Share SEE YOU IN HELL - The Resignators (Care Factor Records)
The inbox pile of discs in need of review towered above me; a rickety construction threatening collapse and ruination. I was abased. The dustbin gave me knowing winks but I told it I was made of sterner stuff. I will review them all. For the New Year, I had launched into a strict regime of writing a five hundred word review everyday and then jumping to the next disc. I would avoid catastrophe and work that pile down. This review, however, got out of my hands pretty quickly and has turned itself into a bit of a monster. Disappointingly for the band, very little of it actually concerns the Resignators. (Well it does but they won’t see it that way.) I tried just jumping in and giving you the story straight but, by the time I had added a few whys and the wherefores, I found myself scratching out an essay. Not a great essay, I know, but one that will hopefully explain why I am not frothing at the mouth about the recorded output of Australia’s self confessed hardest working independent band. If you just want the skinny, the Resignators are a better than average modern Ska band borrowing way too much from the Melbourne’s Seventies pub rock sound of such acts as Jo Jo Zep and the Sports. The album is fine but don’t expect to catch the milkman whistling the tunes. The real bad news for the band is that I have seen it all before and I’ve seen it all done better. Want to know more? Read on.
In a nutshell, I could have just ripped this band a new arsehole and be done with it. The average I:94 Bar reader couldn’t give a rat’s bollock about a Ska Band from Melbourne. Have a look at the surrounding reviews and you’ll find little by way of comment on the subject. A new release from The Resignators hardly fall into the category of a lost Radio Birdman album. Rather than write them off on that score alone, I decided I’d meet the band half way and judge them in terms of their own genre. Surprisingly, that lowered my estimation of them enormously.
In what is sure evidence of the terrible psychological dangers involved in its consumption, there are an inordinate number of white people who take a toke on a joint and suddenly think they are Jamaican. (Younger victims of this syndrome often think they are gangster rappers ‘straight out of Compton’ but that is another story for another day.) Worst case scenario with these Nuevo Rastafarians comes when these affected individuals aspire to become musicians. A couple of Primary School trumpet lessons can be a dangerous thing. These poor creatures have found Jah and believe they have suddenly manifested a soul deep root attachment to reggae in all its forms. Claiming that, after a mere six weeks, hair cleans itself, they forsake shampoo and start growing dreadlocks you can smell from three suburbs over. What is strangest about this wide spread affliction is just how few of these wayward suburban boys actually manage to spot that reggae (and ska music in particular) is a form of dance music.
When I use the term affliction, I am not referring to those who make the music. No, dear friends, what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is of no concern to me. I am not here to kick the diseased whilst they are down. It is when they inflict the produce of their malaise on an unsuspecting public that I am forced to address those shortcomings. The din produced is the affliction to which I refer. Worst offences are created by those who (never actually hearing original recordings by original artists) have tried to cop their ska influences through West Coast American ska punk. (I believe there is a sub-genre called “Ska core” but, if I used that term outside of inverted commas, I would feel the need to beat myself up for being a tosser.) Must I point out a certain Sydney based outfit who believe the addition of heavy metal drumming dramatically improves the heavy, heavy monster sound? I laughed out loud when they spoke about the authenticity of their music. If they’d talked about creating their own thing, I’d say fine but don’t ask me to listen it. It’s when they start talking roots that they raise my hackles. This music is best served by sparseness and a lightness of touch. Baseball bats are not necessary to beat any point home.
Some will point out that the flirtation between punk and reggae is long standing and a certain amount of hybridization is understandable. In actual fact, rock had already had its filthy hands over reggae long before Don Letts took his box of scratched up forty fives down to the Roxy club. The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton had worked hard to embarrass themselves in the mid seventies with not only musical stylings but also peculiar vocal inflections. (Dig Mick Jagger’s vocal performance in “Luxury” on the “It’s only Rock and Roll” LP and cringe.) In New York, Patti Smith and Television had more successfully appropriated chopped guitar strokes into the mix without taking on the form in total. However, even they came perilously close to cabaret calypso at times.
However, by 1977, “Punk Rock Reggae” was an established battle cry on the streets of London. The Clash’s reinventions of “Pressure Drop” and “Police and Thieves” were a one way love affair that didn’t exactly set the Trenchtown charts aflame. Junior Murvin no doubt said “thank you very much for the royalty cheque but don’t bother sending me a copy of the disc because you dumb white boys sure fucked that song up”. In Kingston, record producers looked forward to some paying jobs across the Atlantic but there wasn’t a rush release of any Jamaican punk on Trojan Records. Still, the Clash created something new, danceable and enjoyable and others took note. Stiff Little Fingers wrote an original in the style, the superb “Johnny Was”. Everyone and their pet puppy tried to record a dub b-side from Generation X on down. And that list plumbs some depths. I could name names but that would mean ending thirty year friendships. You know who you are.
