LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD OF WOUNDED HEARTS – Hard-Ons (Citadel)
Here's where the affair ended, for a time - I never got into the sound of "Love Is a Battlefield…" There were some great songs here, for sure ("Missing Me, Missing You", "Don't Wanna See You Cry", "Just Being With You") that were among the band's best, but there was something about the shiny, semi-polished metallic sheen (coming after the confusing "Dickcheese") that pushed this album to the back of the collection.
Where it stayed for many years. Now Citadel has dusted it off, and while it still sounds almost the same, it's time for a reassessment. The short story is that it's aged well, the mastering has refreshed it, sonically speaking, and the bonuses on their own are worth the price of entry. This is a double CD set that's value-plus.
Did anyone know there was a demo version of the album ("Kids In Satan's Service") containing most of the songs in unadorned form? Some band members had certainly forgotten about it until the tapes turned up. It's rawer than a nude roll through a paddock full of poison ivy but bristling with the sort of energy that any band with three chords and its full faculties would kill for.
The 1989 Triple J radio session captured here is one of the best live sets the Hard-Ons have recorded. Two more sets from Geelong and Melbourne in July '89 are sonically rougher but proof this was a band at the peak of its powers.
There are a few oddballs here and that's to be expected; Hard-Ons love(d) nothing better than fucking with people's preconceptions. The impossibly rare Fifth Anniversary giveaway single is here (with the short-fuse "Fuck Off Cunt Features") and there's a demo of Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky" that will peel paint.
The liners are the usual mix of heartfelt unloading (Blackie), incisive observations (Ray) and pragmatic filling of the gaps (ex-manager Tim Pittman) that puts it all into perspective while serving as a reminder that this is a band that's never recognised other peoples' pigeonholing. The words and the music add up to F.U.N.
– The Barman
DICKCHEESE - Hard-Ons (Citadel)
Fessin' up first: I didn't much like "Dickcheese" when it originally came out in 1988. You didn't need liner notes to hear the overt heavy metal influences. The album swung from catchy punk-pop with buried melodies to bottom-heavy stoner riffing. There was no lack of energy but the mix sounded muddy and bore little resemblance to the sound of the Hard-Ons live.
Many years down the track and all that stylistic bouncing around makes more sense. The Hard-Ons didn't give a rat's arse what genre a song sat in. It was (is) all rock and roll to them. In their eyes, Black Sabbath was as valid as Black Flag. That's why you get plenty of both (and characteristic pop touches - although they're buried) on "Dickcheese".
More follows about the sound but first, let's talk packaging. Lying at the heart of the double-fold cardboard wallet (R.I.P. jewel cases - surely one of the dumbest inventions ever) lies a chunky 32-page booklet with commentary from all three band members and manager Tim Pittman. The content is a bit up and down - jumping from cruelly small type to more readable larger font - Ray Ahn's notes cut to the chase.
The album's paired with the hard-to-find "High-Way To Hell" split mini LP with the Stupids (at least the Hard-Ons share) plus the 7" single of "Busted" b/w "Suck 'n' Swallow" plus a second disc of live stuff from 1988. In touring terms, this was the year the Hard-Ons broke out with gigs through Europe and the USA. They were forging new frontiers for an Aussie band at their level and their enthusiasm shines through.
So to the mix and the revelation in the liners is that "Dickcheese" was recorded with the modus operandi of contemporaries Massappeal in mind: Bury the vocals and drums, push the guitars up front and let the bass bleed all over everything. The problem is that the hooks in pure punk gems like "Something About You" and "There Was A Time" are buried. Of course, it was the band's melodic instincts, matched to effervescent and powerful attack, that made them different from the rest.
Maybe it's the clean-up and mastering job or just hindsight, but "Dickcheese" holds up well and has aged better than most late '80s hardcore-thrash. The musical U-turns don't jar as much (OK - I knew what was coming) but blasting this out in one sitting is a lot of fun. There's much silliness ("Figaro") and some aimless thrashing about and like the Celibate Rifles at the same time, the Hard-Ons were still working out which sliders and panpots did what in the studio. Both would eventually coalesce their sounds so viewed as a work-in-progresss, "Dickcheese" isn't the mad woman's breakfast it seemed way back then.
