LETHAL WEAPONS - Various Artists (Aztec Music)
Music isn't like "Extreme Makeover" and a bit of cosmetic surgery like a hot masering job and attractive packaging doesn't turn an album that was the aural equivalent of Olive from "On The Buses" into Jennfier Hawkins. But "Lethal Weapons" isn't totally devoid of positives, and its place in Australian punk's historical scheme of things is important.
It's on Aztec so you know the packaging is pretty near perfection. The digital re-mastering process has also breathed fresh air into the sound. But before we go further, let's put "Lethal Weapons" into context. The project was a misguided attempt to marry major label muscle to new wave - in spite of its contempt for the mainstream. It wasn't the last time someone would try to package (one person's) idea of punk and market the shit out of it (RooArt label, anyone?) but it was the first in Australia, certainly on this scale.
The mastermind (culprit?) was a hustler named Barrie Earl (R.I.P.) who took his lead from Stiff Records in the UK. With Michael Gudinski's money on board, he assembled a disparate crew whose antecedents ranged from bubblegum punk glam (Teenage Radio Stars, JAB) to pub rock rhythm and blues (The Survivors, Wasted Daze) to nascent punk lite (The Boys Next Door.) That the "sign here, son, I'll make you a star" ethos was believable for about two minutes and everyman and his wife is still waiting for a payday 29 years on shows that fiction is stranger than truth.
Of the seven bands, relative success eluded all but Teenage Radio Stars (at least two of them in another guise) and The Boys Next Door (who mutated en masse into the Birthday Party.) The full story is in TJ Honeysuckle's excellent piece here, but let's do the reviewer's duty and sort the wheat from the chaff...
Teenage Radio Stars' "Wanna Be Your Baby" is a parallel of the Vibrators' "Baby Baby" (released a year before) but let's cut 'em some slack and say any theft was entirely unwitting and unknowing. It is a nice slice of glammy punk and a cut above the other inclusions "Sweet Boredom" (a bonus cut not on the original LP) and "Learned One".
If there are odd men out they're Wasted Daze who are a straight-up R & B outfit in the style of the Pretty Things. Their covers of "Mona" and "Roadrunner" so cut it but in this company are as incongruous as balls on a ballerina.
JAB's "Let's Go" is a tightly-wound punkish work-out with new wave keyboard washes that suffers (like most tracks) from thin and clean production. "Blonde and Bombed" is downright weird - cabaret punk meets spoken word cock rock - and not good.
"Baby Come Back" is a fine garage rocker from Brisbane's Survivors. "Mr Record Man" leaves behind an air of naive charm rather than a lasting impression, but both are among the best offerings.
Any resemblance between The Boys Next Door and their chemically-altered alter egos is entirely coincidental. That said, "These Boots Are Made For Walking" is power-popped-out punk with a frenzied crescendo that Nick Cave's presumably tongue-in-cheek "cha cha cha" closer can't entirely fuck up. "Masturbation Generation" likewise takes its time building to where it's going. "Boy Hero" turns out to be a bit of a zero.
Whether "Planet On The Prowl" is an accurate representation of the Negatives we'll never know. It's a brooding, moody plodder that's foretells, in some ways, singer Garry Gray's future band the Sacred Cowboys. It's OK but staying the course is a challenge over its six-minutes. Dark cocktail dirge.
X-Ray-Z sound like they'd been closely listening to Lou Reed's Everyman Band on their Australian supports. The overtly political "Three More Glorious Years" and the steady-as-she-goes "Valium" are chunky, hard-riffing street rockers. The songs are good, not great, which is the "Lethal Weapons" story in a nutshell. – The Barman
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