FISTED ART - The Moodists (W. Minc Productions)
Call it insularity, label it preoccupation with my own backyard or say it was just typical Harbour City arrogance, but most Melbourne bands scarcely crossed my radar screen in the early '80s. Without offering excuses, there was a lot going on musically in Sydney. You barely had to travel outside your own suburb - let alone state - to see or hear something that would bend your ears and rock your world for weeks on end. Melbourne was Dull City. It could have been a whole planet (and football code away) and many (most?) of us couldn't give a rat's arse what was going down in the Town of Trams.
A decade later, I started catching up and appreciating the southern capital for what it is, but one act I never found time for were the Moodists, who were long in the past tense by then anyway. Now at this point I could bullshit my way through (a la Clinton Walker, surely Australian rock writing's ultimate revisionist) but that'd be boring and more than a tad disingenuous. Fact was, the Moodists seemed to make more headlines for being the Darlings of the British Rock Press - just like their contemporaries, the self-obssessed Birthday Party - and that was enough to piss off someone who was living (in his mind's eye) in a musical suburb of Detroit. Truth be known, my locality was nowhere near Michigan and the Moodists were starving to death in "glamorous" London squats, because you can't eat reviews. I had the Moodists pegged as the Birthday Party's little bruvvas, when a good listen would have shown them to be related, but also on their own trip.
This generously-appointed, double-disc retrospective set gives me and anyone else the chance with half-open to set things straight. It shows the Moodists to be as dark and intense as the rest of the Seaview Ballroom set - but blessed with a wry sense of humour. Propelled equally by Chris Walsh's phenonemally chunky bass and Clare Moore's magnficent back beat, theirs' is a sound that was part-Suicide, part Velvets, part stripped-back '50s rock, part something all their own making. Steve Miller's guitar scrapes and sandpapers its way through thunderous chants about dead birds ("Six Dead Birds") and bad attitudes ("Frankie's Negative"). And the multi-faceted presence of Dave Graney on vocals and leather bodice was a factor no other bands could match.
Disc One lays out the best of the Moodists' recordings, much if not all of it unfamiliar to these ears. Disc Two culls some live material from the archives of Sydney trader Murray Bennett. I love a good bassline and Mr Walsh is all over this. Fans of Dave Graney's various incanrations will find his stylistic roots (and distinctive vocal phrasing) stripped bare. It's all brutal and barely contained, like the best of the Scientists' mid-period songs but with a different dynamic in the rhythms. (It was fitting that Kim Salmon joined the re-formed band in 2003 for selected shows when latter-day line-up second guitarist Mick Turner of the Dirty Three wasn't around. "Swingy George" could have been a Scientists song.)
The jazzy dirge, "Thirsty's Calling", might be one of the best-known songs but unsurprisingly it's the more visceral tunes that do it for me. Whatever the earliest stuff lacks in production, it seems to stillpack the most potent kick (the rollicking "Boss Shitkicker" aside). David Nicholls' liner notes tell you all you need to know.
Managed to catch the Moodists on a reformation show to launch Feel Presents'
"Tales From the Australia Underground" compile and they went off a
treat. With no more shows on the horizon, this set will have to do for now when
the mood's right for a doze of angst. -
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