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PURITY OF ESSENCE - Hoodoo Gurus (Sony Music)
Who are the Gurus kidding? Pre-release interviews for this, their ninth studio effort, were peppered with self doubt, the oft-heard (yet ultimately self-deprecating) view that this is their finest hour, and the hope that Dave Faulkner would finally be recognised as a great songwriter. It might not be their best-ever but "Purity of Essence" more than holds its own - and Faulkner can still write.

The biggest problem the Hoodoos have is their elder statesmen status. Youngsters don't know who they are and far are too distracted to find out. Middle aged people don't buy new music. Offer them a re-mastered heritage CD (with bonuses) of something they owned on LP when they were too young to shave and they'll shell out their hard-earned quicker than you can say John, Paul, George and Ringo. Serve up something new/adventurous/exciting, however, and they'll develop short arms and long pockets, adopting the tightwad mindset that's de rigeur across the region known as the Australian mortgage belt - unless it involves buying a 42-inch plasma on the 40-month-don't-pay-until-later plan. The bull market's clearly more of a bitch in these cold, post-GFC days.

Yet, there's stubborn optimism on the part of fans and band alike that "Purity" will re- win hearts and minds. Established followers shouldn't find too much not to like, even if they curiously shied away from its predecessor, the Kim Salmon-produced "Mach Schau". (Personally, I think the title held it back and if they'd dubbed it "Don't Mention The War" with Basil Fawlty head-butting a bruised and bloodied Manuel on the cover it would have moved quicker than a bent priest in a playground.)

But onto the music and "Purity of Essence" (ask General Ripper if you're not sure) is the most diverse meal the Hoodoo Gurus have ever dished up. Like entrants in a reality TV cook-off, the band has tossed in more ingredients than a Friday leftovers fry-up in the M*A*S*H mess tent. There's glossy but gritty funk ("Only in America"), raucous garage ("1968"), a brassy soul rocker ("Burnt Orange"), sly hayseed pop ("Somebody, Take Me Home") and a trio of strategically-placed ballads ("Are You Sleeping?", "The Stars Look Down" and "Over Nothing?".) And that's just for starters.

"Let Me In" sounds like The Knack and "What's In It For Me?" co-opts some "woo-woohs" from the Stones' "Sympathy". The Gurus are collectively Oz music's most absorbent sponge, sucking up drops of influence from all over the place and putting it through their own musical masher to come up with songs that are unmistakably theirs.

There was a time (probably around "Crank") when the Hoodoos went diametrically in the opposite direction as some of their handlers would have liked. Painted day-glo by marketers as a kooky, Antipodean version of the Monkees, they got all serious and dark. Main songwriter Faulkner is still questioning his place in the world but "Purity" has a lighter musical, if not lyrical, touch. Like the best writers, Faulkner runs entwined threads of ambiguity and irony through most of his material so there's lots to ponder if you're so disposed.

Charles Fisher's co-production is deft and transparent without being thin, and Ed Stasium's mastering returns a familiar name to the credits. You can hear every nuance. The notes and spaces in Rick Grossman's bass-playing really come to the fore in this mix and Brad Shepherd's guitar-work is among his best.

I heard someone who's penned some pretty good songs himself say that the radio track, "Crackin' Up", is the sort of number Faulkner would write in his sleep. If so, pass him some more Stillnox. The track's a notch well above the solid teaser that big labels normally toss out there early to pique interest. With a whopping 16 tracks to chose from, they had lost of options and you could class "Purity" as a double album.

Bubblegum confection "I Hope You're Happy" has been adopted by an Aussie digital TV channel as its signature tune, and although that's like sacrificing a song on a ritual altar, let's hope the death is not in vain and it gets the band's return noticed. I'm over it already to some degree but there's plenty more songs to dwell on.

I'm still to see any reviews but I'll believe Keef Richards really has gone off the drink if one of them doesn't hail this as the comeback album of the decade. Truth is, the Gurus never really went away (the Persian Rugs were a holiday project) and this is pretty damn good. - The Barman


 

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MACH SCHAU – Hoodoo Gurus (BMI/Capitol)
So the Persian Rugs were a holding pattern and the main game, really, was getting the Gurus back in the saddle after a hiatus? Well I can’t fully buy that argument. The Rugs managed to produce one of THE albums of 2003, and were more than just a curiosity live. What I can accept is that they provided much of the momentum towards this reunion, their ranks containing all four of the band at one stage. And what’s also beyond dispute is that the Gurus are back with, if not the best album in their long and varied career - only time will tell on that score – then a very good one.

“Mach Schau” demands much from the listener, so consequently takes a little time to fully hit home. It lacks the quirky Nuggets sensibilities of “Stoneage Romeos” or the instant pop-rock impact of “Kinky” - and leans a lot on the big guitar roar of “Crank” for sonic impact. But the distinctive things that make Dave Faulkner a great songwriter remain intact. Check the layered lyrical nuances of the single “Nothing Changes in My Life” and the ear-for-a-hooky-melody-line in “When You Get to California” or “Dead Sea” (the latter as straight-forward a comment on religion as you’re going to hear this side of the first PiL album, although it’s doubtful Lydon and Co were an influence).

It is pointless playing Spot the Influence - there are way too many. Is it coincidence that the album title (German for “make a show”) stems from an audience chant from the Beatles’ earliest Hamburg club days? As the band members themselves admit every Gurus discs is a melange. What “Mach Schau” does sound like is very grown up, not in an affected or world-weary way, but like a band fully in control of what it does and secure in the knowledge it doesn’t have to deliver instant product for some faceless label big wig (as in “Where’s That Hit?”).

A few words about the production (co-credited to Kim Salmon and the band): It’s crisp, crystalline and big-sounding. This is arguably the best the Gurus have ever sounded. There’s a touch of Salmon’s last band, The Business, in the occasional special effects and those Herb Alpbert horns on “When You Get to California”. None of which are obtrusive. Dave and Brad’s guitars still roar and the bottom end has ample crunch.

One thing, though. The inordinate amount of dead air between “The Good Song” and the final track, the trippy “Penelope’s Lullaby”, had me scratching my head and the casual listener might not make it that far.

Winning tunes have to be the opener “Chop” (melodic bassline and sharp dynamics), “Nothing Changes in My Life” (which sounds one song pasted on top of another), “When You Get to California” (summery feel and great Faulkner melody) and “Dead Sea” (Moses rides in on surf drums).

Dunno how it was in your neck of the woods in the mid-‘80s but in Australia, the Hoodoo Gurus were the band that put feedback back onto the radio. Maybe there’s not as many style-over-substance, haircut bands sullying the airwaves today, but do we need them any less?The Barman

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