- Kelpies (Head Miles Records)
KINGSRDWORKS - Michael Carpenter and King's Rd (Laughing Outlaw Records)
S/T - Coronet Blue (Laughing Outlaw Records)
TURKISH DELIGHT - The Persian Rugs (EMI)
A ONCE AND FUTURE THING - Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence (Laughing Outlaw Records)
MORE JUICE - Adam Power (Laughing Outlaw Records)
MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE - Starky (Laughing Outlaw Records)
SKINDEEP - The Forresters (Tom Thumb Records)
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING COUNTRY ROCK'N'ROLL - The Re-mains (Croxton Records)
THE UNDERTOW - Sime Nugent and the Forefathers (D. D. Records)
SNATCHING DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY - The Aampirellas (Brainless Recording Co)
INTERSTELLAR MADNESS - The Meek (Illustrious Artists)
As far as the year 2003 is concerned, Oz Rock looks like it might actually be in a bit better shape than any of us have a right to expect, despite the continuing absence of any sign of that promised new record from the Celibate Rifles, the sad but seemingly endless (and inescapable) spectacle of "Australian Idol" and the disturbing news just to hand of yet another Cold Chisel reformation. Of course the year ain't over yet, but we're definitely in the home stretch now. The record shops are fast filling up with those repackaged "greatest hits" compilations containing that inevitable one previously unreleased track to suck in the real hard core fans and bleed the last few dollars out of their wallets, which is always the unmistakable harbinger of Santa's imminent arrival and once you've seen Santa, the new year can't be more than a couple of hangovers away.
In the meantime, here are a few typically unfocused ramblings about what I've been listening to lately and what better place to start than with some vintage Oz Rock...
Yep, the Kelpies generally get labelled as punk, but what I hear when I listen to this record is nascent Oz rock. Sure there's no denying that there's a strong punk influence (post-Pistols U.K. punk that is) and much of this recording is about as D.I.Y. as you can possibly get, but there's an emphasis on guitar riffing, perceptive lyrics and general song structure that distinguishes these songs and the band that recorded them from the general run of Ramones and Clash copyists and wannabes.
Let's not lose sight of the fact that these tracks were all recorded in 1981 and 1982. What we now think of as the classic "eighties Oz Rock" was still in its early infancy, still soiling its nappy in its cradle as often as not. These are not secondhand sounds that stem from what many now see as Oz Rock's "golden period", they are some of the sounds that helped to establish the shape and identity of Australian music in the eighties in the first place, got absorbed into it and contributed to its distinctive voice.
This album comes in at just over an hour and represents the Kelpies' complete recorded legacy. The tracks are derived from three sources. First up and accounting for well over half the tracks and almost exactly half of the running time here are what have become known variously as "The Dungeon Tapes", "The Kelpies Official Bootleg" and/or "Live At 51 Stanley Street".
Continually broke and forced to eke out a subsistence level existence on the dole, several of the Kelpies shared an old, rented terrace house in East Sydney, which became the centre of the band's world as the extent of their horizon contracted to the four walls of 51 Stanley Street, gigs evaporating in the wake of their growing reputation for precipitating audience violence at their shows. A reputation that, by the way, was overblown by at least fifty percent according to them (meaning that yes, there was a lot of violence at their gigs, but no, they don't reckon they directly incited any of it).
Unable to afford access to a rehearsal studio and increasingly constrained from performing live, they used their abundant spare time to line their basement walls with old mattresses, covered the ceiling with discarded egg cartons and then took to playing their live set there day after day to stay in practice. Having turned their basement into a home rehearsal studio, it didn't take much of a leap of the imagination to convert it into a home recording studio as well, by borrowing a cassette recorder and stringing up a couple of microphones from the light fittings.
This then is perhaps the true sound of punk, it is certainly the true sound of the Kelpies - young and keen and burning with frustration; playing not for the sake of fat record contracts, fame and fortune or even their fans, but simply for their own satisfaction in an otherwise empty room.
Ironically drummer Ashley Thomson told me recently that he subsequently met their poor next door neighbour, a law student just as impoverished as they were, and it seems that their attempts at sound proofing had been nowhere near as successful as they'd assumed. With no money to go out much either, the student had been forced to sleep and study in the adjoining basement and though he might have struggled to pass his university exams, within a few months he knew all the lyrics to all of the Kelpies' songs by heart...
Even if there wasn't a publican in Sydney with the wit or wisdom to comprehend what the Kelpies had to offer, there were a couple of independent label bosses capable of recognizing quality and originality when they heard it. The first of these to come into contact with the Kelpies was Aberrant Records founder Bruce Griffiths. Although he wasn't able to offer them an album deal during the band's brief existence, he did finance a recording session at Now Studios, where the Kelpies cut eight tracks - six of them more disciplined reworkings of songs they'd been playing for months in their basement and two newer songs, "Truro Murders" and "My Wall", both certifiable classics that demonstrate unequivocally that the Kelpies could have - should have - had a bright future if drugs, promoter and publican hostility, youthful insouciance and internal bickering hadn't fucked them up so comprehensively.
Griffiths included three of the songs from this session on the first of Aberrant's classic trilogy of compilations of Sydney bands, "Flowers From The Dustbin" (all three compilations were later reissued as the double CD "Go And Do It") - the aforementioned "Truro Murders" and "My Wall" and the equally memorable "Television", whence this current compilation derives its name. After the band's demise he also issued all the salvageable basement recordings as "The Dungeon Tapes".
The second indie label boss to be drawn into the Kelpies' orbit was Phantom Records' Jules Normington. This was a serious step forward for the Kelpies. Having gone from two track cassette home recordings to an eight track studio for the Aberrant sessions, this was a full 24 track studio session with extra money put aside for mixing (as befitted a label with releases by the Hoodoo Gurus and the Sunnyboys already to its credit).
