Cold Chisel had disbanded in 1983 and Jimmy Barnes commenced blazing a trail that would see him emerge as one of the most successful solo performers in the history of Australian rock and roll. Behind him the band and their record company went about ransacking the Chisel vaults as a dizzying stream of greatest hits compilations, live performances, and a documentary from Chisel’s back catalogue hit the market between 1984-94. – Barking Spiders Live (’84), Radio Songs – A Best of Cold Chisel (’85), Razor Songs (’88), The Last Stand – Soundtrack (’92), Chisel (’91), and Teenage Love (’94) all contributed to record sales that were greater than in their days as an active band, there was still clearly a lot of love for Chisel. Inevitably the downswing in Barnes solo career would encourage him to think more seriously about suggestions, mostly from former Chisel drummer Steve Prestwich, that the band should get back together again, and they did.
In August 1997 Cold Chisel started getting down to the business of re-capturing that old Cold Chisel magic, there were wounds to heal, past grudges to settle, only Barnes had really been successful as a solo act, but he was seriously addicted to drugs and alcohol, and had dissipated his personal wealth. They inked a deal with Mushroom Records and engaged American producer Kevin Shirley (below) as they had set their sights on having one last fling at conquering the US market.
It had been fourteen years since their last studio album Twentieth Century, which had been the band’s third consecutive #1 album in Australia, it would be an understatement to say that there was much speculation, anticipation and nostalgia attendant upon this comeback album that would become, The Last Wave of Summer. It’s true that the band were not surfers or particularly drawn to the waves and the sand, but given the title of this album, the cover art, with the band sitting in the window of a fast food outlet gazing out onto rain-slicked streets was definitely quirky and probably inappropriate, unless they were simply waving goodbye to their fans for the last time, but they weren’t, as three more studio albums would be released by Chisel in the future – No Plans (2012), The Perfect Crime (2015), and Blood Moon (2019), and they would continue to tour.
The original band was re-assembled – below left to right – Steve Prestwich, Ian Moss, Jimmy Barnes, Don Walker and Phil Small – Barnes and Prestwich had accumulated new songs for this moment, Walker had expended much of his new material on collaborations with Moss on his Petrolhead album and Tex, Don, and Charlie’s Sad But True album, the sessions were virtually live recordings, minor technical glitches were generally ignored, there was little overdubbing, lyrically the songs ranged across many various topics including the aboriginal stolen generations (Red Sand), judicial inquiry (Mr. Crown Prosecutor) and high speed rockabilly pub rock adventure (Yakuza Girls).
When asked how the final cut for songs to be included on the album was made Don Walker (below) drily replied – “Psychological manipulation. Sullen looks, petulance, tantrums, insane rages both faked and real, sexual coquettishness and pathological violence. Sometimes the last two together.” In his memoirs Barnes has admitted that he was hopelessly reliant on alcohol and drugs throughout these recording sessions, and was a barely functioning addict in the recording studio.
The Last Wave of Summer would become the fourth consecutive #1 Chisel album in the period 1984-1998 which included the period of hiatus after they disbanded in 1983, the most successful single lifted from the album was the Don Walker composition The Things I Love in You. This song about a relationship breakdown was particularly stressful for Barnes to sing at this time, given the fraught and fractured relationship between Jimmy and his wife Jane. Barnes succinctly summed up the song as being about a guy standing on a street corner, drinking beer while his girlfriend is having it off with someone else upstairs, and he just wants to kill both of them, cue the double entendre in the song title.
“The night I did the final vocal it almost tore me apart … I was destroying my relationship with Jane, the girl I loved, and I knew it … I sang the song with such fury and venom that when I finished it, my blood was boiling. I smashed up the studio booth with tears in my eyes.” (Working Class Man 2017).
Musically it was reminiscent of the songs on East, and Walker has said that the band were aiming for a Four Tops/Motown ambience with Jimmy providing an amped up, deep soul version of Levi Stubbs lead vocals. This was the last time that the band would take a single to the fringe of the top ten (#11), and unfortunately neither the re-formed Cold Chisel nor Jimmy Barnes, would ever capture the US market. The Last Wave Tour ended acrimoniously when Steve Prestwich (below) and his wife Jo-Anne insisted that the troupe of strippers the band had engaged to perform during the show be dropped, or he would refuse to play, the others agreed to concede to Steve’s wishes, which inflamed Barnes, and old feelings of resentment and frustration re-surfaced for Jimmy.