Share FEEL THE PAIN - The Painkillers (Off The Hip)
It pains me (ouch) to start with a conclusion that the third album isn't as great as the first two. The Painkillers' debut "Drunk On a Train" was an inspired, sometimes perverse, bag of trash and vulnerability and my choice as album of the year, the second ("Love Cancer") patchy but still quirky and almost as endearing. "Feel The Pain" is The Difficult Third Album and finds The Painkillers in a wholly different place.

This is not a bad album per se, just too even and slightly predictable. There are a few primal tub-thumpers ("Tomorrow", "Leave Me Alone"), odd laments ("Rodeo", "Same") , a psycho bad boy tune ("Gamblin' Bar Room Blues") and a radio-friendly one ("Big Green Eyes".) The Painkillers are now a relatively big deal in their home-town, qualifying as the Hardest Working Band in Perth Rock and Roll Show Business with gigs up the wazoo.

It's tempting to speculate that this is exactly the problem or that principal members James Baker and Joe Blunt are sick of each other, but that's the sort of presumptive crap that lazy reviewers always serve up to justify their own genius. No, it's more likely that we've heard a lot of what's on "Feel The Pain" before and the band is in a holding pattern.

It's still trashy; it shudders and croaks in all the right places. The ragged edges are still apparent - and that's great. James Baker's tarnished crown still sits, firmly askew. Joe Bludge's black cat moan is a gem and he doesn't do a bad menacing, either.

That is a 4/5 Rolling Rock rating down below but it's tempered by the feeling that this duo is capable of something more out of the ordinary than "Feel The Pain" whose title is as predictable as some of its contents. That might be a harsh call but no pain, no gain. – The Barman


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LOVE CANCER - The Painkillers (Truck)
Succinct it may be at just 23 minutes and eight songs, but the second album from The Painkillers still hits the spot like a bottle of James Squire ale on a hot Perth Saturday afternoon. Wanting more for sure.

Folk-punk is an all-too-easy tag to hang on what The Painkillers do. The folk part is obvious, the punk thing is all the frayed bits around the edges and the attitude. When you couple Joe Bludge's persuasively edgy vocal and insistent guitar strumming to James Baker's strident marching band beat you've got a train ticket for a ride to Trashtown. Roll in extra elements like washes of organ, a smidgin of banjo and occasional harp, and the return trip gets just a little hairy.

If the idea was to flesh out the skeletal sound of the first album, it's a winner. Production (by Lime Spider Mick Blood and Laurie Singara) is nicely minimal. To have tarted this up would have been criminal. It's just a shame more songs couldn't have been coaxed out.

And of course there will be a line drawn from The James Baker Experience's gloriously shambolic "I Can't Control Myself" single from 1985 to the 1min9sec go-kart ride of "Rock and Roll Heart" on this album, so deal with it. It's news when James Baker puts in his second solo vocal in 23 years. Autobiographical ("I like the noise/I like the smell... I like Keith Richards/I like Keith Moon") and ended by way of a Royal Command and a squawk of guitar, it's quirky and very charming. I like it - and so should you if you're breathing.

"Love Will Tear Us Apart" is at first an odd choice but even its monotonous appearance in Triple Jay's Top 100 year-on-year can't dull the fact that it's a great song. Joe Bludge's strained vocal is plastered in bathos, and that's why this version works.

Pride of place goes to the stunning Abbe May's duet with Joe on the trad "Gypsy Davy". Abbe's the ex-singer from Bunbury tearaways The Fuzz, now fronts a band called the Rockin' Pneumonia and has one of the best vocals in the Australian business. She and Joe sound playful. Field Marshall Baker sits in the pocket and the liberal application of additional guitars from KT Rumble and Pete Stone fleshes out the sound.

