NOT MEANT FOR THIS WORLD - THE AU-GO-GO YEARS 1994-96 - Asteroid B612 (Off the Hip)
So the main game for established fans is the bonus track collection, right? Ten of 'em, ranging from alternative versions of album cuts "Destination Blues" and "Farewell To The Cosmic Commander" to eight raw and steaming pre-production demos. Plus there's the impossible-to-find "Teen Sublimation Riffs" EP, which might be their greatest studio moment outside of the "Reading Between The Lines" LP.
Of course "Not Meant" in its original incarnation suffered from a lack of balls in the bottom end, so Ernie O's re-mastering job just adds to the attraction of this 2CD package. That alone makes this re-issue all the more desirable if you already own a copy. That it's also an education in Rock Action ballistics is reason enough to buy it if you don't.
Sydney was their stamping ground but Asteroid B612 spent a lot of time in Melbourne where some healthy cross-pollination with the likes of Hoss, Powder Monkeys and Bored! was a win-win on all sides. The fact that 'Roids grew out of a declining hometown scene where the array of short-lived Radio Birdman clones made it an imperative to sound different was a plus. So you'll hear elements of the so-called Detroit sound as well as Chuck Berry, Cream and the Flamin' Groovies.
The opening three-punch of the Stoogey "Destination Blues", turbocharged title track and pop-ish "True Romance" are as good an opening salvo as you could expect and the rest of "Not Meant For This World" has aged very well.
Asteroids were always all about the songs - which only became better as the band went on. You can hear a selection of their best on this re-issue. By now the band had two albums under their belts and Stewart Cunningham had joined John Spittles on guitar to form one of the most formidable pairings around. There's a nice balance between their work with one guitar alternatively ringing out with fatter tones while its counterpart goes for the throat. Brute Force and Insolence, to paraphrase a predecessor band.
On the other side of the ledger, I always though Grant McIver's vocals came across better in the live context than on tape, seeming a bit thin when not accompanied by his glowering stage presence, but I've warmed to them down the years. The pre-album demo's have him buried in the mix but they were always only intended for exposure to select ears. What you do hear - loud and clear - is the Spittles-Cunningham attack and some re-working of mostly familiar songs that made it to the album. "Untitled" (an instro), "Not Meant For This World" and a steely "Thanks For Nuthin'" are particularly effective.
"Teen Sublimation Riffs" was the EP that came out as a taster and showed off a superior mix of "Straight Back To You" that should have been a break-out hit all over the country. The liner notes by Richie Ramone (Au-Go-Go staffer who went on to be mine host at Melbourne's iconic Tote Hotel) relate that the disc was moving 10-15 copies per hour in the label's store when it first came out, and but for an anomaly in the chart-counting process it would have been a hit.
The EP title track has a riff that's hammered so hard it should have needed panel-beating when it was over, and the cover of Alice's "Is It My Body?" is simply up their with the best adoption of another band's tunes that I can recall. The bluesy "Undertow (Second Time Around)" actually will sweep you away.
A national tour with the Hoodoo Gurus that exposed them to a wider local audience and an ultimately ill-fated trip to the US put the lid on this line-up. That the Asteroids didn't achieve global fame, if not fortune, is a long story that doesn't bear telling but essentially boils down to soured relations with their then-label Au-Go-Go and an overseas licensing deal not going ahead. More's the pity because this package reinforces their lost promise.
- The Barman
READING BETWEEN THE LINES - Asteroid B612 (No Tomorrow)
Can you make a great album greater? This Spanish re-issue of Asteroids' best standalone long-player to date certainly aims high, reprising the tunes in unchanged order but with four bonus cuts appended.
