TEN THOUSAND DAYS - The Celibate Rifles (Shock)
What does a band do when the five band members can't agree on a tracklist for a Best Of compilation? Give each member his own album, of course. Just to spice it up, each Rifle was asked to nominate a song that the band should have a second shot at, given that it hadn't turned out to everybody's satisfaction the first time out. The Cellies then re-did those songs, with Jim Moginie (Midnight Oil) at the desk. Result: You got yerself a box set that'll melt your speakers.
The only improvement might have been a bonus sixth disc of dodgy cover songs (something that this band is synonymous with live), but that's in no way a subjugation of what the Rifles have delivered. Each of the five albums blazes with goodness, and the mastering job is well up to the mark.
There's no theme or flow at work here, other than the fact that each album reflects the personal selection of a band member, but "Ten Thousand Days" holds up incredibly well as a representation of the Rifles' body-of-work. You could probably read the song selection as indicating who's living in the past and who's more contemporary, but second-guessing is a dangerous game and most material seems to come from the mid-period oeuvre anyway. Which is fine. You could dip the toe in the water of any stage of the Celibate Rifles' 28-year lifespan and find something to love. I'd certainly be pushing shit uphill with a very small stick to come up with a personal fave list in less than a week.
If there's story to be told it's in the re-recordings (and probably in the detailed liners - this advance copy only came with bare bones artwork.) Mikey Couvret shoots for another take on "Tubular Greens" with a cutting Kent Steedman lead-break and punchier bottom end. My review copy is fucked up so Kent's re-take on "Cold Wind" is M.I.A. but Damien Lovelock's "Light of Life" has a more measured vocal. I could go on but half the fun will be spotting the difference, and we wouldn't want to spoil it for you, would we?
I've heard it said that the Rifles' best days are behind them and that's why they're down to issuing a retrospective. That might be so but it's equally valid for bands like them to get their due from up-and-comers, many of whom play with half the power and considerably less economy. The Rifles do exist in some sort of limbo, where commercial acceptance will never come (as if they cared) and the motivation to do much more is commensurate with a feeling of "been there, played that". Let's face it - as one member told me recently - as nice as the PA is, you can't just keep playing Annandale every show. All of which doesn't mean their live dynamic is truly still a thing to behold and their wit remains as sharp (and droll) as ever.
If this is the last mark of the Celibate Rifles (and I still suspect they have more albums in them) it's a helluva legacy to leave behind. Hopefully it's just a calling card and they'll be around in some form for a while to come.
File under absolutely-fucking-essential and beyond respect (the term, not the album.) - The Barman
BEYOND RESPECT - Celibate Rifles (MGM)
Studio Album Number 10 for the Rifles (the long player tally is 15, if you count live efforts and compilations) and they remain National Living Treasures, in every sense of the term.
But fuck all the dilettantes and elitist icons who normally wear that label. These guys are much more deserving. And a lot funnier. The short story is this: This band's consistency is legend. Their hyper-charged guitar crunch and drought dry lyrical delivery feels as comfortable as an old shoe.
They may be billed as "Australia's longest-serving rock 'n' roll social/political satirists" in the press kit, but the Cellies never fall into the trap of shoving the obvious down your throat (a crime that their near neighbour/culural icon Rex Mossop once levelled at a nudist). Without being obtuse, Damien Lovelock's canny enough to write a lyric that you can take either way (and I'm not even tempted to apply that one to Rex).
It's undoubtedly his fellow Aussies he's talking about in "(We All Moved to) Buttland", while "Return of the Creature With the Atom Brain" takes aim at a certain US president. "Salute" is modernisation of 1984's "Thank You America", taking its title and lyrics from San Franciscan beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In the Rifles hands, his words make for a potent combination. Ultimately - there's no answers in the telling of the story (hey, what can a poor boy do?) but provoking thought is a fair starting point.
Now although I can't say "Beyond Respect" picked me up by the scruff of the neck on first listen, like "Midstream of Consciousness", it didn't take long for most of the 13 songs to start growing. Where "Midstream" was built on acoustic guitars and textures, "Beyond..." is more of a straight-ahead rock record. The opener, "You Won't Love Me", is as typical a Rifles tune as you could hope for, its solid backing set against a droll yet animated Lovelock vocal and a blazing Steedman guitar intermission.
A handful of tunes do feel like something the Rifles could write in their sleep - "Seems Much Better", and the dreamy "Alhambra" is "Oceanshore" without the extended guitar statement - but that's probably a reflection as much as having grown up with their back catalogue and flogged each and every of their discs to death over the years. It'd be surprising if some tunes didn't feel that way, since these guys have been at this for so long. But where I spent half of "Alhambra" waiting for the aural counterpoint, the album's other pause for breath, "When We Meet Again", locks into a subtle groove that's almost hypnotic over the course of its six-plus minutes.
Which brings up the topic of how good this disc sounds - especially the engine room of Paul Larsen and Mike Couvret. This may be the most bottom end to appear on a Rifles record, and the rhythm section's racket does sound warm and substantial. Anyway, I come to grudgingly praise ProTools, not to bury it, because it really is giving a lot of bands that aren't blessed with mega-budgets (and that means the Cellies, these days, more's the pity) the means to sound good. So big props to producer Rick O'Neill: "Beyond..." sounds great.
It wouldn't be a Rifles record without the odd cover ("odd" often being the operative word in the live setting). There are two here and they're not played for laughs. First is a pretty fair "Nobody Knows", a Destroy All Monsters cut, with former soapie star/pop confection Melissa Tkautz credited on backing vocals. Outside the society pages, this is probably Melissa's most notable public outing since those recent newspaper ads for an inhaled treatment to prevent premature ejaculation (!) but she's buried so flaccidly low in the mix that you don't notice her. Ditto Kent's solo, which doesn't saw the top of your head off like Ron Asheton's on the original.
The hidden cover, "My Generation", is extra sharp (and timely, with the 'Oo just winding up an Australian tour as this album was released) , although it sounds like the ending was truncated in the mastering.
It's two decades since the release of "Sideroxylon" so would would have thought the Celibate Rifles would still be around? No-one would have begrudged the Rifles if they'd packed it in after "Spaceman in a Satin Suit".
Not only should you be grateful for this album, you'd have to be an idiot not to run out right now and buy it. Play it extra loud if you have a teenage band hammering away in a garage down the street or a neighbour without a sense of humour. They just might learn something and you, like the Rifles, would have acted with the best of intentions. - The Barman
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