X-ASPIRATIONS - X (Aztec Music)
What do you do when you re-issue a criminally out-of-print classic and one of the all-time high-energy Australian albums to a marketplace that's seen it all before and is hanging on for survival from in uncertain economic times? Re-master it and send it out in a glamourous package of course. Aztec have done that extremely well. This review could be a wrap right there, except "X-Aspirations" is too important not to merit at least 500 more words and then some.
A recent frank conversation with someone whose opinion is respected around here opined that there's not a lot of melody jumping out of the grooves on this 'un. And I agree to a point. More accurately, it's buried in shovel-loads of bulldozer bass, shredded-throat vocals and barbed wire guitars. Which is fine by me.
X were important (a.) because they weren't your rote two-chord punk (b.) they had all the aforementioned qualities (plus the jackhammer beat of drummer Steve Cafiero) and (c.) they were the most powerful three-piece band to grace a stage in Sydney ever.
(They were probably just as powerful as a quartet but that Ian Krahe line-up predated me so I'll never know for sure.)
A callow Ray Ahn from the Hard-Ons saw X in his teenage years and was blown away by the way Ian Rilen played his bass as a lead instrument. He wasn't on his own. There was simply no-one like him, and stringbean Steve Lucas was to be the perfect counterpoint on the other side of the stage, howling away like some scarf-wearing scarecow and dragging out the sound of a rusty hacksaw from his guitar.
X weren't melodious but there was a beauty in their brutality. Yes, the heavy drugs image and skinhead followers added to the story and could inspire an undercurrent of fear if you got too close, but the overall impact of an X gig was simply visceral. You didn't just hear the music, you felt it. It pinned you to a wall, pummeled your sensibilities and replaced reason with simple, pulsing delirium. It could really fuck you up.
So to return to the starting point,, Gil Matthews' mastering job brings out Lucas' vocal and adds some grit and thwack to the bottom end that's missing from earlier CD transfers. There's the quibble that "Suck Suck" should explode into "Present" like a truck involuntarily slipping a gear rather than with the intrusion of a three-second gap, but that's all but forgotten in the surge of the songs that follow.
"I Don't Wanna Go Out" has the bassline propulsion of a post-tsunami beachside outflow.
Whoever thought Lennon's "Mother" was primal in its original form never heard the outpouring of X when they recorded it. It was on a little-heard single and that's here, also reprised in an alternate mix (which sounds redundant without the overloaded reverb but who's to worry?)
A nice alternate take of "Halfway Round The World" rounds it off, and it's closer to the 7" mix than the version on "At Home With You" so I can lament the lack of some earlier demos. Word is they may surface somewhere down the track.
Ian MacFarlane's liners are up to the job and if you lift out the disc you'll see one of my T-shirts in the digipack.
A rolled gold, five-out-of-five-beers classic. - The Barman
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EVIL RUMOURS - LIVE AT THE BASEMENT, DECEMBER 9, 2002 - X (Laughing Outlaw)
Live albums are 10 to the dozen, bootlegs recordings more so. When I hear a live recording, I want it to move me. If it's from a band I love, I've probably heard the tunes scores of times so I want the recording to add something to the experience, to do something different. That was the intention when X committed to a show at Sydney's Basement in December 2002. And bugger me, if they haven't gone and achieved something stunning.
Out of town, I missed the gig, staged on a Sunday night to mark the beginning of the 25th year of the band's existence. At least I can sample second prize - the live album. If you're in a similar boat, in laying your hands on this you should in no way feel short-changed because you missed out. This is an enduring release, something you'll play over and over.
Yeah, the prospect of X playing "unplugged", as they announced was their intention, was always going to be weird. X are perhaps the least "unplugged" of any Australian band of the last quarter century. In Ian Rilen's primal bass, Steve Lucas' corrugated iron guitar and shredding vocals lies The Heart of a Bad Machine, and volume is one of the main components in its arsenal of Weapons of Aural Destruction. Many's the time I've left an X gig deaf and with the legs of my pants pinned to the backs of my legs. So let's get this out of the way, up front. This is not Peter, Paul and Mary or the fucking Seekers. This is X, playing through smaller amps as a concession, of sorts, to the size of the venue, but augmented by guests (string section Fourplay, John Gaucci on keys, Jason Morphett on sax) who bring to bear elements like piano, organ, sax, cello and viola. And it's as intense a trip as ever.
