You should never judge a book by its cover, or an album for that matter. Yes, Jimmy Barnes's Out In The Blue has a cringe-worthy cover, but the musicianship within is worth looking past this stark reminder that the world’s rock stars are human just like you and I. Yes, I acknowledge and respect that Out In The Blue was written and recorded following Barnes’s open heart surgery and that the rock in his life has been his wife Jane; both aspects that the cover art represents. It just isn’t a compelling cover and given Barnes’s stature in the Australian music industry, it’s surprising this cover made it to the final release.
If you’re not familiar with Jimmy Barnes, he is near royalty in Australia. Be it his years as Cold Chisel’s frontman, or his extensive solo career, Barnes has carved out a legacy that many can only dream about. It also doesn’t hurt to have a vocal that is gritty yet soulfully smooth.
While I’ve been a fan of Barnsey, as he's affectionately known Down Under, since his Two Fires and Soul Deep eras. However, I must be completely honest by saying that much of his later catalogue failed to register on my radar. There was no particular reason but I do acknowledge that as the world became increasingly interconnected, my focus on the Australian music industry became less prominent. Of course, that was all to change when I read his stunning double biography, Working Class Boy and Working Class Man. Seriously, even if you’ve never listened to any of his music, Barnes is a master storyteller. The books really are page turners and I’m not ashamed to say I have a signed copy of Working Class Man as well as a digital copy. Excessive, perhaps, but my argument is that when I wanted to read it, we were moving at the time and my books were boxed and I couldn’t remember which box the book was in. Okay, that is a lame justification, but when I say that I have no regrets owning both copies, that is an indication of just how enjoyable his writing and life story is.
When reading music biographies, I find myself listening to the artist in question in the background. I love this process as I find it brings me closer to the artist, not in some weird perverted manner, but in understanding them and how elements of their life impacted their music. In all honesty, they broke the mould when they made this man but Barnes remains relevant to this day as he is willing to continue to break the preconceived notions of what it is to be a rock star. Therefore, dear reader, I ask you to fracture any misconceptions you may have about Barnes and the Australian music industry as you join me in discovering and enjoying Out In The Blue.
I Can't Tell You Why is classic Jimmy Barnes. It's a great start to the album.
Out In The Blue flows on beautifully from I Can't Tell You Why and is a lovely song to share the album's name. There is a country twang to this song that really works well for the multifaceted Barnes, perhaps in part influenced by respected country music producer Nash Chambers. Chambers sits in the production chair for this entire album and besides his own creative endeavours, he’s also the older brother of Australian country music legend Kasey Chambers, who coincidentally duets with Barnes on When Two Hearts Collide. Without a doubt, Chambers brings his own sound signature to the record and combined with Barnes’s talent and that of the supporting band, this song and the entire album is nothing short of exceptional.
You From Me has an interesting panning of the stereo image. It’s distracting if you prefer listening to music via headphones but it sounds perfect via speakers. That said, if the distortion and panning were dialled back a little, You From Me would be that much better.
Blue Hotel is a beautiful piano-based ballad that was penned by the exceptionally talented Neil Finn.
When Two Hearts Collide is a sensational duet with Kasey Chambers.
Red Light has a really familiar guitar intro that sounds rather similar to Glen Campbell's Southern Nights. Despite the similarities, I thoroughly enjoy listening to both artists and imitation is, after all, the greatest form of flattery. Regardless, Red Light is a killer song with a perfect amount of distortion.
Everything's Changing brings back the aforementioned stereo panning, but this time it’s a little more subtle. That said, I feel this song never really achieves greatness. There's a beautiful song hidden here, but it needs a remix, perhaps a re-imagining, to really realise its potential.
Better Off Alone is a great song that sounds as though it belongs in a different era. That isn't a bad thing as the 50s style is fantastic, but I feel it was a little pedestrian for Barnes, especially at that stage in his career.
Water Wash All Over Me is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, by anyone, and it reminds me why I love music. I could listen to this song on repeat indefinitely.
I'm Surprised is a great song.
Losing You isn't a bad song, but there's a little distortion in Barnes's vocal that sounds as though he was a little too close to the microphone. It’s a shame as it had the capacity to be a really solid B-side.
Forgiveness is a beautiful song to close the album on, ensuring I’ll listen to it again and stay within Barnes's catalogue.
Overall, Out In The Blue is an exceptional album that not only has some of Barnes's greatest recordings, but in a number of ways pays homage to the Cold Chisel years, his prior solo efforts, and his ability and willingness to shift styles, the culmination of which is a thoroughly compelling release that should be in everyone’s collection.