The end results of this session, at Petersham's Sound Barrier Studio, were the two sides of their (as it turned out) posthumous Phantom single - "Take Me Away" (which also ended up on the Phantom compilation "Paths Of Pain To Jewels Of Glory") and "Second by Second". The third song, "How Can I Tell You", by circumstances still not completely clear to me, ended up on the subsequent Aberrant "Go And Do It" compilation of its previous compilations.
The reason for this release now is of course the recent one-off reunion show at the Annandale Hotel, but drummer Ashley Thomson has been the keeper of the Kelpies' flame for many years and it's no coincidence that he had these recordings already transferred to DAT, remastered and ready for pressing when the rest of band agreed that it might finally be the right time to let the Kelpies off the leash one more time. Anyone who hears these recordings will have good cause to be thankful for his perseverance. (Alternate review here).
It is said that even the longest journey begins with a single step, but the trek from the Kelpies' DIY home studio in East Sydney to Michael Carpenter's very professional studio in Five Dock would seem on the face of it to require a very large number of steps indeed.
Then again, maybe not. Decent power pop isn't much less "on the nose" these days than was the Kelpies' volatile brand of raw rock'n'roll music twenty years ago. Certainly a core of loyal enthusiasts will seek it out in small venues and independent record stores, but for some reason commercial radio doesn't play it and the big record companies won't release it. Or is it that big record companies don't release it, so commercial radio won't play it? I'm never sure which is the cart and which is the horse in that relationship, but no matter which one you put in front of the other you're still left with one of life's inexplicable mysteries (and the aural equivalent of junk food on the airwaves).
Michael Carpenter has a formidable reputation as a master craftsman in the studio, but the argument has been made in some quarters that near clinical precision and studio sleight of hand have tended to be favoured over passion in his previous solo efforts. However anyone who has ever caught him playing live, either in one of his regular appearances as a fully paid up member of the Finkers, the Pyramidiacs, Eva Trout or the Amanda Easton Band or sitting in as a guest muso on any one of a variety of instruments for one of the many bands he has produced, knows there's no doubting his ability to hold his own any time he cares to whip it out in public (oops, a bit of subliminal suggestivity happening here - former Scruffs/Wake Ups lead guitarist Matt Galvin is now a member of Carpenter's own live band and such are the mental associations flowing therefrom, every now and then my thought processes get ambushed by the memory of him in his "rock out with yer cock out" tee shirt at the Hoey last year...).
Anyway, can you believe then that I've had this Michael Carpenter album for about six months, but that this is the first time I've played it? What kind of a hopeless bozo must I be? I'm only playing it now because the Barman reminded me that our chums at Laughing Outlaw Records had made free with the review copy and he (the Barman) said he was wondering whether I'd somehow found it not worthy of a review (asked politely in that soothing, conciliatory tone he reserves for dealing with the congenitally stupid).
Frankly I cannot comprehend how this CD could have found its way anywhere except straight into the CD player once it had crossed my threshold, but perhaps I misplaced it in one of my periodic, misguided attempts to tidy up (and boy, do I ever need another one of those now following the massive search and destroy, er retrieve, operation that's been conducted over the past twenty four hours - there are bomb sites in Lebanon and Gaza that look tidier than my living room does right now!)
First surprise of the album was that "Kings Rd" refers to the street where Carpenter has his Stagefright recording studio. I knew he had his own studio, I just didn't know that the street it was in is named Kings Road. I'd been assuming that the band's name was a reference to the Tom Petty song ("I didn't know which way to go/I'm a new world boy on the old Kings Road"), since Carpenter has never made any secret of his enthusiasm for Petty's music (and though "Kings Rd" isn't actually a Tom Petty song, it sure sounds like he was roaming around somewhere in the building at the time).
Second surprise was the reason Carpenter gives in the liner notes for forming the band. After a series of truly solo albums, the previously mentioned studio only affairs where he played virtually every instrument, he says he felt the only way to take his music further was to involve others and that while he did comparatively little this time (mostly rhythm guitar and some percussion), it sounds as much like him as his previous solo efforts, more so even.
Next surprise (and the biggest of all) is the diversity. Sure, through his connections with all the bands he's played in, continues to play in or who have simply passed through Stagefright's doors to record their own albums, Michael Carpenter could get gigs on consecutive nights for several weeks running without playing the same instrument twice, let alone the same song, and his solo work has always featured a rich compendium of classic pop and rock influences. He has always had a good ear for perfect pop, but you could also make the accusation that all that time working on his own projects alone in the studio might have left them a bit too self-focused and picture perfect... and hey, I'm repeating myself and suddenly the picture I've got in my mind involves that damn tee shirt again.
It's easy to make accusations of pop over perfection now of course. No one was saying it when those earlier records came out, but then we didn't have this one to compare them to. Carpenter has a clean image and always gets a clean sound (and you sense that there aren't too many empty beer bottles and sticky pizza boxes lying around on the studio floor after he's finished a session). There are still those heavenly harmonies, there are still lush arrangements and it's all still very deft pop, but this album has also got a bit of bar band roughness to it. They sound like they'd be more than happy to step out of the studio and mix it with the locals down at your local.
There's a slow slide into new territory from song to song and I fully expect that in the not too distant future this album will be seen as having been a key transitional step for Carpenter. Starting with the lush, characteristic Hollies-meet-ELO "Nothing In the World", we slip from that into the Pettyish slow southern style of "Kings Rd" and then to the decidedly country "The One For Me". Next there's "Here It Comes" and it sounds briefly like we're back in Hollies and Byrds/Petty country again, only it's the Byrds' of Sweetheart of the Rodeo country rock country this time, not the Byrds' of jingle jangle pop... and so on. I know Carpenter is keen to speak at last with his own voice, but who would have guessed that it might have a slight drawl?