I'm not sure the closing live reprise of "Honey Bees" is any better than the studio version from the first album, so as a closer it leaves me flat. 'Most everything else here works and "Love Cancer" breathes uniqueness. – The Barman




DRUNK ON A TRAIN - The Painkillers (Blazing Strumpet/Reverberation)
Maybe it's damaged hearing, a hankering for those increasingly scarce things called organic songs, or just old age, but two of the best albums to cause middle ear imbalances in these parts in the past 12 months have been acoustic. In 2005, there were the Appalachian stylings of the Salmon/Peno-powered Darling Downs' "How Can I Forget This Heart of Mine". Now I'm dosed up on Perth's Painkillers, whose "Drunk On a Train" is a folk-punk prescription formulated to blow 'most any blues away.

Traveling light with just drums, guitar and voice, The Painkillers are trashy, whimsical, funny, quirky, poignant and, dare it be said, wonderful. And they have great tunes. These are observations and diary notes as much as songs. The writing gets a little hard to read at times but there's much of the charm. Vignettes about being blotto on public transport, chatting up girls and hanging out can't go wrong when delivered like this.

Keeping time is James Baker, a man for whom the term Legendary was tailor-made. You may have been Born To Be Punched but he's meant to be revered, preferably with an ale in hand. Make that a tray of beers. The man's not a camel. Perth punk's original one-man scene, his resume includes notable service with The Scientists, Le Hoodoo Gurus (the "Le" not being the only thing they shed), the Beasts of Bourbon and The Dubrovniks. And he could have trademarked striped T-shirts in the days when the fashion stylist to Jet was still an itch in her father's groin.

Doing the vocalising, guitaring and any other odd jobs is Joe Bludge, a Perth solo artist of growing blues repute who also played in some local band I never heard of but presumably others did. Joe's a generation apart from James and on his own admission would probably flop if called up to appear on Spicks and Specks with his bandmate's curriculum vitae as his specialist topic. Not a problem because at times he seems to be effortlessly channelling a healthy whack of Sir James' trash-rock sensibilities. But let's not call in The Exorcist just yet...

No-one should be surprised when they're moved by simple songs delivered on an acoustic guitar. After all, 90 percent of rock and roll was written that way. The Painkillers work because they know this and take their lead from the likes of Leadbelly, Dylan and Johansen. There's a faintest of echos of the Presleys (Elvis and Reg)

Joe Bludge wrote all the originals bar two co-writes ("Drunk on a Train" and "Redfern Girl") and the drummer stays well away from the microphone with frontman aspirations of James Baker Experience days apparently on the backburner for now. The singing job's ably filled by Bludge, whose laconic, down-home vocals are wonderfully weather-born. At times sounding like Dylan without the damage - even adopting a UK passport for "Soho"- his voice is home to more characters than your youngest kid's end-of-term infants school musical. Self-effacing lyrics like "Cara-Lane shall we move to Perth/And live at the end of the earth" don't hurt either.

Painkillers songs are like the coin-operated movie machines that used to populate amusement piers and old-time fairs. Pop in a coin and crank the handle to watch a re-enactment of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight, or a heavily made-up tart who went to school with your great grandmother being raced off by a villain with a handlebar mo. They're not the same vintage but there are lots of quirky little movies to explore in songs like the gentle "Honey Bees" (replete with simulated buzzing), the ultra-catchy title track and the pigeon pair of geographically-displaced girlfriend stories, "Soho" (with its scads of electric guitar) and "Redfern Girl (where wheezy harmonica and Baker's rolling drums come into their own).

Johnny, Jerry and Arthur would nod on approvingly in appreciation of The Painkillers' treatment of "Lonely Planet Boy", the solitary and entirely appropriate cover song that shuts down the album. It's possibly more wistful than the original, if possible and anyone who's made sense of this review so far should take to it like DavidJo to black nail polish.

It's evident that The Painkillers sold their souls to the devil for a case of Swan Lager and a battered second-hand drum kit at some dusty crossroads outside Rockingham, on the southern reaches of the Perth-Fremantle Delta. For that we should all be glad. – The Barman



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