Many abbhor the extension of traditional vinyl album lengths into 80-minute extravaganzas, courtesy of the CD Age, and sometimes they have a point. "Reading..." doesn't suffer from the added extras, plus the cover art is easier to read as it drops the cursive writing. Apart from that, the art doesn;t do a lot for me. It would have been a shame to re-sequence this album. It has the perfect rise-and-fall progression of brooding tunes and hard-edged rockers. That said, the bonuses won't be a revelation for diehards ("19th Nervous Breakdown", "Second Cousin" and "Mirror Blues/Final Solution" have been available elsewhere, a couple of times in at least one instance). That last one in particular is a killer and worth tracking down via this release. "Blame Yourself", to the best of my recall, was on a CD only single of "I Just Don't Know Bout Gurls".
You can read the rest of the story of why this album is great and deserves to be in your collection by scrolling down on this page. It's probably as good an opportunity to grab it in its expanded version, and the completists will seek it down regardless. That it was issued on a Spanish imprint confirms a long-held suspicion that Espanol is one of the last bastions of hi-energy rock and roll. - The Barman
TWO FISTED ROCK AND ROLL - Asteroid B612 (Off the Hip)
On which Sydney's resolute champions of ragged sonic glory re-package their first two, impossibly rare long players with a sonic facelift and a generous stack of bonus cuts.
You need this, like you need oxygen, even if you already have "Asteroid B612" and "Forced Into a Corner". (I did and lost 'em in a break-in.- hey, some thieves have taste, but thankfully someone burned me replacements, which are somewhat redundant now.) The remix/remastering jobs, and added extras, are reasons enough to invest again. There's a noticeable improvement in the dB's and presence. They're also a valuable road map for newer fans that shows from whence this band came.
Asteroid B612 don't give a shit about such things today but there was a time, in the '90s, when they were looked like making big inroads overseas. The original discs pre-date their signing a world deal that, for lots of reasons, ultimately didn't lead anywhere.
It was a time when the 'Roids were swimming against a tide of grunge, Geelong noisemaker Dave Thomas (GOD, Bored!) showing enough nouse to take a punt and put them out on his own Destroyer label. Had they come out a few years earlier or later, things might have been different. It's a moot point, as they say in all the best retrospective reviews.
The first LP from '93 was never a "great" album, as such, and it's even more apparent now that Asteroid B612 was then a band still finding its feet. Bullet's alcohol-plied vocals get a little hazy at times, adding to the character and charm, but only a handful of songs sound fully worked-up. Only half the engine room of Fox and Nash had materialised (and they're now one of the best in the country) and Leadfinger Cunningham was yet to make the lateral transfer from Brother Brick.
But that's not to say it's a bad album, per se. (Half of the bands around today should be this bad!) It's just that what followed ups the ante considerably, both in songs and recording quality.
"Forced Into a Corner" is a case in point. While never a fan of the way it sounded, I reckon the makeover (as already alluded) lifts its sonic stocks considerably. Plus, the tunes are much stronger - a few of them, like "Danny's Sister", still kicking around in the band's contemporary set lists. You can't help love the muscular guitarwork in"Turn This Feeling Around", or the extended feedback outro.
Of the bonus tracks (and you cop a generous 14, not including a 2SER-FM interview hijacked by US-based Asteroid booster, The Cosmic Commander, in classic style), there are a stack of worthwhile experiments and adventures. There are five cuts from one of the earliest line-ups (with Bullet's predecessor Jason Slatery on vocals), rescued from under a bed somewhere.
While "Sleeping With the TV On" never latches onto the hook the way the Dictators' original does, nor does it wallow in commercial schmaltz either. The take on Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth" boils with rage. Also to be had are an obscure Stooges cover ("Fresh Rag" replete with some mighty James Williamson-styled guitar lines), formidable versions of D. Tek's "Love Kills": and Sonics Rendezvous Band's "A Clock With No Hands" (the fast version) that similarly sizzle. There's a singleminded version of the Five's "Teenage Lust", plus, you get digitised versions of classic 45 tracks like "I've Had You" and "Crash Landing".