While Carpenter is no longer playing pick the source games, or at least not so overtly, references to his musical heroes still abound in his music, because they are part of the fabric of his existence, as they are part of the fabric of everybody's existence as well (at least those who aren't going through life with cotton wool stuffed in their ears). Only what's of interest here is not the references that you hear, but the references that you don't. For a start, what you don't hear on this album is the radio friendly superficiality of the likes of the Gin Blossoms, Presidents of the United States of America or (gag) Matchbox Twenty.
On top of that, there are riffs and fills that don't appear to be references to anything that's gone before, that therefore I am assuming are completely original and cut from the whole cloth of Mr Carpenter's own musical invention. I'm going out on a limb here of course. There would probably be a lot of power pop that's slipped quietly under my radar over the years, while I don't expect that there's much that Carpenter would have missed.
Since power pop is guitar pop and these songs have a pronounced guitar thrust, I'll crawl further out on that limb and suggest that some of this new found sharper but rougher edge must be down to the aforementioned Matt Galvin, whose power pop resume goes back as far as the Barbarellas. Aside from working with Carpenter in Eva Trout and being recorded by Carpenter in the Scruffs (a.k.a. the Wake Ups), Galvin has been a combination guitar slinger for hire and general loose cannon around town for years, working with everyone from the trans-national Orange Humble Band ("the Travelling Wilburys of power pop" as someone once labelled them") to local heroes the Whitlams.
Clearly Kings Road is no one-way street! Ultimately though, it's still Carpenter who's behind the wheel of this bus and steering it out onto the highway. Whether it's the wistful "Home Again", the urgent, aching "Can't Be All You Need", the anthemic "No Way Out" (oh my god, is that a banjo in the background?) or the rollicking "You're So Alone", there's a depth of feeling that lifts these songs out of the ordinary. Maybe Carpenter hasn't yet reached the stratospheric heights of the likes of power pop cult icons Big Star and the Replacements, but on the basis of this album that could very well be where he's headed.
So as Michael Carpenter bursts out of one studio, John Rooney and Anthony Bautovich barricade themselves into another (actually I'm cheating a bit here as I've had this album since last year, so they were already well ensconced - in a variety of studios as it turns out - long before there was any sign of the road works starting in Kings Road). Modern studio maestro Mitch Easter then got involved (there's a connection to Bautovich via the Orange Humble Band), further recording took place in Australia and in several studios in the U.S. and voila, a modern pop classic.
Coronet Blue is the name of both the record and the band, for in truth they are one; the band apparently having no existence outside the studio. Not that that's something that's going to concern you once you have a listen. The album opens "Mission Bell", a certified killer power pop classic - or it least it would be if radio could be bothered to play decent pop music (but I've already had my daily demented rave about the state of commercial radio, so I'll shut up and content myself with chewing on this leather restraint instead).
Rooney and Bautovich are responsible for all but two of the songs, either together or separately with other writing partners (mainly Messrs Miller and Watson, though I have no idea who either of them may be). "Particular Kind Of Girl" is the work of the mysterious Mr Miller on his or her own while Darryl Mather, another Orange Humble Band alumni (and the other "DM" in Australia's power pop Pantheon), also contributes a song ("Something You Can't Miss" - a Someloves cover).
Despite the presence of so many Orange Humble Band participants (Jamie Hoover on bass is another one), Coronet Blue is no Orange Humble Band clone. For a start, Mitch Easter seems to have been given his own way a lot more. At least I'm assuming that's why there's so much would be guitar hero wankery from him in place of the leaner, cleaner guitar lines of the OHB.
Unfortunately they made what I think is a significant tactical error when they decided to put the tracks in the order they have. The opening quartet (the aforementioned "Mission Bell", "Brightest Flame", "Black Angel" and "Particular Kind of Girl") is all really punchy, but too many of the songs that follow are lighter, so the intensity feels like it's dropping away. In fact "Mission Bell" is by far the strongest song on the album, so there's a sense of anticlimax right from the beginning. Only "When Will Your Love Be Mine" really comes close to reclaiming the peak achieved by "Mission Bell".
This is not to say that those later songs don't have anything to recommend them. Shit, a double negative; what I mean is that some of those later songs do have their good points. Well, maybe not the sub-Eagles "So Many (Mystery Song"), which I find bland and entirely disposable, but certainly "Auf Wiedersehen" (probably the ballsiest song outside the opening quartet, even if it is over burdened with a superfluous proto-cock rock guitar solo in the bridge), "Fool In Love" (far more apposite application of the guitar), "The Spell" and the countryish "After Passion" are all easily enjoyable and of course there's Mr Mather's melancholic, monumental "Something You Can't Miss".
With a running time of 63:44, there's plenty to choose from. As it turns out, this album was originally recorded in 1998 and was Laughing Outlaws first ever release the following year (I just read that on the internet, so it must be true, but I do wish I'd known it when I started writing this review). It turns out that this copy is a re-release with five bonus tracks from the original session (though it seems the songs on this album were constructed from so many sessions that it must be hard to determine which one was the "original session").
Presumably the bonus tracks are the final five, but I can't say for sure - it all sounds pretty consistent to me (subject to the preceding carping comments of course). On the other hand, "Tonight" does sound like it could have been another "Mission Bell" if they'd spent some more time on it, so maybe it's a "leftover" even if some groups would kill to for the chance to put out something this good.
All of which leaves one (this one anyway) wondering now whether the OHB connection actually came first, or whether the Bautovich/OHB relationship came later, as a result of this. Either way, since it turns out it's now five years old, it's a pity they never took Coronet Blue any further, but then how long has the pop world been waiting for that third OHB album too...?
