Stand, which was released as the soundtrack to the concert movie of the same name, and this collection was the second and superior collection. Many people consider this the bands best live album; I on the other hand always go for Swingshift. By the time this was released, Cold Chisel were done and dusted, and Jimmy Barnes was having considerable success with his first solo release, Bodyswerve


As far as reunion albums go, they can win, and they can stink. In many cases it definitely the latter, but in the case of The Last Wave of Summer, it’s an all out winner. After 14 years apart, differences were put aside, and the successful solo careers of Barnes and Moss put on hold to have a second go around with Cold Chisel. The resulting album is the sound of a band that has mellowed and matured. The Things I Love in You, Way Down and Bal-A-Versailles are the ultimate highlights of the album for me, but Yakuza Girls and Red Sand are extremely strong, while the title track is an ideal closer.


The Last Wave of Summer was to be Cold Chisels last studio album. In 2003 another live album, Ringside, was released. The band was back to their solo careers, and it seemed like there was no more to be heard from Cold Chisel. Flash forward to 2009, when the band reformed for the one off show at Sydney’s V8 Supercar event in December. Hopes were high for another album, or at least a full tour, but once again it didn’t happen. All was quiet until the band announced mid 2010 that they would be doing yet another one off show, this time at the Deniliquin Ute Muster event, and that discussions about recording a new album had begun.


Now finally, as 2011 has come to a close, and the band embarked on a full tour, they’ve released their first new song in 13 years – the track All For You is featured on the bands new greatest hits compilation.

It is great to see Cold Chisel back, I personally cannot wait for their first new album in far too long, and I hope that this time they’re here to stick around!

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Category: CD Reviews

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