Australia has a handful of secrets they've kept close to their chest over the years. Among their better kept secrets is the pub-rock band, Cold Chisel.
The Dylan-influenced keyboardist, Don Walker, is responsible for most of Cold Chisel's lyrics. The vocal duties were often split between Walker, guitarist Ian Moss, and lead vocalist Jimmy Barnes.
Generally I try to avoid reviewing greatest hits compilations-- but for a band which is all but unknown in the United States, I can think of no better way to get acquainted with this band's great song catalog than to pick up this CD.
Some of Cold Chisel's highlights include the bluesy rockers Standing On the Outside and The Rising Sun, and Breakfast at Sweethearts. But Cold Chisel is best known, at least in Australia, for their more political material like When the War Is Over and Khe Sanh (the latter of which has gone on to become one of the most requested songs on Australian radio stations).
Khe Sanh details the general displacement of an Aussie Vietnam vet (yes, something many Americans don't realize is that Australians fought alongside the Americans and South Vietnamese in 'Nam) after returning home after the war. It's also one of the best examples of Walker's superlative songwriting. While there are a handful of Aussie-specific references in the song, it could just as easily be about the sense of displacement American vets felt returning after the war.
When the War Is Over is another shining example of Cold Chisel's musical versatility. The moving ballad was later covered, to great effect, by John Farnham during his brief tenure as the lead singer of Little River Band in the mid-eighties. While the Cold Chisel version lacks the vocal power of the LRB cover it has a rawer and even more desperate melancholy to it.
Admittedly Barnes voice isn't for everyone and for those more used to the smoother tenors and baritones of singers like American Robert Lamm or Brit Paul Rodgers, Barnes vodka soaked raspy growl will take a little bit of getting used to. Maybe the best way to describe Cold Chisel-- think Bad Company with Brian Johnson of AC/DC as the lead singer instead of Paul Rodgers and you're almost there.
The harmonies are often tight, the melodies are often catchy, and the music as a whole provides an exceptional snapshot of Australian music of the late seventies and early eighties. While they never enjoyed the success of their fellow countrymen, Little River Band or AC/DC, they are an excellent antidote for those who may have found LRB to be a little pedestrian and AC/DC a little too loud for their tastes. Cold Chisel provided a happy and more accessible medium between those two extremes.