You'd think that there would be a simple segue from the melodic but crunchy pop/rock of Coronet Blue to the melodic but crunchy garage pop of the Persian Rugs. Unfortunately, although I bought their newie at one of their gigs a couple of months ago, I still haven't played it yet. You see, these days I do most of my listening via the CD-Rom in my PC and unfortunately this CD comes with the record industry's latest attempt at piracy protection. Now I'm no pirate, but the first time I stuck the CD into the CD-Rom drive it tried to install who knows what shit on my computer and I'm just not having that.
I have always practised "safe computing" and I don't allow anything to be installed on my PC unless I am 100% sure of what it is and what it's going to do. Given that the record industry's attitude to the average punter has always been an unpalatable combination of unrestrained greed and aggressive contempt, I am far from convinced of its good intentions, its competence, its fairness, its integrity, its corporate morality, its programming standards or even its collective ability to colour in without going over the lines.
At that gig the new tunes did sound pretty good, but I was also forcibly reminded of just what a magnificent piece of work "Here She Comes" is. So I put "Turkish Delight" back on the shelf, dug out the "Mr Tripper" E.P., stuck it on single track repeat and listened to "Here She Comes" a dozen times instead. (Alternate review here).
No such concerns with the Puberts' "A Once And Future Thing" of course. While this music may befuddle your mind, there's no way it's going to harm your hard drive.
I'd guess that every band that gigs around town for a year or so and then goes into the studio to make a self-financed record hopes that it's going to turn out this well. So then, should the first question be "How did the PBFO get it so right?", or should it be "How come most other bands can't make a first record that sounds this good?". Well, technically the first question was what should the first question be, but that doesn't get us far, does it? No, don't answer that, it was only a rhetorical question.
Last year when I reviewed the Grip Weeds' "Summer Of A Thousand Years" (also on Laughing Outlaw Records - are these a series of unrelated coincidences, or is there some secret agenda being played out here?), I asked whether there was any point in making an album of sixties inspired music when the sixties decade produced so much great, authentic "60s music" of its own. I guess I'm just full of questions (or full of something anyway, since I only gave them three and half Rolling Rocks - I now think it should have been at least four and a half; I fucken love that record!).
"A Once And Future Thing" is virtually the English equivalent of the Grip Weeds' homage to proto-hippie San Francisco (only the PBFO isn't from England, but then the Grip Weeds weren't from San Francisco either) and like the Grip Weeds' album, this album is not just pastiche or retro-revivalism, it is a continuation and an extension. It's like the Puberts collective clocks stopped some time between Christmas and New Year's Eve 1967 and when everybody else moved forward into 1968, they simply stayed behind...
Only they didn't of course. The PBFO consists of legendary X guitarists (the real X, not the later yank band of the same letter, er name) Steve Lucas and Geoff Holmes, New Christs (and now Radio Birdman) bassist Jim Dickson and Baddies drummer John Butler; a quartet with over a century of combined rock experience and wisdom behind them. There's no juvenile naivety here, but they've still got more than enough youthful enthusiasm to wear out a crowd of music fans half their age.
The album opens with Revolver-era Beatles meeting early Syd Barrett-driven Pink Floyd in a cover of "Eight Days A Week", only Rick Wright couldn't make it so they've got Ian McLagan sitting in on keyboards instead (and yes, before you start asking, I do know that "Eight Days A Week" is actually much earlier and comparatively more primitive than anything on Revolver, but after hearing this version you'll find you're starting to entertain a few doubts on that score - I know I did).
If "Eight Days A Week" sounds like a lost Revolver outtake, then "Sleepy Jan" sounds like the Monkees trawling through "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" looking for something to put on their Syd Barrett tribute album, while various Hollies and Small Faces wander through the studio and Roy Wood keeps loitering around suspiciously near the engineer's console.
Oops, that's two Syd Barretts in a row. Perhaps I'm being a trifle misleading by invoking his name twice in succeeding paragraphs, but this album does often echo that same combination of pop, psychedelica and slightly disturbed whimsy that you hear in very early Floyd. But wait folks, that's not all! In fact I could go on like this for hours, raving incoherently about the sixties overtones in these tracks (and I haven't even gotten around to invoking the Traffic, Kinks, Move, Easybeats and Pretty Things influences I reckon I hear yet), but that's not why I've been finding myself playing this record fairly constantly since I got it.
The reason why you keep playing this record once you've ticked off all the classic pop/psych references (or at least once you think you've ticked them all off; from time to time you inevitably find yourself spotting something you've unaccountably missed on the previous several hundred spins), is that the quality of the songs themselves is both high and remarkably consistent. As they say on their web site, the contents of the "Fridge" are cool!
Even if you think you just feel like hearing one or two songs, once the CD starts playing you get sucked into Pubert's seductive world and before you know it you're hearing that song again, because you've let the CD play all the way through without realising it and you've come back to where you started via the voodoo magic of the "repeat" function. Having said that, I feel I must single out "The Ice Cream Song" for particular mention. Guest vocalist and now apparently permanent band member Rebecca Hancock positively wails on this, giving it an extra dimension that hadn't been there when I had seen the band performing it live before her arrival (and it was already my favourite song without her).
Then of course there's "Love Is A Virus", coming at you out of nowhere and sounding like Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel collaborating on something for the Bonzo Dog Band. What about the Kinks' dedicated follower of fashion bumping into the well respected man about town and the two of them hitting the skids together and getting stuck into a "Bottle Of Gin", you ask? Yeah, that too, but stop - there are eleven tracks on this album and they're all impressive. I've said that already. Don't make me have to come down there and repeat myself. I'd much rather be sitting here, repeating this album instead. (Alternate review here).
Only I can't, because there are still quite a few unreviewed CDs buried in the disorganised pile that I shamelessly refer to as "my record collection". This Adam Power CD for one. Judging by the recording dates on the last page of the liner notes, this is what you'd call a long term proposition - the earliest tracks date back to May 1997, while the latest are from February 2002.
