Share DIG FOR PLENTY - The Little Murders (Off The Hip)
Terms like "best songwriter in Australia" are absurdly subjective and if you ask a yuppie or a broadsheet critic their opinion, the closeted dears invariably throw up Paul Kelly's name. Snore on. Let's be subjective anyway and put it right out there for you to debate: Play "Dig For Plenty" and tell me Rob Griffiths isn't a murderously great songwriter (pun intended), matched maybe by Dom Mariani in the pop-rock stakes.

"Dig For Plenty" is rolled-gold, rock and roll splendour, no two ways about it, so put away generic descriptions like "mod"; they're all redundant anyway these days. I don't care if you ride a Vespa or drive a VW, you're lacking a pulse if you don't love this album.

These are great songs and Griffiths has a band to match them. Vocalist Rob Griffiths goes back to the late '70s, when he was an English expat looking for kicks in the punk scene. Out of that energy and a search for stylishness came the original Little Murders. This is their first all-new album in 25 years, spurred on by Griffiths putting together a line-up to support a Paul Weller tour a few years ago.

It's fair to say that Little Murders were always regarded more as a singles band than a producer of albums, but "Dig For Plenty" should balance those books.

Griffiths has been through many versions of Little Murders but surely none better than this. Lead guitarist Rod Hayward (of Dave Graney's wonderful Coral Snakes among others) adds sting that might have been lacking in the past. His interplay with rhythm guitarist Bruce Minty is a winner and suits Tony Robertson's hugely melodic bass playing. The drum stool's shared on this recording by Mick Barclay and Duncan Hamilton.

Griffiths' vocal has that streetwise English twang and he happy to play on it at the right time. It's made to sing pop-rock songs. No need to dissect his lyrics here but they're mostly about girls and having a good time. Which, when you get down to tin tacks, is classic pop stuff.

So you slip "Dig For Plenty" into the player. The first three songs work like a devastating combination of fast left and right jabs before a knock-out punch. Most bands don't waste an anthem as the lead-off track but that's the story with "For You". Rod Hayward's guitar adornments come to the fore and hang off a killer chorus. "Pretty Penny" has a short build to a classic harmony.

"Rock Academy" is a little rawer and no less wonderful, and then they throw in the Anglophile pop of "Roxy (I'm Digging Your Scene)" with its Emma Peel references and couplets rhyming "leather" with "love you forever" and "be together". Some withering guitar and a chorus to take you out and it's time to throw in the towel. Song of the Year. No contest.

That's the peak but you'd be unfairly calling the balance a low-point. The high standard is maintained through jaunty rock ballads ("Girl What's On Your Mind?"), chiming pop ("Solitaire"), a vaguely country-folkish detour ("Bad News") and a tour de force in closer "Velvet (Get Out Of Bed)".

This one's driven by a repeating guitar figure (not dissimilar to the one in Sonic's Rendezvous Band's "Song L") and an undertow of dissonance, matched to what sound like lyrics about being knocked flat by depression. There's a note of redemption via love in the words and another big chorus before it all falls apart after nearly six minutes. Stylistically, it's totally at odds with the pop nuggets that make up the rest of the album but that doesn't mean it's not effective. Live, this could close the set-proper before the encores.

I tried not to rave about "Dig For Plenty" so shoot me, I failed. All that remains is for you to invest in a copy and play the shit out of it. - The Barman


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STOP PLUS SINGLES 1978-86 - Little Murders (Off the Hip)
Little Murders were/are from Melbourne. This is a Sydney perspective - so here goes: The Mod scene around the Sussex Hotel was a closed shop. It's probably true that the Oxford Funhouse crew, the Grand Hotel punks and the rather more varied crowd that followed X were every bit as insular. but that's not how it looked at the time.
But I come to praise Mod, not to bury it.

The soul and beat-derived music its bands played wasn't any different to the powerpop that swept around the world via labels like Bomp in the '80s - which should be no surprise as everyone was drawing water form the same well. And on the strength of this collection on Off The Hip, Little Murders were wielding a bucket as well as anyone at the time.

Much like the music of the US of A, Australia would be screwed if not for the Brits. Whereas in America, the Limeys (we call them Poms) came, saw, conquered and went home having irrevocably changed the course of popular music, a hell of a lot of them settled here. Little Murders' Rob Griffiths was one such traveler who convened a thrashy Melbourne combo named Fiction. Cue a change in direction - towards the music of the Who and the Jam - add the involvement of fledgling Au Go Go Records mover and shaker Bruce Milne, and Little Murders came into being.

Powerpop champ McDonald told me often enough but I didn't realise until I heard this collection that Rob Griffiths is up there with Dom Mariani and Jeremy Oxley as songwriters. Gems like "Things Will Be Different", "High School" and "After The Fire" stellar examples of tough guitar pop that anyone working in that space would be proud of..

So why didn't Little Murders conquer the world (or at least the Antipodean corner of it) back in the day? That'll remain a mystery although the built-in redundancy of the crowds they reached out to partly answers the question. Which isn't to blame the band who set out to grew their fanbase with later line-ups, but it's just how it was.

Twenty-seven tracks on this collection - compiling the "Stop" LP on Au Go Go and various single tracks - show the story could have been much different. Most of it sizzles and rocks with an infectious enthusiasm that's impossible to deny. Griffiths is droll one minute, up-beat the next, but sings like he means it. There have been three more albums by various line-ups since "Stop" and this release restricts itself to it and the late '70s and '80s output, but I'd bet Griffiths hasn't lost it.

The single, "Things Will Be Different", won't be a stranger to most people and it's still the early line-ups' finest moment. The album version with its syncopated intro and the rough diamond 7" are both here, book-ending the collection.

Excuse the perception that Melbourne back then was an arty and/or grim musical place but "Trouble With Love" sounds more authentically beat-pop than it's entitled to be, a slice of the early '60s airwaves that's been bottled and let loose in St Kilda. "High School" borders on new wave and would have been comfortable sitting in with the "Countdown" crew, had a big label been canny enough to pick it up and take it home. Alas, many are called but few are chosen.

This is one of the best Aussie retrospectives of 2009. - The Barman

 

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