The live disc is a scorcher, mostly culled from shows a few months apart in Geelong, west of Melbourne. If you were around back then, this is what the Hard-Ons sounded like. Don't ask me what's been previously released and where (Citadel can't work it out either.) I recall something from this being on a B side. If you know, there's a comments box below. Otherwsie, just strap yourself in and turn it up. – The Barman
SMELL MY FINGER - The Hard-Ons (Citadel)
Not the original EP but a collection comprising it, the bits-and-pieces LP "Hot For Your Love Baby", early singles and live and rare cuts, this is the first of a series of re-issues putting the first 10 years of the Hard-Ons' recordings in one place. We're talking a feast here with this 1984-87 package containing 61 songs and spanning 150 minutes.
Hard-Ons shows in the '80s weren't for the faint-hearted with band and audience alike throwing themselves into the action. The initial wave of punk could claim first dibs on tearing down walls but, in Australia at least, this was really where the barrier between stage and mosh pit dissolved. The Hard-Ons were the right guys in the right place and they took their thing right around the world, multiple times.
The high-energy jumps out of the speakers on these songs and makes up for any recording shortcomings.You probably already know that the Hard-Ons were one of the most perfect mixes of punk, metal, glam, bubblegum and thrash to grace the planet. If you needed it, "Smell My Finger" is proof positive.
The eight-track EP from where the collection's name comes has aged remarkably well. It also firmly places the band's collective tongue in its cheek with the cover of "Then I Kissed Her." What SoCal hardcore band (a rough comparator) would have attempted that one without smothering it in irony? Who would have reprised it with lyrics in Arabic? The Hard-Ons didn't (don't) take themselves seriously and that's much of the appeal.
The image - or lack thereof - was another characteristic that set the band apart. The Hard-Ons looked like the suburban kids they were. Ray Ahn's confrontational, sometimes impenetrable but never forgettable artwork intentionally stuck it up the arse of the faddists and precious pretenders.
There are some seriously shiny gems here. "Girl In The Sweater" is the best song the Ramones never wrote while "All To Go" and "Think About You Every Day" aren't so far behind. The Hard-Ons were always at their best when they tied power pop to breakneck paced punk. Show-closing "Suck And Swallow", on the other hand, flicks the switch to grindcore before it was a trend.
You couldn't beat some of these songs with a baseball bat so the cover of "Rockaway Beach" is entirely in order. The Kinks, the Stooges and the MC5 get the treatment elsewhere.
The 32-page booklet includes previously unseen photos and anecdotes from Ray, Blackie and Keish as well as original manager Tim Pittman. Some of the colour scheme is hard on the eyes but it's worth persevering.
This is an essential collection if you were there - and moreso if you weren't. – The Barman
ALFALFA MALES ONCE SUMMER IS DONE CONFORM OR DIE - Hard-Ons (The Cool Bananas Records Company)
That the Hard-Ons are still together, let alone making albums, will come as a surprise to some people. They ought to get out more. That they're making records that are better than those released at the peak of their late '80s popularity will come as an even bigger shock. Big call, but bear with me.
Yes, they're a different band from the old one. Keish may be retired, if not forgotten, and sure, he did write and sing the bulk of their best-loved songs. Their "new" drummer Peter Kostic may not pack the same swing in his kitbag, but he's no slouch either. And if the heavy hand of venue officialdom (and a good dose of commonsense) have put paid to Ray's on-stage fire-breathing that was stock-in-trade for a long time, that's fine.
There's been a steady stream of long-players since the band re-formed and like hyperactive teens on school holidays they've bounced from hardcore ("Most People Are Nicer Than Us") to sublime pop-punk ("Very Exciting") and all parts in-between. "Alfalfa Males" mixes both kinds of Hard-On and puts paid to just about any other kid on the block, new or old.
Hard-Ons records used to be sprinkled with great songs plus wads of filler. They weren't always well produced. "Alfalfa Males"has great songs and production and adds a dose of wigged-outness that permeated "This Terrible Place", the 2000 "comeback" album. This album - and the band - are simply more consistent without being predictable. No easy juggling act.
There are 19 songs and a fair few are brief blasts of noxious hardcore or speed metal. "Alfalfa Males" turns on the head of a pin with awe-inspiring manoeuvrability, but the Hard-Ons can't resist a good hook and there are plenty of them.
You can probably put all the healthy experimentation that you'll hear down to Ray and Blackie's other life as Nunchukka Superfly, which is as off-the-wall as Australian rock and roll gets without being run out of town.