Initially I thought this must be some sort of compilation culled from previous albums and EPs, but apparently not; or at least not quite. Eight of these tracks have indeed previously seen the light of day on two obscure EPs ("Under The Influence" and "Bridges"), while the other four tracks are new for this album. However "new" is a relative term - while three of these four new tracks were recorded in February 2002, the fourth newie dates all the way back to December 1997. Even the three tracks from the "Bridges" EP have disparate recording dates - two being May 1997 and the third being March 1998.
You see, Adam Power (and needless to say I'm suspicious that this might not be his real name, but if it is then never was there ever a more perfect name for a power pop artist!) is a solo, unsigned artist (or at least he was until Laughing Outlaw decided to put this record out) and like all solo, unsigned artists, finding the time and the finances for recording is very much a fleeting proposition. As if that weren't hurdle enough to have to jump over, you can add to his woes the fact that he comes from Queensland, a state where the local music scene is even more indifferent to power pop than Sydney or Perth.
At the beginning of the opening track, "Under The Influence", Power sings, "I fantasize 'bout the 60s way of life", the whole thing sounding eerily like a mid period Beatles outtake (but you can definitely hear Paul McCartney going solo from the next track onwards). Only this is no rose tinted reverie. Later in the same song he refers to "A life of persistent knockbacks" and clearly he's well qualified to speak of these from personal experience.
How fortunate he has been then to fall into a long term working partnership with Michael Carpenter, at whose Stagefright studios all these songs were recorded at various times over that five year period. Between them, Power and Carpenter also play all the instruments, except for some strings on two songs and the bass and drums on the title track.
Definitely a labour of love, but then clearly Power shares many of the same passions as Carpenter.
Even then, it could so easily have ended up just an earnest and well meaning pastiche of solo Macca (or Sir Macca as he is now) meets Badfinger (though it does sound like the Hollies have crashed the session on "Winston Jones" and surely that's the Beach Boys on backing vocals on the closing "Milk Lady"...), with more than enough authentic sounding Beatlesque arrangements to make Jeff Lynne green with jealousy. What lifts this album up out of that category is the guitar work, which on occasion has a surprisingly raw and dirty edge reminiscent of the sound that so many of the sixties bands lost so quickly once they started spending more time in the studio than on the stage.
Sure it's easy enough to note the guitar on tracks like the straight ahead rocker "Fact Of You" and the decidedly Kinksy "TR2", where it's right up the front, but it's on the lighter, more melodic tracks that it really makes its mark, giving the songs some extra punch and providing a strong backbone for what is otherwise fairly dreamy sixties pre-psychedelic pop. All in all, another winner for Stagefright and Laughing Outlaw, but just in case no one at Laughing Outlaw thinks we notice these things, I have to note that pages two and three of the lyric sheet are reversed, "persistent" is spelt wrong in the lyrics to "Under The Influence" and someone has left the leading "k" off "knackered" in the lyrics to "Face In Time". So there.
However the power pop doesn't stop there. Laughing Outlaw has taken yet another step toward total global power pop domination with this release from Starky and boy, they haven't stinted on the packaging either. Laughing Outlaw CDs have always come with elegant but economical packaging, graceful without being grandiose, but the booklet that comes with this CD seems to unfold forever. I swear you end up with something over three feet wide by the time the whole thing is fully laid out (and if you're like me, you sense immediately that you're never going to be able to get it to fold back up exactly the way it was...). Strangely with all this space available the lyrics are corralled into just two panels and they're in such microscopic print that you risk getting a headache trying to read them all at one sitting (and to think that people are always telling me that it is something else that is going to make me go blind!).
You can't blame Starky for any of that though. Even if you wanted to, I think you'd be too busy being knocked flat on your arse by these songs to make much of a cogent complaint - I certainly was. I'll be honest and confess that I haven't been paying much attention to Starky over the last couple of years. They're part of Sydney's loose power pop clique, but based on previous passing acquaintance I'd always had them pegged as being up at the lighter, fluffy end of the pop spectrum.
That has turned out to be a serious misjudgment that this CD rectifies with considerable gusto. Right from the ominous opening bass thump of "Get Up" you're in no doubt that there's going to be loads of muscle and gristle in what's about to come down on you. It doesn't let up a whole lot either. There's a nod to the angry young men of generations past in the title (and attitude) of "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", but Starky certainly don't take their own advice in "Cool It", while "Girl Talk" sounds like the Clash and the Vibrators jamming on an Elvis Costello song they've only half heard through the walls of their rehearsal room (it's not an Elvis Costello song though). Shit, we're not even half way through and I've already worked up a sweat!
After the frenetic "That's How I'll Know You" there's a brief respite with the melancholic "Tabards" before the energy level soars back up with the disco cum hip hop themed (I kid you not) "Breakdance Glove". Have no fear though, the lyrics may allude to the likes of the electric bugaloo, but the tune is pure power chords and real drum beats. "Complicator" is the other slow and moody number, but faster and louder than "Tabards" - this is the sort of thing that could end up giving power ballads a good name (and it's your last chance to catch your breath before the end of the album).
The last three tracks sound like some idealized Countdown hit parade, or at least like the Countdown hit parade would have sounded if even one person connected with that programme hadn't had his head jammed so firmly up his freckle. I'm talking about "Theme From High School" (hmm, high schools feature in the lyrics of several Starky songs, should I make something of that?), "City Prison Doors" (gratuitous Clash grab or heartfelt homage? You decide!) and "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah", which reminds me more than anything of You Am I jamming with the Scruffs (or Wake Ups as they were re-christened avoid conflict and confusion with the U.S. band of the same name); it's that same slightly garagey, slightly Kinky take on the early Beatles sound and by early I mean just off the boat fresh back from Hamburg (but are they making some sort of political statement by adding that fourth "yeah" to the title? Sigh, the mysteries just never end).