By racheting back some of the fury and allowing other textures in, X have produced the most adventurous recording of their esteemed career. As basic as the songs are, mid-period X looked to introduce those extra elements with varying degrees of success. Whether it was Chris Wilson's harp in live shows (or on the "And More..." album), they've opened up - but never to this extent. Piano accordian works a treat on "Sad Days Girl", sans Steve's agonised howl. John Gaucci's piano fills out "The Feel" and a lesser song like "You Really Don't Care" and his Hammond organ really enhances "Waiting" and "Ooh Baby". Star turn is taken by saxophonist Jason Morphett who provides a fantastic focus on "I Don't Wanna Go Out" (still a killer song after all these years).
X have a massive back catalogue and it would be nitpicking to come up with a list of songs that should have made it to the stage that night. Lennon's "Mother" did and that's a Good Thing. So is the inclusion of "I Like You and You Like Me". Let's hope it hangs around in current sets.
"I Love Rock and Roll" was the obvious closer - because they DO. If you share the sentiment, make this double album your constant companion. - The Barman
I had a sense of anticipation and also curiosity when I first played Evil Rumours, the new double live X CD that was recorded at The Basement last year: the anticipation was because X are one of the all time great Australian rock bands; the curiosity due to the gig being billed as "unplugged" and the addition of a host of extra players on the night.
What follows is an epic, 22-track showcase of raw powerful swirling rock. From the opening Sad Days Girl (complete with piano accordion and a sound that reminds me of Tom Waits) to the blistering I Love Rock n Roll, this album captures the essence of X as none of their previous recordings have. X circa 2002-2003 is a revamped and reinvigorated beast from the previous incarnations; Cath Synnerdahl joining on drums is a marvel, her power and precision really drive the band, when you add this to Ian RilenÕs chugging, thunderous bass you have one of the most powerful rhythm sections of any band in the world, add the slashing searing guitars of Steve Lucas and Geoff Holmes and then over the top the combination of SteveÕs shredded vocal delivery and RilenÕs guttural growl.
Evil Rumours includes such X classics as "Degenerate Boy", "I DonÕt Wanna Go Out", "TV Glue", "The Feel", "DonÕt Cry No Tears" and "Waiting", along with their classic cover versions of John LennonÕs "Mother" and Roy OrbisonÕs "Dream Baby". These X standards are filled out with songs from their recent EP including "I Love Rock n Roll", "Where Did I Go Wrong" and "Ooh Baby".
This album rocks with a bass-and-drums-driven intensity but also has a swirling free-form feel added by the inclusion of Jason MorphettÕs sax, John GauciÕs keyboards and the strings provided by Fourplay. In addition to the music, the liner notes - an interview with Steve Lucas by the
I-94 BarÕs Barman - provide a great background to the band.
If there is one album you buy this year Š this is the one. This is an Australian band that deserves their place at the top of the rock heap with the likes of AC/DC, Radio Birdman and The Saints. DonÕt just take my word for it go and buy it! - Richard Sharman
I LOVE ROCK AND ROLL - X (Laughing Outlaw)
Ragged magnificence from one of our all-time favourites, the seemingly unstoppable, un-killable X, this time on the ever-expanding Sydney label, Laughing Outlaw.
X are celebrating 25 years of a stop-start career and may be the most unique band on the planet. They're a band you "feel" as much as listen to and they're best enjoyed live. This was recorded pretty much live at Glebe's Shed studio and arrives a month or so ahead of a double live album, taken from their January 2003 "unplugged" show at Sydney's Basement. If the prospect of X doing anything "unplugged" worries you, fear not. That show and this five-tracker prove beyond a doubt that they're anything but spent, nor is X about to dick around with wanky MTV concepts.
