THE VOYEURS - The Voyeurs (Bang Records through Munster)
Ya gotta love close-miked vocals with a big, fat bass sound underneath - there's something comforting about that sort of production. It abounds on "The Voyeurs", the debut LP from Brian Hooper, erstwhile former longtime bass player for Kim Salmon and the Surrealists and member of the sporadically resurfacing Beasts of Bourbon. The PR blurb calls it "swamp lounge". You can make up your own tag, if you like.

Despite looking so attached to the instrument in the live setting that you can't work out if he's humping it or it started as a pimple in a funny place and grew from there, Hooper loses the bass for this album and takes up the guitar. It doesn't sound like it was much of a a wrench. There's a Kim Salmon-like playing to some of it, some Rowland Howard noise in other parts. They might be lazy comparisons but probably contain a kernel of truth as Hooper played with both guys.

He's surrounded himself with a formidable cast: The well-travelled Des Heffner sits behind the kit (Surrealist Tony Pola was a member of an earlier band), Conrad Standish of The Devastations is on bass and Melbourne's everywhereman Matt Heydon fills out the sound on keyboards. Desvastations guitarist Tom Carlyon handles voice on all but one of the nine songs ("Hope You're Satisfied" features a very cool Hooper vocal).

The sound is slinky and subversive in the extreme (and I just realised the last adjective is fitting because it's the name of the studio where "The Voyeurs" was recorded, with the legendary Oz rock luminary Lobby Loyde sharing production credits, incidentally). If you're fearful of the "lounge" tag, don't be. The tone might be beguiling but there's jagged shards of glass among the pebbles and they're sharp enough to rip holes in your socks.

How this sat on the shelf for three years - it was laid down over 2001-02 - is a mystery (it was available as a free MP3 download on Brian's website for ages - samples remain but you're gpoing to have to shell out, if you want it ). Full credit for Bang for giving it the deluxe vinyl treatment (a CD issue would sell a shitload). Maybe part of the reason for the album's lengthy gestation is a balcony fall that put Brian Hooper in a wheelchair with a broken back for the best part of a year. (Thankfully, he's back walking and playing in a duo around Melbourne's pubs, with a return to the Beasts ranks looming for Spain's Azkena '05 Festival).

The opening title track rides a molten bassline and rippling keyboards to grab you by the throat from the get-go. It's almost hypnotic in its feel and completely enveloping with a sound so thick you can wrap yourself in it. The cuts that follow are no less compelling, with an undercurrent of tension that makes it an edgy listen. The tyres don't sink into any particular stylistic rut; Carlyon lays down a falsetto vocal on "Lover Man", a song that staggers along wearing attitude and pimp clothes.

"Models to Drug" is malevolent and underpinned by a repeating guitar figure. "Simply Beautiful" is darkly so and "Where the Action Is" thoughtfully reflective before rising to an intense end. And that's just the first side. The flip tails off a little but "All Night" and ""A Touch of Affection" are up there.
The LP format might limit the audience for the moment but if you're lookign for an excuse to dust off that archaic piece of hi-fi technology (or invest in one), here's a good excuse. Anyone's who digs The Devestations or any of Hooper's previous bands will get into The Voyeurs. If you don't have a clue about any of them, do some catching up, 'cos here's a good place to start.
– The Barman