GOD - The Chevelles (Zip Records)
DELERIUM - The Chevelles (Tronador Music)
Before I get started, lets get the obligatory whinge out of the way. The Chevelles are an Australian band which has been around for about 10 years, but in this country is still virtually unknown outside the closeknit power pop "community" (and even there they have been dismissed by some - unreasonably in my opinion - as merely "power pop by numbers"). Outside Australia it's a completely different story, with releases in Spain, France and the U.S. - most of which were never available in Australia, except as expensive imports, and sadly are mainly now out of print anyway. Why is our own record industry always the last to get a clue when it comes to our own talent? Okay, now that I've got that off my chest, let's have a look at what we've got here.
Well, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same... What we have here is a brand new album from a local label (or rather what used to be a local label, only now it's the local arm of a U.S. label) and a Brazilian "best of" (which, in typical Tronador fashion, is as close to being an "all of" as it is to being a "best of").
This Brazilian release is especially welcome, since it contains some real gems and most of these songs are not currently available on any other CD - certainly not any Australian CD. However I'm told that it's every band's worst nightmare to have their current release held up for comparison against the best of their past achievements, so maybe they're a tad unlucky that these two CDs lobbed into my lap so close together. Fortunately I am able to report that in the Chevelles' case it isn't nearly the problem it could be for a lot of other bands.
Since the newie arrived a couple of days before the Brazilian "best of", I'll start with that. First surprise is that all three tracks from the "C'mon Everybody" EP made it onto the album. When I reviewed their recent EP , I suggested that "Sleeper" didn't look like it was going to make it onto the album, because it hadn't been given the same production spit and polish in the U.S. as the other two tracks on that EP. More fool me, since it turns out that those were the only two tracks to get that special overseas brush, comb and blow dry. Instead, about half the album was mixed in Sydney by Michael Carpenter (whose power pop credentials would be well known to Bar patrons), while the remaining tracks were mixed in Perth by the band themselves, together with original recording engineer Gerry Fernandez.
So how does it sound? Bloody good! As you'd expect from a band with two strong songwriters (Duane Smith and Adrian Allen) there's no filler and no flat spots. Okay, maybe it's not devoted to deep explorations of challenging questions of philosophy and man's place in the cosmic scheme of things, but there's nothing wrong with girls, cars and fun. Lots of girls in fact: "Madeleine", "Goodbye Sally", "Angelina Jolie", "Here She Comes" and the title track all spring immediately to mind... Come to think of it, most of the ones that don't mention girls in the title still turn out to be about girls and while there may not be so many cars, there does seem to be lots and lots of fun.
The album opens with "Every Moment", a song which is as good as anything that has come before it in the Chevelles moderately long history and establishes right from the outset that they haven't lost any of the rough power that goes with their brand of sunny day pop. Whenever anyone talks about power pop, the phrase "ringing guitars" seems to turn up in the discourse pretty quickly. Sure the Chevelles have got ringing guitars too, only it's not the ring of a bell, it's the ring of an angle grinder on reinforced concrete.
Okay, I exaggerated. "Make It Happen" does have some bells in the background, but the Chevelles, like the Sunnyboys (whom they name check in "C'mon Everybody"), don't sacrifice any energy while they're going for melody. I've seen them described elsewhere as a true "post-punk guitar band", which I think means that they've got the same drive, bordering on burning rage, as the punks, but they can also play and sing and write articulate lyrics...
It's pretty hard to pick favourites out of what is a very consistent set, although I do retain great affection for "Sleeper", which of course I already knew from the preceding EP, but the Stems-y "First Time - Last Time", the Turtles-y "Goodbye Sally" and the very punchy "Round and Round" are all worthy of being put on repeat/continuous replay.
The album ends with "Sunshine", which tips its hat to the Troggs while simultaneously giving a firm nod in the direction of "Sunflower" era Beach Boys. In between, it's pretty much wall to wall love and loss, with the good times far outweighing the bad. If there really was a Girl God, then perhaps life would be like a non-stop Chevelles song.
As already noted, "Delerium" is a "best of", collecting the bulk of the preceding albums "Gigantic", "Rollerball Candy" and "At Second Glance" (which I can't help thinking has to have been a nod in the direction of the Stems and their "At First Sight..."). Duane Smith dominates over Adrian Allen in the writing credits, although I don't know if that has anything to do with anything else, and none of the really early and rare tracks from the Richard Lane period (e.g. the "Be My Friend" single and the "Kids Ain't Hip" EP) have been included. This album still clocks in at whopping 69:37 without them, so there's more than enough music to be going on with. Plus, in the usual Tronador style, it comes with a sixteen page booklet containing a brief biography, production credits and the lyrics to all the songs (except for the covers).
Opening with "Valentine" and the sound of a revving engine, in seconds the Chevelles are off the mark and blazing down the road again. Since these songs are all drawn from earlier records, it's not surprising that this collection sounds a bit brasher, more diverse (or comparatively uneven, depending on your perspective I guess), slightly simpler in aspiration and a little rougher in execution when compared with "Girl God". Nowadays years can elapse between their albums, either through design or circumstance, but back then the singles came in a rush of enthusiasm and the expectation of a golden pop future waiting just beyond the next bend in the road... catching the band hot with anticipation and producing some gritty, vibrant performances.
The Chevelles have some pretty obvious influences, with the Sunny Boys and the Stems foremost amongst them, but I also hear plenty of other 80s Oz echoes, like the Lime Spiders and the Screaming Tribesmen; call it retro if you don't like it, but I call it keeping the flame burning. Their sound is as much garage rock as it is power pop; as much hot and sweaty inner city nights as it is sunny days at the beach.
Take "Memories" for example. I can see why this would get power pop purists grinding their teeth. It's almost an anti-pop song, an industrial strength anthem to loss and despair, an electrified dirge with a thundering bottom end underpinning lashings of strident cock rock guitar. It's probably as bad for me as fried food and double chocolate mud cake, but I love it anyway.
Other highlights are "Mesmerised", "Rollerball Candy", the very Sunny Boysish "Starlet" and the aforementioned "Valentine", but there's not one of these twenty tracks that you'll want to skip over once you've slipped the record in and pushed "play". - John McPharlin
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