What is the perfect crime? It is an act so thoroughly planned and carefully executed that no evidence exists that can indicate the perpetrator. Such crimes tend to be extremely rare.
This is The Perfect Crime by Cold Chisel, 2015. It is, by the band’s own admission, the most rock & roll album they’ve ever made, but that goes nowhere near telling the whole story. There are also elements of jazz, rockabilly, pop, Latino, surf music, blues, even disco. It’s more diverse than any previous Cold Chisel work, but yes, the fact remains: The Perfect Crime is the most rock & roll album the band has ever made.
The Perfect Crime is the follow-up to Cold Chisel’s 2012 comeback studio album, No Plans. As the title of that previous record made clear, No Plans was initially intended as an open-ended affair – the original line-up of Australia’s most iconic rock band quietly reconvening in a studio for the first time in some 14 years. If it didn’t work, if anyone wanted out, then no one need ever know the meeting took place and everyone could walk away quietly.
It did work, of course. From the first sessions, it was obvious the legendary Cold Chisel chemistry had not evaporated with the passing of time. So it was on: all pledged to make a new album, undertake a massive reunion tour. But then the cruellest twist of fate – the loss of drummer Steve Prestwich. It could easily have stopped right there. Instead, they decided to continue what the five of them had begun, turning it into a tribute to their lifelong friend, calling on the immeasurable talents of New Yorker Charley Drayton to fill in on drums.
What happened next was the beginnings of an extraordinary third act in the forever unpredictable narrative of Cold Chisel.
The 2011 Light The Nitro tour broke box-office records, playing to 285,000 fans across Australia and New Zealand.
Simultaneously, the entire archive of Cold Chisel’s recordings was remastered and made available digitally for the first time, along with a raft of previously unreleased material, which led to all their classic studio albums re-entering the national charts at the same time. And Khe Sanh became a Top 40 hit for the first time ever. A new best of compilation, All For You, went double-platinum and has never fallen out of the ARIA Top 100 in the four years since its release. Then came 2012’s No Plans – the band’s first album of new songs since 1998’s The Last Wave Of Summer – debuting at # 1 on the ARIA Australian Albums Chart.
And now, The Perfect Crime, Cold Chisel’s eighth studio album. Obviously no 14-year gap between releases this time.
For as much as No Plans was unscripted, The Perfect Crime was a premeditated act. With Steve’s passing came the realisation that the band had wasted too much time not making music together. In the wake of No Plans, Don Walker told his band mates he’d spend the first half of 2014 working on material for the next Cold Chisel album and he hoped they might dedicate some time to doing the same.
In the middle of last year, everyone reconvened at Jimmy Barnes’ Freight Train Studio in Sydney. They laid down eight tracks in seven days. Then in March this year, they moved into Sydney’s 301 Studios and another dozen songs were put down.
It was almost a throwback to the old days, notes Jimmy: tour-album-tour-album. Cold Chisel hadn’t settled into that sort of rhythm since the early 1980s.
The result? There’s a sense amongst the players that in committing The Perfect Crime, they might just have pulled off the definitive musical statement in the band’s unparalleled four-decade career.
For an act that’s long prided itself on the diversity of its material, The Perfect Crime manages to find new boundaries to push in all directions. For the first time ever, strings find their way onto a Cold Chisel song, on the album’s lush and epic lead-out track, Lost. On Bus Station, the band experiment with a slow-motion Soul Train-style disco arrangement. (“When I hear it, I can’t believe that’s me singing on it,” laughs Jimmy.) On Mexican Wedding, they morph into a postmodern ’50s Latino reception band, while on the bonus track, Romantic Lies, Jimmy takes a breather as Don, Phil, Ian and Charley play it straight as a jazz quartet.
All this takes place on the second half of the album. Side One is dominated by a pulsating, menacing set of half-a-dozen rockers, at once distinctly Cold Chisel, and yet for the most part quite unlike anything they’ve previously committed to tape.
The album’s title track and Four in the Morning, two songs borrowed from Don’s solo repertoire and given the full Cold Chisel treatment here, rate right up there in the great songwriter’s cannon of unique, enigmatic and emotive works. Similarly, Jimmy’s two songwriting contributions, All Hell Broke Lucy and Long Dark Road, both co-written with his son-in-law Ben Rodgers, also venture into gritty and unfamiliar themes.
The individual band members’ performances throughout are energised and inspired, leading Ian Moss to state he believes, all these years on, Cold Chisel remains very much at the cutting edge of rock.
Don adds he feels everyone is playing at the peak of their art. “Whatever our specialities are, everyone is still doing it full-time,” says Don. “Jim sings every week, Ian sings and plays guitar every week; I write all the time and go out live as much as I can. It’s not like some heritage band where you’re reforming after three or four years of golf.”
For his part, Jimmy feels he’s never sung better and certainly, he offers up a remarkably measured and diverse set of vocals across the album, at times sounding uncharacteristically unlike the most recognisable voice in Australian rock.
With Charley now fully integrated into the band, there’s a re-engineered sense of rhythm that underpins everything here. His partner in pulse, bassist Phil Small says: “Charley is just amazing. Everyone loves him in the band. We all still miss Steve, miss him greatly, but unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Also reprising his role from No Plans, producer Kevin Shirley is credited by band members with shaping The Perfect Crime, insisting from the outset that the focus be on up-tempo tracks. “We wanted to do a rock record,” explains Jim, “and Kevin was pushing for that from day one.”
“It’s been historically one of the bugbears that everyone brings in ballads or mid-paced songs,” adds Don, “but everything we came in with, Kevin was relentlessly looking for stuff that was uptempo. That’s why I think it’s probably the most rock & roll album that we’ve done.”
The Perfect Crime represents Cold Chisel in peak form, a timeless edgy work that will seamlessly take its place alongside the band’s previous classic albums.
While all evidence points to the The Perfect Crime solidifying a new era in the career of Australia’s greatest rock band, Don Walker warns against taking anything for granted. “We assume we’ll be making albums until 2050,” he suggests, “but we’re at that stage where the only thing you can count on is today.”