This is power pop at its meatiest and I can't help noticing Rob Younger's name on the production credits, which doubtless has something to do with it. Chief song writer Beau Cassidy tends to be all over the shop lyrically, but musically Starky definitely have got the goods. That also has something to do with it; a lot to do with it in fact. (Another review here).
Interestingly, the other name on the production credits for '"Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre" belongs to Wayne Connolly and that name also appears on the Forresters' "Skindeep". In case you've been wondering what Anthony Bautovich has been doing with his spare time since Coronet Blue (and the Orange Humble Band), then here's your answer.
Probably the strangest thing about this Forresters album is that it is not a Laughing Outlaw release, because it has everything that Laughing Outlaw usually go for in terms of hooks and harmonies - lush, sweet vocals, lots of tinkling and chiming from up at the top end of the percussive sound spectrum (not so much "bells and whistles" as bells and triangles) and plenty of hip thrusting power pop guitar (there's that Matt Galvin again!). It even leans a little in the direction of "alt.country" in places. You'd think that someone from Laughing Outlaw would have jumped on Anthony Bautovich the moment the album was finished and wrestled the master tapes off him before he was even half way out the studio door.
The tracks are all Bautovich originals, with the exception of two collaborations, one with John Rooney and the other with the shadowy Mr (or Ms) Watson (a re-recording of "Fool In Love" from the Coronet Blue album), which makes me think that the Bautovich/Rooney track ("Rescue Me") might have been intended for a second Coronet Blue album (if it was an outtake from the first one, then surely Laughing Outlaw would have slipped it on to the Coronet Blue re-release along with all the other bonus tracks).
Comparisons with Coronet Blue are inevitable and I have to say that this stands up very well. There's no single killer riff-monster like "Mission Bell", but the album opens with "Are You Ready", as clear and pure a piece of power pop as you could wish for. I gather this was the promotional single for the album, although I don't know if they really pressed up some actual, physical singles or if this was just a pretence agreed with a few radio stations in order to get some airplay. Either way, it sure deserves all the exposure it gets.
Next up the Forresters go head to head with Coronet Blue via the "Fool In Love" re-recording, which is seriously beefed up compared to the original, the Cars-lite riffing of the former submerged under some heavy duty guitar (several of them in fact) and a gaggle of those deep sounding, honking saxophones that Roy Wood seemed to like so much on the early Wizzard singles (you know the ones I mean: "Ballpark Incident", "See My Baby Jive", "Angel Fingers"...).
Then it's on to what at first sounds like a late sixties lost pop classic ("Outtamyhead"), with traces of Herb Alpert's brass jostling in the background with that swirling country fair organ sound that always reminds me of the early Band albums until the song gradually slides into alt.country territory before the decidedly country "Tremblin'" comes along to show us what country is really all about, even featuring Charlie Owen on the dobro (but this is certainly no Tex Perkins/Working Class Ringos wannabe trip), along with a cast of seemingly thousands on strings and brass and backing vocals (though Bronwyn Mulcahy's vocals are really a duet, like she and Tone have got a Gram and Emmylou thing going).
By this time you've basically heard all that the Forresters have to offer (yep, even the "fademaster" bonus remix of the title track right at the end - no nasty techno sting in the tail here I am relived to be able to report), but we're not even half way through the album yet and there's plenty of diversity along with lots of country rock and all the usual power pop influences and then some to come ("Wake Up" even has the loose white boy blues feel of the early, pre-Satanic Majesties, Rolling Stones).
On the pop side, I guess Teenage Fanclub would be the closest reference point, but as the album progresses and the direction leans more towards country, proceedings develop an elegant melancholy I tend to think of as "heartache lite", especially "Missing You", "Don't Leave Me Down Again", "What You Want" and "God Willing", although "Rescue Me" is an out and out rocker which recalls the Flying Burrito Brothers while leaving me wondering what it might have sounded like if it had got the Coronet Blue treatment.
The title track (either version) is the standout tune of the album's second half, but "Rescue Me" is a real grower. The Stones took "Honky Tonk Women" and went country with it, ending up with "Country Honk". "Rescue Me" sounds like a song that's gone the other way, something that might have started out in the country, but has gone big city rock in a big way.
Which then brings me neatly to the Re-mains and "Thank You For Supporting Country Rock'n'roll". Danger, danger Will Robinson. This Re-mains record has the word "country" in its title and it opens with the unmistakable sound of a banjo. Was I right to be so very afraid?
Well no, not really as it turns out. True, I have little time for "traditional" yank style whiny country, I'm bored by bluegrass and the new, sleek "contemporary" country of Garth Brooks, Dwight Yokel and the like (including "our own" James Blundell) strikes me as nothing more than the saddle sore equivalent of bubblegum pop (Shania Twain is just an older Britney Spears with more malleable/less plastic tits - at least I think they're less plastic).
However there is also an Australian country tradition that speaks with its own voice, rather than paying obsequious lip service to Nashville (and without sinking into tedious bush ballads either!). It's a mixture of Weddings, Parties, Anything's pioneering "garage folk" (pre-the sickly "Father's Day"), the Johnnys' irreverence, Nick Cave in fire and brimstone pentecostal preacher mode, the darkly belligerent blues of the Beasts of Bourbon, the Bamboos' poppy cowpunk and the Working Class Ringos' desolate but still defiant post-"Beggar's Banquet" style of rural rock'n'roll.
The Re-mains fall neatly into this tradition, without being copyists of any of the above. Even if this album didn't contain the apparently autobiographical, apocalyptic, nearly eight minute "History Of Flies" (with its "dark star shining on the innocent and the depraved" and its tale of "a rock'n'roll band that descended into madness and misery"), which documents an interstate tour plagued by calamities of near biblical proportions, there would still be plenty of interest here to tempt fans of more orthodox rock'n'roll.
