MAN AND MACHINE - Eric Gradman (Aztec Music)
Another day, another re-release of some apparently fabled recordings from the late '70s and early '80s. Because, you know, everything from back then was like totally rad, man. All them cool guys. Not one of them was an ex art school hippy chancing his way on the next bandwagon.
Some reviews are going to earn you death threats. Some reviews are just gonna cost you a few Facebook friends. Some will cost you jobs and opportunities. But sometimes you just have to knuckle down and cut your nose off despite your face. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. For an alternate view point, you could always read Ian McFarlane's extensive linear notes/plea for canonisation included with this disc. Hell, if I had just read them instead of listening to the album, he might have even convinced me.
It is not that this disc is spectacularly bad. It's just so... so... It's just so damn Melbourney. Whoa. I came right out and said it, didn't I? It's the elephant in the room that no-one dares mention. But whilst you can always find the exception that proves every rule, everybody reading this knows EXACTLY what I am talking about. Straighty. One Eighty.
Okay. Imagine you are producing the Talking Heads' first album. Your first decision is to remove "Psycho Killer" from the playlist because it stands out too much from the rest of the songs. You put in a high like that, the lows are gonna bum everyone out. Next you decide to strip the lyrics of all that New York wit and intelligence. Maybe just strip mine out every word with more than two syllables. It's best to know what you are singing about. Finally, you have to do something about the musicians who really can't play to your accepted standard. Christ. That chick bassist has got to go. You've gotta get in some guys from the Carlton scene because those guys really know their chops. You can lay in a real groove with Carlton musos. They can jam out another couple of minutes to each song and it'll be so cool. There's this one guy with a violin... If that sounds like an improvement to you, welcome to "Eric Gradman: Man and Machine."
Eric Gradman. Ex Bleeding Hearts. A forgotten hero in a forgotten war? A rock and roll soldier in the war against the jive? Well, no. At least not on that last question.
It is frequently stated that history is written by the victors. This isn't true. The victors don't need to write history. History is written by whoever can be bothered. It is written by both misanthropes and dreamers in love with arcane aesthetics . Personally, I write for the love of an aesthetic and this disc is an encroachment and an anathema to it.
What's my beef? Well. For some of us, Punk was a great and glorious bowel cleansing of popular culture. The industry had worked out that the best way to sell albums was to place a hundred and fifty copies of "Hot August Night" on a display stand in K-mart. The so-called counter culture had responded by climbing up its own stoned arsehole and communicated with the outside world through a stream of drizzled self interest. If you wonder what that is like; tune in to Triple J radio and you can relive that moment.
When punk happened in 76/77, not everyone was a happy chappie. There were a whole lot of guys playing in bands before that time and they had dreams of careers, cocaine and the endless summer of the eternal blow job. Suddenly they saw something new coming through. Something that rocked and made waves. Why was no-one going to see Uncle Bob's Band or Captain Matchbox anymore? (Answers on a post card please.) Even the stalwarts of Chequers, the satin clad fops of Sherbet and John Paul Young's All-stars quivered in their stack heels. These guys slagged off the new bands. Can you seriously imagine anyone saying Masuak, Tek and Kuepper couldn't play guitar? Punk. Bah Humbug. Has anyone actually stopped and bothered to point out how pathetic "Howzat" actually is?
For those who kept an eye on the UK music press, it was fairly obvious that pub rockers could sneak in under the punk radar. Following the steps of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, along came the Sports and Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons from the "music capital" of Australia. We're a whole new wave, guys. We're like punks who can play. Melbourne bands are always so damn desperate to tell you they can play. It's like when you go to a meeting and some guy is determined to tell you that he's a businessman. You immediately check you still have your wallet.
And in their wake came a hundred bands who had heard Lou Reed's "Rock and Roll Animal" but not the Velvet Underground's first album. Iggy's "The Idiot" (Whispers one troll to another: Bowie plays on it) and not "Raw Power". Alice Cooper's "Welcome to my Nightmare". And suddenly, these guys are punks. Or New Wavers. Even frigging Skyhooks are throwing on army surplus and trying to work out how to make the audience go "Yeah Hup". Really, they just can't wait for the world back to normal. This is not the birth of a glorious new age. This is the road towards the vile misshapen beast called Oz Rock.
This album's linear notes go to great lengths to talk about how outside the mainstream this band was (whilst drawing the links to as many industry players as it can cast its mighty net over.) You could believe that this disc is the cornerstone of a musical dynasty. There will be those who have counted down days until this release.
I wouldn't wish their version of Bacharach and David's "Always Something There" on my worst enemy. You could try playing name that tune with it but you'll probably fall asleep before you hit a recognisable chorus. Everything else on the disc is just plain ordinary.- Bob Short
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