Still, bonuses are only added extras and it's the main event that counts. To this end, "Forced Into a Corner" (1994) shows a re-tooled band in full flight. Angry declarations like "I'm Not For Sale" - well, it just doesn't come any more real than that.
Maybe the guitar pairing of John Spittles and Stew Cunningham was more developed by the time the next album ("Not Meant For This World") saw the light of day - but at least "Forced" had some balls and bottom end (and probably better songs, for that matter).
Look, judged as a whole this double set is unassailably good. Don't fuck around. Just get it. - The Barman
GREENBACK BLUES – Asteroid B612 (Off the Hip)
Let’s get the less relevant stuff out of the way first.
The liner notes by The Cosmic Commander (erstwhile Asteroids associate and sometime Johnny Casino collaborator) pull no punches. They plough the bloody fields of the band’s acrimonious 1996 US tour, in which guitarist Stewart “Leadfinger” Cunningham became irretrievably estranged from the rest of the crew. (If you’re that interested, you can find both sides of the story on this website, as well as in a probing John Spittles interview at NKVD Records). It was a bitter falling out to say the least, and that line-up of the Asteroids has never played again.
I wasn’t there and won’t take sides now (I like both Leadfinger and Johnny) because it doesn’t matter. This was EIGHT YEARS AGO, for chrissakes. So what’s achieved by airing it all again? Lines like “Stewart was just flat out being a fuckwit…no need to go into it now” are a complete joke when three-quarters of the liner notes are spent doing just that. The comments are just plain graceless and reek of a get-square that does the author no credit. It’s disappointing, because the focus should be on the music. So let’s go there.
If this was a band tearing itself apart it’s not apparent from the performance, put to tape for a broadcast for New Jersey radio station WFMU towards the tail end of the tour. (The liner notes laughably tag the gig as “a disaster”, no less. So why’s the band releasing it?) This is pure, killer rock and roll with a few of the 11 cuts achieving more grunt than their paler album versions.
“Straight Back to You” sounds like the Oz radio hit it should have been, the peerless engine room of Scotty Nash and Ben Fox elicit both rock and roll, while the guitarists trade some stinging licks. Their tone is magic and they wreak a storm of pealing leads in “Can I Touch It?” that sound more like a forerunner to an air attack by F-18As than a band imploding. Bullett is typically gritty in the vocals department, albeit restrained in the between-song patter, which makes the tension evident. Elements of the band might have wanted to kill each other but that anger was obviously an energy when the count-in began. Covers of the Dead Boys’ “All This and More” and the Stooges’ “Down on the Street” sit well with the originals (the latter with some improvisational ivories-tickling by someone, presumably John Spittles).
Live was (and still is) the best place to experience Asteroid B612. (And I wish I’d caught more of the various line-ups over the years). So here’s a tip: The current four-piece plays only sporadically, but a better night of soulful, no bullshit, genuine guitar rock you won’t experience in Sydney).
The only sadder thing than the liner notes is the fact that that this band didn’t break worldwide. Global domination looks even less likely these days, but I hope they at least have another album in ‘em. C’est la vie. Buy this one for the music. – The Barman
READIN' BETWEEN THE LINES - Asteroid B612 (Full Toss)
It mustn't have been easy for Asteroid B-612 to start again after breaking up with Stewart "Leadfinger" Cunningham (now leader of the fantastic Brother Brick and a member of Challenger 7 and Yes-Men) and the subsequent departure of singer Grant McIver. It was even more difficult if you consider that the Sydney-based four-piece has been the best Australian band in the last five years and their previous album, "Not Meant For This World" on Au Go Go (1996) was the definitive Aussie-rock album of the '90s.