Other songs of particular note are the unashamedly straight out rocking "Gold Wig", the Dylanesque "Sick Sister", the cynical, scornful "Day in the Sun", the alternatively earnest and mildly piss taking "In The Wake Of Britney Spears" and "Hot Blood", which sounds like a young Bruce Springsteen covering an obscure Stones outtake from around the time of "Tattoo You", the Stones' final dead cat bounce when just for a few minutes it seemed like the old corpse might have had some life left in it after all.
On a side note, I have often joked that if you merged country and rap, you must inevitably wind up with crap. Now with the Re-mains' "Folk Singer Blues" I guess the joke's on me. Yep, "Folk Singer Blues" is a rap song with a banjo backing. Very novel I am sure, but even despite some pertinent political comment and wry social observations, I don't think I'll be playing this track as often as some of the others on this album.
Speaking of political comment, young Simon Nugent seems to have one or two pertinent issues on his mind... This album from Sime Nugent and the Forefathers was in a package of review fodder that the Barman flicked over to me the other day. I'm not quite sure why, because this sure ain't what I call rock'n'roll. I believe it's what people who claim to know such things are calling "roots" music these days.
Back in the dim, dark and distant days of my youth, "roots" music was what was playing on the eight-track while the surfer guys were trying to slip the surfer chicks a length of pink tubing in the back of their Sandman vans, but now it seems to mean a combination of updated folk balladry, naive, "traditional" country and non-Dylan acoustic singer/songwriter styles, which nevertheless owes more to the likes of the Kingston Trio, the Band, Jim Croce and Gordon Lightfoot, with an added dash of the Guthries (as much Arlo as Woodie), Tom Waits and (my particular favourite) Danny O'Keefe, rather than to any particularly venerable musical tradition. Frankly, I thought something had to be a bit older than the fifties and sixties before you started calling it "traditional", but then what do I know?
Yeah, all well and good you say, but what's it like? Well, it's pleasant enough. Despite its antecedents it's not particularly American; it's not particularly Australian either, at least not in its tunes. As a style, it's a blank page onto which the songwriter can inscribe whatever he feels like, so that can be as Australian as you like (or at least as he likes). I guess if you're going Australian then Paul Kelly is going to be your main reference point. Lean even just a bit toward country and you end up with Dan Brodie, Matt Walker and the rest.
Oh God, now I can hear a banjo in the background.
By strange coincidence, this album also has a song called "Here She Comes". Nothing to do with the Persian Rugs song of the same name, but it does happen to be the liveliest and most up tempo song on an album that's very earnest, but doesn't otherwise work up much of a sweat. Not really the sort of thing I listen to much from choice, but part of the rich tapestry of sound that is Australian music nevertheless.
Finding a suitable segue from Sime Nugent to the Aampirellas is an all but impossible ask, so I'm just going to steam straight ahead into the gap and start talking about them. Like this...
The Aampirellas have an enviable reputation up north, particularly for their live shows. Being based in Brisbane means that they don't come down to Sydney all that often and in fact I've only ever seen them playing live twice, once at the Green Square about two and half years ago (not long after they'd settled into this line up as it turns out) and last year up there straight after the Radio Birdman show (they were playing at the pub next door, so they'd put back the time of their gig so they could catch Birdman as well, which meant they also caught a good cross section of the Birdman crowd still too fired up to be thinking of going home yet).
I've previously described their music as "light vocal pop floating on a sea of raw and dirty punk that had a strange under taste to it, like chewing on sugar coated rusty nails". I'm not sure what I'd been drinking at the time, but as I listen to this album it sounds like the dirty punk base has been cleaned up quite a bit, while that sugar coating has rubbed off those rusty nails, leaving you with a mouthful of iron oxide and a need to schedule a visit - sooner rather than later - down to the nearest outpatients for a tetanus shot.
And the light vocal pop? Well aside from "Wasted" and the lilting "Devil's Song", it sounds like poor old pop's left town and he's taken ma with him. Cop an earful of singer Trixie Quickdraw's splendidly sweet girl pop vocal delivery of the decidedly anti-girl pop lyrics on "Wasted" - "It makes me sick, to think I gave a shit... Don't call me when you need someone to fuck, 'coz I'm not your slut (and you're not big enough)". Not exactly the Chiffons or the Shirelles, but there's no doubting that it gets its message across just as effectively.
Calling the Aampirellas' sound punk was really a misnomer though; this is more "roots rock'n'roll", by which - let me hasten to add! - I don't mean rockabilly, early Sun and Elvis or anything else in that vein, whether sporting the original slow southern drawl or not. What I mean by "roots rock'n'roll" is music deriving its inspiration from the primal screams of Little Richard and Chuck Berry, but in the Aampirellas' case owing as much to the likes of AC/DC, the Powder Monkeys and (here's a thought) the Groundhogs (and maybe even Thin Lizzy, snug in that special niche of theirs wedged between Hard Rock and "British Metal") as to the Stones, the Stooges and the MC5, although "Grand Times" wouldn't have been out of place on the BellRays' "Grand Fury". Sure Trixie is no Lisa Kekaula, but then neither are most other female singers either and Trixie is sure adept at surfing the sound wave spawned by the Aampirellas' twin guitar attack.
It's always hard to pick highlights out of a really consistent set, but aside from those I've mentioned already I'd also have to nominate the sorta Stooges meets the Scientists "Leave It At Home" and the raucous "Goin' Nowhere", though on the strength of this little lot, hopefully the Aampirellas are goin' at least somewhere, if not everywhere, rather than nowhere! (Reviewed again here).
When you get to the end of a lengthy list, it is traditional to say, "...and last, but not least..." and I am happy to be able to report that never before in the history of western civilization have those words rung so true as they do right now. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating just slightly, but the Meek finally have delivered their long promised album and it more than lives up to expectations. The Meek may be last in this extended round up, but they are far from least (and maybe it's finally time for them to inherit the earth).