Now, that’s not to say some interesting things didn’t emerge from the mix. The triumph of the Clash’s “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”. The sheer bloody minded perversity of ATV’s “Love Lies limp”. The glorious genre bending insanity of The Slits. Okay, it’s a short list but it goes to show that it’s not always a bad thing when two cultures clash.
Besides, throughout the Seventies, Jamaican Reggae had been changing away from the poppy Ska and Rock Steady sounds of the Sixties. At the Lyceum in London, Bob Marley reached for the twenty seventh verse of “I shot the Sheriff”. The music slowed. Heavy dub reverb sent pot smokers chasing sounds between speakers. Bands played two hour sets made up of three songs. Bass lines seized control and everything else hung off them like spider web decorations. I remember seeing the Clash at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park, London. Support band Aswad played for what seemed like centuries. Civilizations rose and fell. Glaciers formed and melted. The patience of several thousand people was sorely tested. Between bands, the crowd continued to wait as, back stage, the dutchie was passed first on the left hand side, then the right hand side and finally on the left hand side again. Red of eye and short of motivation, the Clash finally emerged to play a set so turgid and tepid it was virtually impossible to believe they were the same band that had once wanted a riot of their own.
The lefty college crowd, of course, thought they knew how to do things better. You’ve met them. They always know how to do something better. It’s not as if the proletariat can be trusted with anything; let alone dance music. They set up their Rock against Racism gigs and made pretty damn sure the Rock was kept to a minimum. Just a bunch of students in boots and braces being good little socialists until they got real jobs in banking. They formed their little bands and badly appropriated sounds and pretended to be “groovy”. In Australia, you could point to Men at Work as the absolute nadir of this kind of thinking. Is there a better argument for the death penalty.
Then came the pretty white boys in search of a buck. There were good pop songs and there were bad pop songs. You either like Culture Club’s “Do you really want to hurt me?” or loathe it but it does retain a kind of authenticity. Blondie’s “The Tide is High” features Debbie Harry and is of course beyond reproach. Meanwhile, in between saving rain forests and hoping Russians loved their children, Sting and The Police vanillaed the living shit out of the sound up and made a million. “Roxanne” is a crime against humanity. Do I hear any argument? I thought not. If the Russians did love their children, they would have kept the wall up and sent a KGB death squad to terminate the prat formerly known as Gordon Sumner CBE.
UB40 pretended to be more authentic, laid claim to superior musical ability and merely came off as boring art school wankers jumping on the nearest available bandwagon. Next time you are driving down the middle of the road (a bad enough place on its own), listen to their abominable versions of “Red Red Wine” and “I’ve got you babe” and see if you don’t feel a sudden and overwhelming urge to neck up. Office music for office people. Tunes to photocopy your arse to at your work’s Christmas party.
Ska, meanwhile, was having a reinvention all of its own. A lot of people hear the term Mod and immediately imagine parkas, scooters and the Who. Well, the original Mods didn’t really have much time for bands like the Who because they were considered to be just another pop band. The real Mods dropped shit loads of speed and they danced all night. They were off at discotheques dancing to Tamla Motown, old school black R and B and peculiar little Jamaican imports like Millie Small’s ska version of “My Boy Lollypop”. As time went by, the scene splintered. While Carnaby Street turned to flower power, many others cut their hair increasingly shorter, continued taking speed and dancing all night. Oddly, whilst the latter’s politics shifted towards right wing Nationalism, the music of choice was Island bound.
In the past, the thing that always made a great musical scene was a hothouse of great singles. Look at those Nuggets albums or the Do the Pop compilations. Any collection of 1977 punk is just winner after winner. Merseybeat, Brit Pop and even Grunge had their hot summers of great singles. And so did Ska. Far from the watchful eyes of music journalist, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and the Harry J All stars kept the hits coming. An insistent beat drove themes drawn from Gangsters Movies and Spaghetti Westerns and left a treasure trove of cover versions to fuel the two tone revival. I urge anyone who has read this review up to this point to just pick up a compilation album of this stuff. Try a disc called “Roots of Reggae II” that’ll cost you all of ten bucks and your dancing shoes will thank you.