Hardcore tackles pop and on my scorecard, pop wins by a whisker. "Feisty", "I'm a Frozen Boy" and "Give Me Arse a Haircut" ensure as much, while "In The End We All Die Alone" flicks the switch to speedcore to balance the books. Chalk one up to weirdness and the Channel Nine cricket commentary team on "The Media Frenzy That Followed". Maybe the memory is failing but I can't recall a rockabilly rave-up in Hard-Ons clothing quite like "Atomic Handshake".
The Hard-Ons used to be demeaned back in the '80s for being sexist. Is is sexist to say that the poppy "Pretend It's Vanilla" and its do-do-do-do chorus will charm the panties off your girlfriend, whereas trhe speed-metal "Burn Everything" will have her putting them back on to run out the door. The former is my tip for Song Of The Year. ARIA indepedent song award, anyone? It's never too late. – The Barman
MOST PEOPLE ARE NICER THAN US - Hard Ons (Chatterbox)
Saying there's life left in the beast is a monumental understatement. Ditto the revelation that this album is hard. "Nicer Than Us" is uncompromising hardcore and punk thrash. Downstroke delight. It's sounds so tough that death itself couldn't kill it. Why will be revealed soon, but first some perspective.
For a time in the late '80s, the Hard Ons were the essence of perfect punk pop. Hugely popular in Europe and blessed with a rabid following at home in Australia, attending (and surviving) their riotous shows was a rite of passage. It ground to a halt at the dawn of the '90s, but didn't we have a good time. Spin-off Nunchukka Superfly was a stunning by-product, and way too left-field for many of the old hands to keep up with.
Re-animated half a decade ago, the Hard Ons found their old fan-base had hocked their souls for mortgages. The kids were no longer such and had offspring of their own. So the Hard Ons did what any still vibrant and self-respecting punk band from the '80s would. They built a new following.
While a lot of us are guilty as charged on the mortgage-and-spawn-front, the Hard Ons have changed too. Keish's walked away from the drumming and vocal duties (although he rejoined briefly for a big run of anniversary shows) and his successor on the kit Peter Kostic brings a different dynamic to the band. Blackie handles guitar and most vocals. Ray Ahn remains the throbbing bass heart of the thing, his hair and his dervish head swirling antics both still intact.
I'm still playing catch-up on the recent back catalogue. I heard bits of the output but lost touch as the Hard Ons rolled out three albums before this. The first ("This Terrible Place") probably found them in no man's land and finding their feet, but consensus on the last ("Most People Are a Waste of Time") was that they were back to their pop-punk best.
Like a pendulum on an axis going in the opposite direction, "Most People Are Nicer Than Us" pushes the Hard Ons into hardcore territory. Emphatically so. And it hits with the impact of a 'roids raging National Rugby League forward on his way to his lawyer to settle out-of-court on the morning after end-of-season celebrations on Mad Monday.
"Bottom Feeders", with a bouncy Blackie guitar line and chorus to match, might be the most familiar touchpoint for old fans. But it's the naked attention-seekers - the spiralling, breakneck speed demons like "You Sir, Can Fuck Off" and "Making Money From Goths Is Fun" - that create mayhem. These two especially have that thing happening where the underlying harmonics feed to give the sound an unearthly quality.
"Carrot Top" is stunning thrash-punk. You can almost hear Ray Ahn's tonsils hit the studio wall with his vocal on "Don't Fear The Reeperbahn". Blackie's guitar carries the day on "My Style of Attack". The sole respite from this attack (if that's how you regard it before it climbs out of the sludge into a fully-fledged freak-out) is "Spent The Day In Hell, Was Bored") where overdriven guitars emulate a massed choir.
Blackie sings most of the album and occasionally veers just this side of death metal distortion in places, but did you really expect the Vienna Boys Choir?
The more you get into this record the more apparent it becomes that the lines between the Hard Ons and Nunchukka Superfly sometimes blur, to the extent that the bellyflop howl of "Two Laps in Serbia" could belong to either band. Truth be told, it's the Hard Ons who seem to be consciously moving their own goalposts around and not conforming (I'm hypothesizing that Nunchukka Superfly exists on its own because it has no goalposts, full stop.)
Hardcore, I can usually take or leave. Same with most of the trappings of metal. But the Hard Ons have absorbed them, transcended their limitations, and are truly carving a unique sonic path.
If I sound happily amazed that this album's so good it's for two reasons: I wasn't paying close enough attention. And it is. – The Barman
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