INTERSTELLAR MADNESS – The Meek (Illustrious Artists)
There are two types of rock and roll bands in Sydney. Those that you can easily classify and The Meek. Well, not quite. That read like a Jon Landau line and there are a handful of other bands in the same weird zone. But what do you call this? Dysfunctional Punk-Psych? Agitated Pop? In the end, it doesn't matter what you tag it. It really does rock in a quirky way.

The Meek deal in trippy, stream-of-consciousness lyrics with ultra-edgy vocals and a fractious guitar edge. Drummer Reuben Shipp handles vocals with Gary Lockhart (bass) and Phil Ashbrook (guitar) co-conspirators. Together, they make a frantic, off-kilter noise. The songs are collaboratively credited and lyrically dense (the CD slick includes the words - so you can sing along or just scratch your head and wonder).

I probably haven’t caught them live often enough (twice, I think) to say much sensible about them in that context, but on disc The Meek are unhinged enough to stand out from the pack. Rhythms are relatively orthodox – we’re not talking the stop-start-change-direction of Beefheart or Nunchukka Superfly – but vocalist Shipp sounds like he’s riding some psychically rough seas. If you’re a lyrics person - or a shrink - you’re going to have wonderful times soaking up what he has to say. Phil Ashbrook’s guitars are full-throated, heard to best effect on “Pretty as a Postcard” or the discordant “Accidents”.

“Domestic Bliss” rides a riff that sounds remotely like “Suck My Kiss” but that’s where the Red Hot Chilli Peppers resemblance (I feel so unclean writing that) ends. Lyrics like: “Yeah I’d rather have you lined up and shot by soldiers than have the masters paint your blushing portraits. Bodice ripping” put it beyond doubt. “Matchbox” sounds like a frenetic ode to the receptacle for something a bit more mind-altering than little wodden sticks with phosphorus heads, while “The Chase” sounds like it’s more about using someone as opposed to something. It rides a bassline reminiscent of the New Christs’ “The Black Hole” before summoning up some shredding guitar.

You want irony? Here in spades in “Rock This Tribute”, drawing a musical long line from Oz pub rock but able to be read any way you like it in the lyrical stakes. The closer is entitled “Interstellar Madness” and if it’s a theme song for the band or a Saturday morning cartoon, someone definitely put too many magic mushrooms in the breakfast omelette.

Pressed for a musical comparator I’d call on Ann Arbor’s Mazinga, sans the surf overtones. Both bands share the same sense of manic attack and love of sci-fi artwork. Of course neither’s probably heard of the other, which makes it a safe call from which no party can derive offence. They share a similar liking for Japanese sci-fi inspired artwork too...

Production is sharp and shared by Russell Hopkinson and the band. Bigjesusburger in Surry Hills was the venue and continues to live up to its rep for good results from modest budgets. If there’s one criticism it’s that the jagged edge of these tunes tends to sound a little samey over the distance of a long-player. Not to the extent that it should deter you dipping in for a listen. - The Barman

John McPharlin's alternate review is here.



3/4


PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY - The Meek (3 tracks, 8:20)
INSIDE OUT - The Accidents (2 tracks, 5:12)
BAD BLOOD - Rebecca's Empire (4 tracks, 17:47)
I LOVE ROCK AND ROLL - X (5 tracks, 15:57)
Well I'm inching ever closer to the Meek's "Interstellar Madness" album. First it was an mp3 of "Questions Overhead" in the Bar's Sound Lounge, courtesy of label Illustrious Artists, now it's a promotional three tracker containing "Questions Overhead", "The Chase" and my current favourite Meek song, the bent blues of "Domestic Bliss", courtesy of distributor Reverberation. Oh yeah baby, bring it all on!

Apparently Meek sponsor and longtime supporter Russell Hopkinson feels that I've been blaming the Meek unfairly for the delays up to now, but I can assure you, as I have assured him, that nothing could have been further from my intentions. As any fan of the independent music scene knows, when it comes to getting a record out everything takes longer (and usually costs a lot more!) than planned - just ask any band who's ever booked a record launch only to encounter "delays" at the pressing plant when they turn up to collect the actual disks.

All the indications are that it's going to be well worth the wait though and the end is almost in sight (even if this promo does say "August" and I'm now told that the release won't be until early September). In the meantime I've got this to be going on with, even if you haven't. Here's a taste of what you're missing.

This promo starts with "The Chase" and "The Chase" starts with a bass riff that briefly recalls the Dr Who theme before things "explode into space", to borrow a phrase from vintage Steppenwolf, leaving behind a trail of destruction "getting bigger in every way", to borrow another phrase - this time from the Meek themselves. "The Chase" is what you'd call a cosmic boogie, part "Interstellar Overdrive", part "Space Truckin'", part (a large part) original rock riffage and all in only a shade over two minutes. It positively rips along and like vocalist Reuben Shipp, "All I want is to cut to the chase..."

Next track is the aforementioned "Domestic Bliss". At 3:51 it's something of an epic by Meek standards, but then there are a lot of "issues" to be worked through. "I'd rather have you lined up and shot by soldiers/Than to have the masters paint your blushing portrait", Reuben sings as he paints quite a picture of his own. It's a story that's completely timeless and so is the music, which ranges from Yardbirds-style rave up with an added touch of proto-Led Zep guitar to Hendrix inspired garage (take his covers of standards like "Come On" and "Johnny B. Goode" as a starting point and then move forwards from there) and even a hint of the latter day Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

The third track is "Questions Overhead", but you don't need me to tell you about that - you can download it right now and hear it for yourself.