It's nearly three years since the first time I saw the Meek playing live, supporting Challenger 7 at the Green Square. They were pretty rough around the edges at that time, but every now and then the music came together in a furious fusion of driving rhythm and desperately delivered lyrics that leapt out of the speakers and into your face, just as the band themselves seemed about to spring off the stage and into space to take on the audience.
This album is a twelve tracker, containing the three songs from the preceding promo ("The Chase", "Domestic Bliss" and "Questions Overhead" - well, it wouldn't have been much of a promo if the songs on it weren't also on the album it was promoting, now would it?), plus nine other stalwarts from the current live set, like "Walking In The Wind" and the brutal but enigmatic "Big Chicken". This record captures the band tight and sharp, but still as raw and intense as they can be live when the three of them are seemingly locked into a single mindset and the music and the inspiration are both flowing. At times like that, you can see that the lights are on and everybody's home.
With your headphones on these songs come crashing into your ears from point blank range, sounding part punk, part Oz/Detroit and part amphetamine fueled cosmic boogie; think "Interstellar Overdrive" condensed down to a couple of minutes and performed by Space Ritual era Hawkwind for a Motorhead tribute (no, don't ask me why Hawkwind would be recording a non-Motorhead song for a Motorhead tribute when they haven't even thrown Lemmy out of the band at this point, so there is no Motorhead yet to pay tribute to - I've got the fever now and I'm in no mood to stop for some tedious explanation!).
Opening track "Matchbox" is the perfect introduction to both the Meek's music and their slightly skewed world view. You hardly see anyone using matches any more. These days those who haven't been browbeaten into giving up smoking all seem to prefer cheap and featureless disposable lighters, but clearly main Meek lyricist Reuben Shipp still remembers the simple elegance of the old "Redheads" fondly ("I got a girl that's hot tonight... You make me sweat with your long hot tongue") and this trips off a chain of mental associations on that and related subjects. Of course Bryant & May have long since closed their local factory and now most matches are made in China ("I'm by The Wall when nature calls", Reuben comments cryptically), but perhaps it's all "just a smokescreen"?
Nope, there's no smokescreen here as far as I am concerned. This record begins exactly as it means to continue and the verbal and musical mayhem doesn't let up. Neither does the sense of urgency. Reuben's lyrics are not so much light skeletons on which to hang the meat of the music as anxious communiqués from some distant front line, despatches from the trenches where happy holidays can easily turn sour, a treasure map leads you not to riches but a public toilet and the mythical message in the bottle turns out to be nothing more than sentimental rubbish.
However one thing that these songs sure ain't is feeble or tentative (well, actually that's two things, but these songs ain't either of them). Whether it's the driving but fairly straightforward boogie of "Fool's Choice", the decidedly sinister "Pretty As A Postcard", the out and out malevolence of "Accidents" or the cosmic confusion of the title track, the Meek never go at it at anything less than full tilt, so it's wise to ensure that any loose items are safely stowed in the overhead lockers, tables are properly secured in front of you and all seats have been returned to the upright position before we leave the ground (even if, as Reuben sings ominously in "Accidents", this "won't bring your white knuckle ride closer to perfection").
If the Kelpies were the raw, authentic sound of the eighties, then the Meek are the raw, authentic sound of the naughties, but don't just take my word for it. As Reuben also sings in "Accidents", never fall from grace, take a leap of faith instead! (Also reviewed here).
So that's it then, a nice round dozen. Actually it should have been fifteen, but there are three M.I.A.s.
First of these is Tex Perkins' latest, the name of which escapes me just at the moment. Having caught Tex in concert a couple of times this year, I have to say that the new songs in the set sounded great. However I had an unfortunate experience (financially) with his last album.
You see, I went to the album launch for that one and bought the album straightaway, supposedly at three dollars off as an album launch special. Only then it turned out that all the stores were selling it at the same price, at least for the first couple of months, after which they knocked a further three dollars off the top. Meanwhile there was a single with several unreleased songs and outtakes as bonus tracks. I guess it goes without saying that I bought that straightaway too. Not long after that the album was re-released with the single as a free bonus disk, the whole package selling for three dollars less than the price that I paid originally for just the album. That price only lasted a couple of months of course, after which they knocked the whole package down a further couple of dollars.
This time I decided to be smart. This time I decided to wait until either the price came down or else there was some sort of bonus disk. Needless to say, neither of these events has happened yet, but I'm still hangin' tough. I sure wouldn't mind having the album, but I'm keeping my sphincter clenched and I'm not going to bend over and let them ream me again.
The second M.I.A. is the first album by local Sydney band Peabody. They've been around for a few years, but I hadn't seen them for some time. I just saw them the other night at some FBi/Non Zero Records promotion at the Hoey and they impressed the shit out of me, but after I bravely elbowed my way through the tightly packed crowd (don't you just hate it when your clothes end up drenched in sweat and it isn't even all your sweat?) to get to the merchandise desk, it turned out they didn't have any Peabody CDs left to sell me...
The third M.I.A. is the Angie Pepper newie "Res Ipsa Loquitor". No excuses or aspiring to be amusing anecdotes about not having this one. I guess I just took my eye off the ball. I'll have to try to do better next year. - John McPharlin
1/2 - KINGSRDWORKS
1/2 -CORONET BLUE
0 - TURKISH
DELIGHT (but 5 beers for "Here She Comes"!)
- A ONCE AND FUTURE THING
1/2 - MORE JUICE
1/2 - MIRROR,
3/4 - THANK YOU FOR SUPPRTING COUNTRY ROCK N ROLL
1/2 - THE UNDERTOW
1/2 - SNATCHING DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY
3/4 - INTERSTELLAR MADNESS
TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR