STRANDED IN THE NINETIES - Brother Brick (Off The Hip)
This intro was going to run along the lines of Brother Brick being the best band of the '90s that you'd never heard of but it sounded too glib. On reflection, it rings true.

Brother Brick were a Sydney power trio (most of the time) who toured a fair bit (domestically) outside their home town, had a few singles and an EP on great but relatively hard-to-find underground labels and issued an album through an even more obscure French imprint. If you ever graced a Sydney or Melbourne music pub in the '90s you might have seen them.

If so, count yourself lucky. They were either ahead of the curve or behind the times. I dunno which and I doubt they do either. Anyway, it was a bare time for rock and roll (the grunge thing notwithstanding - but that was more about fashions and heavy metal) and as far as Sydney's end of the deal was concerned, they were one of the bands that kept the flag flying.

Brother Brick were a hard-to-pin down, bastard child of all the right parents (most prominently Radio Birdman, The Saints, The Eastern Dark) and gave a home, over the years, to members of Asteroid B612, Tumbleweed, the New Christs and the Celibate Rifles. You could mention "Brother Brick" and "righteous" in the same sentence and not be in strife.

Directly descended from Warerfront/Citadel bands the Horny Toads and Proton Energy Pills, Brother Brick were built around the rare talents of Stewart "Leadfinger" Cunningham on guitar and vocals and (ex-Toads) Mikey Stephenson (drums) and Kurt Anderson (bass.) There were other worthy line-ups but this was the classic original configuration that spat out the promising "Getting Behind A Shit" EP. They'd moved on before the recording of the stone-cold killer album, "A Portable Altamont".

On their own admission, Brother Brick were wayward young tearaways and possessed enough anti-industry attitude to kill a major label A & R man at 20 paces (or at least make him inhale too hardly on his coke straw.). They pissed off more mainstream venue bookers and agents than you could poke a 20 percent commission at. That and Aussie rock and roll being driven well underground conspired to make Brother Brick a significant footnote rather than international hit-meisters.

This double CD compilation could have comprised just the lost album and a few of the EP and single tracks and you would have been well-served. Off the Hip went the extra mile and appended a second disc of mostly live stuff (seven kicking cuts from a 1991 gig) plus demos and bits and pieces. Value? You betcha.

There's plenty to dig so let's cast the spotlight in the direction of a few of the gems. "A Portable Altamont" was littered with them and the remaster job has thrown them into full relief. The strident anti-conformist anthem "The Same" is one of the best things here with an angry tone and a seething feel. Chalk up the same mood to "Chip On My Shoulder". I'm buggered if I can make total lyrical sense of "Chokito Bar" but the essence of a great song is all too often in the words you can't catch.

It's also sentiments like those in "Rock Action" that elevate a tune and underline that the early days of Brother Brick coincided with something of a purple patch for Stew Cunningham's songwriitng.

"See You Tonight" came after the album with a different line-up to the original (not a bad one - Leadfinger, drummer par excellence Nik Rieth and bassist Jay Curley) and you get two mixes for your money. Either stands out like dog's balls as a top-shelf tune and something that would have been all over the radio in a fairer, 1990s world. A fave single in these parts.

Disc Two is only marginally less strong with the original line-up in rare form on the seven Brookvale Hotel tracks. They include a ripping take on "Chokito Bar" (maybe the Brick's finest moment) and covers of Ig's "I'm Bored" and the Fun Things' "Savage". There's also a fine studio version of the latter.

The band's pop traits that came to the fore with later line-ups are shown on their Replacement tribute record effort ("Colour Me Impressed") and if the final demo recordings with the final line-up of Leadfinger, Ashley Thomson (drums) and Jay Curley ("Olympics On The Brain" and "Up Yer Heart") lack the sonic polish of some of their predecessors, they make up for it in spirit.

"Stranded in the Nineties" might be an apt title but it also underplays the timeless nature of the songs Brother Brick played. Get this album, crank it nice and loud and you'll find it holds up as easily in the Noughties. No shit. – The Barman










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