DISTORT ALL LEVELS – The Busymen (Turkeyneck Records)
Here’s one that fans of the good stuff (that’d be edgy garage rock and roll) will love or hate.
Ten-plus years and two 7” singles after they formed, Brisbane band The Busymen have finally made it to the CD racks with a full-length album. Why so long? In the band’s words: “The combination of languid Brisbane summers, more drummers than Spinal Tap and everyday quiet confusion…” I’ll buy that.
Comparisons are usually odious but unavoidable in some cases, so let's lay it bare and say that Boston Bob Smith’s vocalising recalls a mix of Tenpole Tudor (sans warble) , The Elastik Band (remember “Spazz” off “Nuggets”?) and bad karaoke (is there any other kind?) It’s delivered in studiously artless, off-key fashion with every note carrying more snot than an Auckland flu-induced sneeze. Bob’s ranting is plastered all over a bed of guitars, built by the Dead Boys one afternoon while on a surf-and-destroy mission.
While I’ve never seen the band live, the frontman’s on-stage antics are said to be a big part of the attraction. On record, when the visuals don't translate, Boston Bob might be the worst singer ever heard, in the widely understood sense of the description. That’s said in the full knowledge that many, if not most, of the singers on records reviewed in these parts will never earn a place in the Vienna Boys Choir, even if armed with a fistful of 50's and a written reference from Julie Andrews.
Bob's a unique beast and the bluesy "Tourniquet Blues" is surely his vocal nadir (or zenith, depending on your point of view.) Until "Pinstripe Pants", which struck a special chord with the I-94 Bar's resident dog who howled along (and probably hit more notes.) Like a Troma movie where the gore flows like promises at election time, you may need to take him in smallish doses.
Sorry to obsess but the bottom line is that listening to Boston Bob is like watching a Mack truck crash into a kindergarten full of toddlers and mums at afternoon collection time. You can’t turn away to ignore the spectacle – or the clean-up job when the dust settles. Oh, the humanity.
“Distort” opens with a groovy, psych-tinged instro (“Ralphy Magoo”) so you may not be ready for the rest which by comparison comes across as positively unhinged. At their most out-there, The Busymen sound like DMZ after Monoman had mistakenly consumed their entire backstage rider with a chaser of three sheets of top-shelf blotter acid.
Let’s give special props to guitarist and principal songwriter Rob Worrall who’s a stand-out on both fronts. The clear-headed production throws his six-string attack into sharp relief. What’s more, “Distort” was recorded in a weekend, so these guys know how to work cheap.
The live "I Want My Woman" (an obscure cover of a song by The Emperors) might be my favourite Busymen rock moment while "Cactus Beach" is king of their surf songs.
Apart from turds like Powderfinger or the excerable (and thankfully dead) Savage Garden, Brisbane bands have a funny sensibility that revels in lo-fi ambience, off-the-wall humour and sticky carpet shitholes. The Busymen populate the shabbier edges of that scene soi if you recognise fellow travelers, jump right in. – The Barman
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