There have been many versions of X over the years but the constant axis of Steve Lucas on guitar/throat-shredding vocals and Ian Rilen, and his patented Wall of Bass, remains. There are two new faces in tow (well one, new and one who isn't a stranger to the ranks). Where her predecessor Cathy Green was a great exponent of feel (and whose shoes are hard to fill), new drummer Cathy Synerdahl is more from the Steve Cafiero school of beating those tubs into submission, and does a great job of taking X back to their punk roots as they reprise two old songs "I Love Rock and Roll" and "Hey You". Nothing wrong with the addition of a second guitarist either in Geoff Holmes, who's been an intermittent member of X and "Evil Rumours, the "rehearsals only" band from which it sprang.
"Ooh Baby" is a magnificent, thuggish self-deprecating tune ("You must have been outta your tree/To listen to a liar like me") on the back of a downward chord progression with Rose Tattoo overtones in the guitars. "Where Did I Go Wrong" is a bustling straight-forward rocker (and something they used to play back in '78) that gives Lucas ample chance to cut loose vocally. Likewise "One More Chance", which also recalls some of the vocal limberings of Lucas' ARM project of the mid-'90s. Another pulsing, no-prisoners tune.
"Hey You" is an old favourite that's been updated with a faster beat. Rest assured, it's no radical re-write, and after a few listens it sticks like shit to a blanket. Then it's right down to street-level basics for the title tune, with its familiar police siren guitar and stop-start dynamics.
Laughing Outlaw is really spreading its wings of late, branching from alt.country and pop to the harder end of the spectrum with the New Christs, the Dictators and now X. More power to them. - The Barman
LIVE AT THE CIVIC HOTEL '79 - X (Full Toss)
In all its raw glory, X were (are) a magnificent beast, and live recordings like this prove it. Taken from a 2JJ live-to-air recording in one of the premier punk pits of the bursting-at-the-seams Sydney scene, this 11-track show captures X, if not at their peak, then pretty close to it.
It's one of the line-ups after the death of original guitarist Ian Krahe, with Peter Coutanche on guitar to supplement the core of Ian Rilen and the two Steves (Lucas and Cafiero) and it's a sharp, clear-headed show. X on their best behaviour. No patter, just get on with it and play. The Spiral Scratch live show from the previous year ("Live at the Stage Door") might edge it out in the intensity stakes but it has nothing on this for sound quality. This Civic show is also up the quality scale on a tape doing the rounds of X at the same venue (recorded for the same radio station) about the same time, a show marred by false starts.
Great performance and great songs: "Hey You" is here with its "up yours" to the working world. We're treated to a different arrangement of "I Don't Wanna Go Out" as well as the rarely heard "Didn't Wanna Do It". "Dream Baby" seems a little flat but "All Over Now" more than makes up for it (with Lucas' resigned "Ohhhh fuck" a nice touch). "That's Not Nice" is (nice, in an X way), and the Stones never sounded like this filthy version of "Not Fade Away" (complete with Cafiero solo feel).
Speaking of de-construction jobs, try on the demo version of Del Shannon's "Runaway". It's one of two bonus cuts, put down by the original line-up on four-track at the ABC studios and only ever heard before this by a select few. "Runaway" shudders and shakes like an out-of-control train. "Slash Ya Wrists" is the other track and it's as rough-hewn and confronting as its title suggests. Two treats.
One sore point is the duration: At a measley 36 minutes, it's a case of too little X being nowhere near enough. The artwork nicely apes the cover of X-Aspiration but reeks of a quickie job (ie. little info and no liner notes) but that's a quibble. Great photo of Lucas and Rilen inside the slick, too.
The X on this disc is a vastly different proposition to the one that's sproadically treading the boards in Australia at the moment (and is hopefully heading Stateside in September) which is no criticism, just the way it is. Back in 1977-79, there was sense of desperation about X - the world had rejected them, and they didn't give a shit, they were just going to do what they did best (which was play awesome music).
There must be a shitload more of this stuff in the vaults, if only a few more people were interested in hearing it. With a US EP ("Home is Where the Floor Is) of demo tracks and a re-release of the classic "X Aspirations", god knows the world could still do with more X-sessiveness. This is a great addition to to the discography. - The Barman
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