For most people, that late Seventies revival is where the sound becomes familiar. On a backlog of well chosen covers, Madness and the Specials had hit records just waiting to happen. It didn’t take much for the sound to move overground. The Ska Revival (like punk before it) had a genuine street level audience just waiting for the bands to happen. These bands, when they came, were also specially blessed with strong song writing skills that added kitchen sink British themes to the mix – a bit of added Ray Davies if you will. In Madness’ case, they managed to hide tales of alienation and drudgery behind wacky costumes and videos. Love them or hate them (television loved them), a trail of number one records followed. But even in these glory days of two-tone, most of the bands on the circuit either had a single decent song or just plain sucked. The Beat, The Selecter, The Dolly Mixtures, Bad Manners? At the end of the day, who gives a fuck about their recorded output? What should concern the Resignators is the simple fact that each and every one of those also ran bands made better records than they do. Is there anything in their repertory as exciting as, say, minor hits of that era like “Lip up Fatty”, “On my Radio” or “Mirror in the Bathroom”? Well, judging by “See You in Hell”, there isn’t. And let’s face it. I wasn’t asking much.
By 1985, time had moved on. The bubble burst and the music returned to the underground or cabaret variety turns. There was a bit of a revival out in California but, to be frank, none of it took my personal fancy. I really would like some aficionado to argue the point but, as far as I can tell, nothing exceptional came out of the scene. The musicians just added more thump. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were okay in an over insistent and overly produced kind of a way. No Doubt had their moments (but most of them were far from the genre we’re discussing now.) Look, I’m not asking musicians to keep to a rule book of sound and structure. That would be ridiculous. I’m asking that the changes made are improvements to a genre and not a masturbatory indulgence. Acceleration is not the only tool at a musician’s disposal. But now that I have lowered the bar, is there anything on “See you in Hell” that is as good as “The Impression that I get”? Well maybe the Resignators are about as good as say “Where’d you go” (and how’s that for damning with faint praise.)
Fortunately, Melbourne band “The Resignators” are not as terrible as I make them sound and certainly not as terrible as they could be. They’re a tight band, having played 400 gigs including international tours. Their press release tells us that their deportation from Heathrow Airport is the stuff of music business legend but I have never heard of it and a cursory internet search provided no real details. It must be some kind of legend in their own lunchbox.
Even though they exhibit a certain tendency to hit everything too hard, they retain a certain pop and dance sensibility throughout their new album “See you in Hell”. Unfortunately, these sensibilities fail to become anything concrete. It’s simply just too heavy for its own good and it squarely aims at a target audience of lads. I guess you could describe it as a fun album by a fun band if you wanted to be lazy. If, however, you live by the motto that anyone who doesn’t know how to dance doesn’t know how to fuck, you’d be better off finding different playmates.
I would like the band themselves to answer this question honestly. If you have a copy of the “Harder They Come“ soundtrack album and you have a copy of your album, which one would you listen to? If you had this album and you compared it to albums by Madness or the Specials, how would you stack yourself up? Well, I can’t imagine many moonstomping skinheads would choose to go to Melbourne to buy their ska if this is as good as it gets.
For me, one of the greatest problems with this album is the vocals. You take one listen and the tone screams membership to the circuit of flat matt industry sheen characters who lurk the pubs of Melbourne. You know; the kind of people who treat the RocKwiz Orchestra as a significant musical force. Vocalist Francis Harrison sounds exactly like Stephen Cummings trying to sound like Bob Geldof trying to sound like Bruce Springsteen. For fuck’s sake. They even cover a Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons song (and it’s easily the best thing here). The funny thing is, I wasn’t offended as I listened to the disc. It went out of the speakers pleasantly enough. I went about the usual stuff you do around the house. Cleaning. Picking stuff up. Getting ready to go out. The album went out like the wallpaper in your granny’s house; totally inoffensively. This spew only came about as I began thinking about what I had just listened to; the very second I tried to remember a melody line or a chorus and, believe me, I’m usually pretty good at that. Whilst this album has probably exceeded the expectations of all those involved in its production, what do I actually hold in my hand at the end of the day? It is competently played and well produced. The songs aren’t bad but I couldn’t sing you one of them after listening to the album twice. It adds nothing to its genre. If you don’t like this style of music, there is nothing that is going to convince you of the error of your ways. So how should I rate it? Under the circumstances, three and a half bottles sounds more than fair. I’d even say generous.
My advice to the Resignators is that they should aim a little bit higher than mere competency. Better lyrics would help. What they have here scans well enough but fails to communicate any kind of idea or emotion. In this kind of music, there is also no real need for everyone to play all at once. They should learn to draw breath. - Bob Short
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