13 TASTELESS MASTERPIECES - Vampire Lovers (Magic Monster)
If you're old enough - and not too senile - to recall when shit-stirring young punk bands really did antagonize a world that was still naive enough to be shocked, you'll have a special place in your heart for bands like the Vampire Lovers. Although few of these "tasteless masterpieces" will truly drive anyone to outrage in the unshockable Noughties, there's still something very appealing about this sort of noise.
To really understand what drove the likes of Brisbane bands like Razar, The Fucken' Leftovers, the Fun Things, the Screaming Tribesmen and, above all, the Saints, you probably had to grow up there in the '70s and '80s. It was a heavy time where myopism and insularity ruled. It was a place where an undeniably crooked police force with all the charm of the LAPD on a bad day did the bidding of lawmakers with too much prayer time on their hands. All up, a wicked combination that did more to create a generation of musical outcasts than a whole season of repeats of Countdown.
Thanks to this re-mastered album, you can finally - properly - hear where the Vampire Lovers fit into the musical puzzle above the mysterious Banana Curtain. Four young, trash movie-obsessed reprobates with a taste for weed and strong acid, they fell into music in 1981 and accidentally unleashed a seven-inch EP, "Buzzsaw Popstar",in the following year. It achieved cult notoriety in their home state of Queensland and has since moved Rob Younger to declare it "a masterpiece".
Hard to track down outside the confines of the odd vinyl compilation, "Buzzsaw" is as an annoyingly catchy chunk of punk as you could hope to hear. No wonder the "aha aha ha ha ha" refrain became a Brisbane catch-phrase. Vocalist Axel Conrad's uniquely tortured pipes add another dimension to the (then) untutored playing.
"Buzzsaw" might be the centrepiece but there's plenty more to recommend this collection. "Sweethearts Blown Mindless" sounds like the Raw Power Stooges with a different drummer and Lux Interior sitting in for Iggy. "Long Awaited Justice" crosses the bridge between glam, hard-psych and punk with minimal effort and maximum impact, while "Heavy Planet Fuzz" showcases a later line-up that's obviously more experienced and stable. It, and a few of the final songs, are on a par with some of the Psychotic Turnbuckles' better efforts with the bombast turned down. Pressed for other comparators, you might call on The Damned or even Sydney's Kelpies. Vague echoes of Detroit's Torpedos and the Dead Boys, too.
"Gothic School of Twilight Punk" is another cool tune but underlines that phaser pedals do not belong in punk rock (put it down to a Mick Jones influence - he played a whole US tour with one of those fucking things). Some songs haven't dated as well. "Freaks" is a cheap Ramones tribute from the first EP (like the "Pinhead" outro with Aussie accents and credited to "traditional" - I like that). It was originally committed to vinyl with an endless loop to make it play ad infinitum. (The things young punks used to get up to...) bnut stands up as filler rtaher than a real song. "Rubber Sex" (both versions) is a fun distraction, best described as punk scat singing, but it's no great slice of songwriting.
Reading the liner notes (which are big on war stories more often than not involving the local constabulary), it's a wonder that any of these tunes made it to tape.
There's a noticeable progression in the songs, which are chronologically ordered. The Vampires Lovers actually broke up in '84 and re-surfaced in Sydney from 1988-90. Two of the Vampires (bassist Shane Cooke and guitarist Matt Nasty) made the move into line-ups of Hitmen DTK, while latter-day guitarist Jason Shepherd was a brother of Brad and Murray, most notably of the Hitmen and Hoodoo Gurus and Screaming Tribesmen respectively).
The weird thing is that it took a British label to put this package together. They did a great job (the mastering is almost too hot) and it will be in the Australian shops soon enough. But there's also a website for online orders so you don't have any excuses. While we're on the subject of Brizzie bands, any chance of a Girlies retrospective? - The Barman
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