Anyway, after a period of confusion, the guitar player and leader of the group John Spittles has called Ben Fox (drums) and Scott Nash (bass) once again to give gas to the rhythm engine of the band, while the vocal parts have been given to his brother Grahame. Produced by Celibate Rifles Kent Steedman, the fourth full length album from Asteroid B612 is a great collection of songs. A record that opens the sonic possibilities of this band, going from the unbeatable hi-energy rock 'n' roll trademark to psychedelic numbers, from hard-driven mid-tempo to melodic songs with continuity.
In this way the opening psychedelic ballad "On Your Way On Down" segues beautifully into the driving rock of "Am I the Problem?", while sunny and involving numbers such as "The Song Didn't Get The Girl" and "I Just Don't Know About Girls" slide perfectly into slow and moody episodes like "Still Waiting" and"I Won't Be Behind You". At the same time the rock side of the band is clearly defined with great numbers such as "September Crush" or "Gimme Little Something".
Asteroid B-612 set out their astral course again and with this fourth album demonstrates them to be alive and kicking. You don't need to "read between the lines" as the to fully understand that one of
the best Australian rock-bands is still with us.
- Roberto Calabro
Its been an up and down ride for Australias Asteroid B612, what with line-up changes (one of them acrimonious), a change of record company and a sporadic presence on CD store shelves and live stages alike. From the brash up-and-comers on the Hoodoo Gurus farewell show tour bill, the Asteroids seemed to go missing in action until recently. The concurrent groundswell of critical adulation for Swedens Hellacopters (who, it seemed, were hoeing a similar row but were gaining a lot more attention) became a sore point for a band that reckoned it had been doing it better, for longer, than Nicke Royale and Co.
Its not that the Roids had been unwilling to take chances that, and their many and varied influences, is what set them apart from other bands wearing the "Detroit" tag. Guitarist, songwriter and leader John Spittles knew as much and seemed to want to put distance between his band and Radio Birdman, even bagging them unmercifully (and unfairly, in my opinion) in one post-reunion tour interview. What the Roids aimed for, and delivered, on disc didnt always work. The production was sometimes lousy and some of the arrangements sounded downright claustrophobic.
You can draw a line under all that with "Readin Between the Lines" - their third full-length album and first on the fast-rising Full Toss label. This is a different band to any preceding Asteroid B612. A band thats older, and wiser.
Down to one guitar and the band is on new turf here, with Spittles making the most of the new surrounds. Much of his work concentrates on textures and tones, rather than sheer attack. Case in point: The opening "On Your Way Down". An Allen Toussaint song covered by Louis Tillett, its a biting, resigned blues lament that segues beautifully into the guitar shitstorm of "Am I the Problem?"
From there on in its a disc dotted with highlights, not the least of which is Kent Steedmans diamond sharp production, loaded with bottom end and bristling with guitars. Occasional organ from Bruce Tatham fleshes out the sound nicely. The Celibate Rifles slinger adds his own guitar to "Get the Picture" where singer Grahame Spittles takes on almost an almost Damien Lovelock aura with his vocals. Like Lovelock, the singing Spittles might have had his share of critics but he makes the most of what hes got songs like "Picture", the downbeat "Still Waiting" and "Easy the Hard Way". (On the latter, youd swear Damo had dropped in for a guest vocal).
"September Crush" seems to have turned up for the hundredth time, but sits well here. Other high water marks? Try the MONSTER guitar break on "Let It Slide" (it ends way too soon), the guitar work throughout "Easy the Hard Way", the melody of "I Just Dont Know bout Girls".
Like the best concept albums, "Readin..." makes perfect sense when viewed in its entirety. Lyrically, its stark, bare-boned stuff that charts a busted relationship, and its tempting to say that this is John Spittles personal version of the New Christs "Distemper", the masterful and under-appreciated disc dubbed "an emotional jihad" by Trouser Press. While it doesnt scale the same dizzy heights, "Readin..." is not a bad attempt.
Opinions are, as Johnny Casino is fond of pointing out, like arseholes everybody has one. And, for what its worth, heres another one (opinion that is): This is the first great Australian album of 2001.- The Barman
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