Want to start a passionate debate with a Cold Chisel fan? Just ask, “What’s the best Chisel album: East or Circus Animals?”
Of course, the new deluxe vinyl edition of the Chisel best-of, All For You, doesn’t answer that question, though it’s interesting to note that East is represented by seven songs, while Circus Animals contributes four.
Cold Chisel is the most Australian of bands. Go to any town and you’ll find Chisel fans, many of whom will still be playing their original vinyl albums.
Chisel were as uncompromising as they were unpredictable. Circus Animals featured When The War Is Over – as beautiful as any Australian ballad – as well as You Got Nothing I Want – as savage as any Aussie single. The latter was inspired by the band’s only US tour, when their marketing man missed their LA gig because he had to go to a DJ’s dog’s birthday party, Jimmy Barnes spat: “I don’t need convertible cars, and don’t think you can push me too far.”
The original All For You was issued in 2011, though this is its first vinyl outing, and it adds songs from two subsequent albums: 2012’s No Plans and 2015’s The Perfect Crime. The 26 tracks, spread over two records, are drawn from the band’s eight studio albums.
It comes 40 years after Chisel’s self-titled debut, an album that failed to capture the band’s live intensity but did deliver the classic Khe Sanh. Three songs are lifted from the second album, Breakfast At Sweethearts – the title track, Shipping Steel, and Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye) – but Barnes famously said of that record, “Breakfast At Sweethearts stunk, and you can spell that f-*-c-k-e-d.”
Chisel didn’t really hit their straps in the studio until they teamed up with producer Mark Opitz, who helped them maintain the rage while also delivering classic radio songs, starting with East’s first single, Choirgirl. Listening to this compilation you’re struck by the thought: Has an Australian band ever been blessed with so much writing talent? Every band member – Barnesy, guitarist Ian Moss, keyboards player Don Walker, bass player Phil Small and drummer Steve Prestwich – has written a hit.
Of course, Walker contributed the bulk of the band’s output, and he paints starkly brilliant images: “Four walls, washbasin, prison bed.” But it’s not just the lyrical brilliance. Chisel have given us so many magical musical moments: the jazz-like feel of Breakfast At Sweethearts, Mossy’s searing guitar solo in Bow River, Walker’s poignant piano in Choirgirl, the thrilling crescendo in Saturday Night…
There’s a sadness here, too, as All For You was the final recording by Prestwich, who died of a brain tumour in 2011, aged 56. Despite Prestwich’s passing, Cold Chisel is very much a living thing. “As far as we’re concerned, we are Cold Chisel,” Moss told me a few years ago. “It’s not a case of ‘We were Cold Chisel.’ We maintain Cold Chisel and keep it pumping along in the background.”
“Could you change, I wonder, if you knew all the things I love in you?” Barnesy asked in The Things I Love In You, one of two tracks here from the band’s underrated comeback, 1998’s The Last Wave of Summer. Indeed, many things have changed since you first heard these songs. “The old anger has given way,” Barnesy sings in All For You. The Sweethearts café in Kings Cross is now a McDonald’s, Barnesy doesn’t drink cheap wine anymore, and Ita no longer fronts the Women’s Weekly TV ads. But some things will never change, like the fact that Cold Chisel will always be our most-loved band. And this record shows why.
All For You: The Best Of Cold Chisel is out now via Cold Chisel Music/Universal.
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