PAST IMPERFECT - The Wreckery (Memorandum/Fuse)
You almost expect this to carry a sticker: "No Veins Were Harmed In The Making Of This Music". If The Wreckery weren't top o' the pile of Australia's Junk Rock elite in the 1980s, they could certainly see the summit from where they slouched, looking up through half-lidded, pinpoint eyes.

Simplistically dubbed The Smackery by anyone who'd read half a page of Burroughs (and many others who'd only imagined they had over a Coca Cola and Disprin cocktail), they were the brainchild of two Melbourne underground art-punkers, guitarist-vocalist Hugo Race and fellow six-stringer Ed Clayton-Jones. Both had returned from overseas stints as ex-members of Nick Cave's early Bad Seeds.

If playing with a similar-inclined middle class rebel/private schoolboy like Saint Nick was an apprenticeship in shooting something other than the breeze, pulling together The Wreckery might have been considered a continuing education. Drummer Robin Casinader (a bandmate of Race and Clayton-Jones from Plays With Marionettes), bassist Ted Biegley and saxman Charles Todd boarded the train and the band started making an impact up and down the Australian East Coast with their brand of sleazy, amplified Delta blues.

Beigley was replaced by Nick Barkler (pre major label Reptile days) and this line-up stayed in place long enough for the band to make considerable critical headway. When time came to recording their second full album, however, certain members were running equipment garage sales or nodding off on-stage. Just when it seemed they might make it overseas, The Wreckery fulfilled expectations and fell apart.

Let's draw a line here (as opposed to snorting one.) Don't tar the whole band with the same brush or let the excess overshadow the music. In his thoroughly entertaining liners, Race acknowledges the sins (imagined and actual) soberly and without preaching. Of course, the sort of indulgences The Wreckery celebrated were rampant in big Australian cities in the '80s - and some might be surprised how deep those rivers ran. The Wreckery were surely more open/honest than some.

On the music, Race says that the band unlearned their instruments before they went out to create havoc. That might be the case, live and on their earliest recordings, but the way The Wreckery's music evolved showed it had a cocksure poise that a talentless bunch of no-hopers could never have pulled off.

Even a cursory look backwards via the cracked kaleidoscope of this double-CD collection shows The Wreckery to be more musical than their idols The Birthday Party while still possessing a similar power and swaggering, if not outright staggering, glory.

Dubbing them as Birthday Party clones would be error. That influence is there, but so is the shadow of Cleveland's Pere Ubu and the No Wave New Yorkers. If Suicide's perverse light doesn't shine right through "Base Devil", I'll sing "Frankie Teardrop" naked in Collins Street. Fortunately, I live 800km away.

The recorded legacy from The Wreckery's two albums and EP has aged incredibly well. Even if the tracking is only vaguely chronological, you can see where the band's horizons broadened as their career prospects declined on a proportionate scale. Their studio mode often had Casinader doubling up on keyboards (a role in which he later excelled for Dave Graney's Coral Snakes) and that took things to another level, as did Charles Todd's horn arrangements.

The melodramatic tension in "Passion Fall Down" or "Holy Honey" plays well when pitted against the menace of "This Town Is Getting Nervous", the musty swell of "No Shoes For This Road" and the dark shuffle of "Ruling Energy" (a trademark tune and probably the high-water mark.) The Wreckery walked a tightrope at times and ended up on the right side of pretension.

It's uncanny how the band's best album ("Laying Down Law") came out on a Sydney label (Citadel) just as the band imploded. The Wreckery shed members and limped on briefly but despite his best endeavours, Race had his mind fixed on booking his flight to Europe where he's since enjoyed a successful solo career.

The packaging job is the usual spiffing Memorandum effort with lavish booklet and neat slimline double wallet. There's the odd crackle (it was all mastered from vinyl) but that's an acceptable trade-off. This legacy space is getting awfully crowded so it's good to see it done right.

If you're a dyed-in-wall fan or you just didn't give The Wreckery the undivided attention that they undoubtedly deserved 20 years ago, this is a collection that should win lots of CD player time. Just don't try this at home. - The Barman