The Accidents are another band that is taking things one step at a time. This single is actually intended as a promo for a forthcoming EP, which presumably is intended then to lead in turn to an album. The title track, or "A" side I guess I should call it since it's a single, is an energetic rocker that's not quite crisp enough to be labeled power pop, not quite sludgy enough for grunge nor simple or sparse enough to fit in easily amongst the current crop of garage revivalists, though you can certainly catch echoes of "all of the above" as you listen. Such genre nonconformity may seriously delay their appearance on the front cover of the NME as next week's new rock icon, but it doesn't make it any less listenable for those who don't need to have their music choices validated by someone else first.

Kicking off with some energetic skin work from drummer Looch, apparently in the grip of an overwhelming attack of the Clem Burkes (and I'll wager you wouldn't suspect from listening to this that he's actually spent far more years playing guitar than drums), "Inside Out" comes rushing out of the speakers at you like a horde of punters storming the bar when they realise that happy hour is about to finish and the drinks will then double in price. That thought would turn me inside out too, though of course this song is actually about the trials and tribulations of lurve as it turns out...

Despite being labeled "demo", second song "Wrap It Up" doesn't sound in the least incomplete or unfinished, although it is a little more subdued. This is much closer to orthodox power pop and features a choppier but cleaner guitar sound, reminding me of the Jam at times. The simpler production (more You Am I than the Green Day meets Living End overstatement of the "A" side) also works in its favour. Different song, different beat, but once again lurve seems to be at the heart of it.

You probably don't know who Rebecca Barnard is, but if you do then doubtless you'll be asking yourself why on earth one of her records would be reviewed here, especially one that's several years old. Well just recently I was searching (in vain as it turned out) through my CDs for something else when I stumbled over this EP and it all came flooding back to me.

You see, I heard this song before it was recorded and it was fucking great. This was at the Emnore Theatre and Rebecca's Empire were the support act. All I knew of her was the "Way Of All Things" single, which was getting plenty of airplay at the time but was hardly the thread from which the fabric of "rock action" dreams is woven. As expected their set that night was pleasant enough as it progressed, without setting anyone's world on fire, then towards the end of it they threw in this song, which she said they'd only just written and weren't sure what to do with. I was absolutely blown away.

Fast forward some months and there's "Bad Blood" in front of me in a record shop. Not only that, this record contains three different versions of the song! Obviously someone down at the record company knew what to do with it alright. Holy shit, have I ever been waiting for this. Money changes hands instantly and I can't wait to get home and play it. And then I do... I think it's fair to say that not since I'd bought Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue", getting on for two decades previously, without knowing that it was a collection of country covers, had I been so disappointed when it came to sitting down and listening to my latest music purchase.

That great song I once heard is still there, but only as a faint memory - if you listen hard you can just detect it buried under the disco poots and farts and all the rest of the pompous, portentous production. Only where it had been a solid slab of rock, ominous and rancorous and maybe even a bit mean, now it's gone all thin and soft and touchy feely in a hairdresser's big night out kind of way; I sat down salivating for steak and I'm being fobbed off with watery gruel and a piece of underdone toast gone cold. To add insult to injury one of the other versions is labelled a "disco mix", as if the opening track wasn't disco/techno/spasmo enough already.

The third version is just acoustic, though to my ear it tries far too hard for Tamworth. I think we'd have all been better off if it had stuck to a more generic post-Dylan singer/songwriter style, so that makes it three strikes in a row. Oh and in case you're wondering what the fourth track is, it's a cover of Noosha Fox's "Single Bed". I always thought that song was completely trite and disposable and this version doesn't seem to be a comedy send up or the slightest bit tongue in cheek; maybe I'm wrong, but if I am I'm still not laughing.

Shit I'm glad I've finally got that off my chest after all these years, but so that I don't end proceedings on a sour note, how about a few words on the subject of X's "I Love Rock And Roll" to finish off? Yeah, I know our erstwhile Barman has already reviewed this (in much timelier fashion), but here's a few extra words for the slow learners (from one of their own).

X have pulled off one of the greatest sleight of hand tricks of all time with this EP. The trouble with bands releasing "classic" material twenty odd years after their original heyday is that usually you end up either with weaker songs left over from the original sessions (rejects in other words) or else with misguided attempts to artificially recreate the original atmosphere by musicians now alienated from their younger selves by age and decades of defeat and disappointment.

What X have done is to come up with a song they used to play in "the old days", but never got around to capturing in the studio, two songs from the same period, which they did record but apparently have always wanted to have another lash at, and a further two songs which were begun in those halcyon golden days but never completed to a point where they could be recorded... until now that is.

Of course the material is important, but it isn't everything; what you do with it when you've got it is crucial. What X have done with it is to capture it raw and unrestrained in their Clubhouse studio. Just listen to Steve Lucas out Noddy Holdering Noddy Holder on "Where Did I Go Wrong" for example - if that isn't live then I'll kiss Kylie Minogue's arse (actually if the opportunity ever presented itself after a couple of drinks I'd probably be prepared to put lips to buttock for her anyway, but we don't need to go into that now).

Some musicians age gracefully, others age disgracefully; 25 years on, X don't seem to be aging at all! Compare this with "Live At The Stage Door Tavern" or "Live At The Civic Hotel" (1978 and 1979 respectively) and it's not just the same sound, it's the same night - an eternal, continuous sweaty night of hot rock action on an evening when any city could be the rock capital of the universe if the right local band was having a good night (and when X were playing it usually was a very good night in Sydney). - John McPharlin


1/2 - The Meek


 

- The Accidents

0 beers - Rebecca's Empire (but maybe some sort of coloured lolly water fortified with cheap spirit and sold in an overpriced bottle with an odd shape and a wanky label)



- X

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