MAKE YER OWN FUN - The Monarchs (Shock)

You might recognise Monarchs leader Brad Shepherd as guitar-wielder for the Hoodoo Gurus, one of Australia's finer commercial success stories of the 1980s and the band that put guitar back on the mainstream airwaves. Or you might recall him as Chris Masuak's understudy in the Hitmen, one of the best Detroit-orientated jukeboxes to do the Oz pub circuit. Or, if you're a afficinado of Australian punk and have a longer memory, you might recognise him from Brisbane's smoking noise commandos, the Fun Things. After hearing this album, you're going to think of him as one of The Monarchs. No contest.

This is the best Australian release of the year so far, shading Asteroid B612's opus "Readin' Between the Lines" and streets ahead of any other contenders. Put simply, this is heartfelt, honest-to-goodness, Rock Action with lashings of pop smarts. The Monarchs may only have been around a few years and have put in less miles than some of the above-mentioned bands (a reflection of the number of rock venues around in the 00's more than anything else) but "Make Yer Own Fun" is a well-rounded, fully-realised effort. And, for the most part, a lot of fun.

There's more than a shade of the Gurus here (a couple of songs actually having been rejected by that band - a mark of the strength of material produced by that band's main man, Dave Faulkner, rather than a negative). Like the Gurus, these Monarchs know the value of a good hook and catchy chorus - no more evident on a cut like "Nobody's Perfect" - and like the Gurus, The Monarchs are a musical sponge, unashamedly grabbing bits from all over the place. There are lashes of dodgy Oz pub rock, Detroit grime, acid psych and '70s metal poking through the mix. No mere pack rats, the Monarchs manage to make the spare parts their own.

Still on the spare parts analogy, what's a real rock album without a song about cars? "69 Monaro" fits the bill: Taut guitars and a chick chorus that's a perfect homage to the premier Down Under muscle car. This is a tune that reaks of burning rubber and black GT stripes. I look forward to hearing it constantly blaring out of the speakers of a thousand hoon-mobiles at traffic lights this summer (instead of that fucking stupid "doof doof" music).
"Loud" is just that. The band's first single, "2001", is here in all its word salad glory and, as good as a taste that was, it's by no means the strongest cut. That could well be the bombastic "Amen, Brother", with its infectious chorus. Or "Give It Up For the Band", the smartest dumb song I've heard in many a month. "I'm On Drugs" is nasty rock, done like the Hellacopters might wish they could.

The Greg Hitchcock-Brad Shepherd Guitar Show might be the main attraction (and they cook up a storm) but there are some clever lyrical moments, too, throughout to keep you thinking ("Satan's in my pocket/And he's shouting you a drink" in "For One Night" springs to mind). Murray Shepherd on drums and Andy Kelly on bass are no slouches either (love a mix with lots of bottom end).

Diverse as this album is, it all hangs together well. A nod for that must go to producer Cameron McCaughley who's managed to bring a warmth and live feel to this album. The odd studio effect (phased outro on "Yer Moving On", crowd ruckus on "For One Night") adds to the package, rather than distracts.

The diversity is no more evident than on "Stalker Waltz", which marks the halfway point. It's a bizarre ditty, ostensibly about the sex life of a TV weatherman who must remain nameless. Also out of the rock fast lane is the closing "Unimaginable", a deeply-personal song that cuts to the quick and leaves a lump in the throat. All looped noises and treated vocals, it wouldn't be out of place on a "White Album"-period Beatles release.
You can keep your Scandi pretenders - these vets are the REAL rock Monarchs. Can the kids handle Real Rock these days? I want it to be the case - let's hope the label does too and puts some real push behind this, 'cos it's too good to sink without a trace in the black hole of some Sanity/HMV chainstore. This is truly the soundtrack for an Australian summer. - The Barman