Monthly Archives: October 2009

200. Custard – “We Have The Technology”

There was an unusually high level of pressure on this particular CD as it spun under my review-o-scope.

Album Cover Custard We Have the TechnologyNot only does it bring up my much-anticipated and increasingly tardy double-century of reviews, but also the artists in question are looking to tip the balance back into the positive after one enthusiastic and one disparaging assessment.

My first listen to this effort saw my leaning strongly towards the dismissive.  I struggled to find much joy in this bundle of surprisingly unfamiliar tunes. Much of the material seemed underdeveloped and disposable. 

Burdened with the distraction of huge piles of assignment marking (hence little time to write my reviews and move on), I persisted with the album.

Familiarity was built, and some admiration won. I began to embrace the experiments and the quirks. The surf guitar on Memory Man, the thrashiness of Very Biased, the laidbackness of Hello Machine, and the perverse pop of The Truth About Drugs all became imbedded in my subconscious.

The poppiest moments here don’t quite hit the Wahooti heightbut Anatomically Correct and Nice Bird would get a slot on any ‘best of’ from these lads. 

In the end, I’ve retreated from slamming the band with their own song title: Music is Crap.

File under:  Not quite progress, but some benefits    

199. Custard – “Wisenheimer”

I was starting to question the veracity of much-feared ‘poor second album’ stereotype. Alas this effort from the mighty Brisbane powerpoppers falls squarely into that category.

Album Cover Custard WisenheimerIndeed, this CD is a certain sub-species of the ‘Opus disappointica’ phenomenon.  Here we see a cavernous gap between the better tracks and the lesser.  The “filler” on here does not warrant such an ambivalent moniker – said tracks here should be called “Brussel sprouts”, “dog turds” or “Alexander Downer”.

The very best tunes on here are about as poppy, catchy and fun as this band ever produced. 

Apartment is an insanely infectious little ditty (that sounds surprisingly like You Am I). Lucky Star delivers on that early-90s Boston sound. Venus Flytrap and Lightening Bug throws doo-wop, country-punk and a little bit extra in the pot and comes up with quite an intoxicating brew.  Leisuremaster is straight out of Pavement 101, laying down a very chilled vocal over slide guitar and cymbals and brush rhythms.

I can’t help but feel the Pavement-influence is what brings this album down.  Too often the tracks capture only a portion of said band’s approach but without the necessary imagination or flair (Bring it On is a prime example). Other tracks here are just throwaway twaddle.

File under: None the wiser

198. Custard – “Wahooti Fandango”

Back around the time this album came out, I caught these guys playing a show at the Evelyn Hotel in Fitzroy. It remains one of the most memorable and enjoyable gigs in my memory banks.

Album Cover Custard Wahooti FandangoI distinctly recall Dave McCormack (vocals) announcing they’d be playing their tunes in alphabetical order. They threw in a couple of great covers (including (perhaps) I Still Call Australia Home). The vibe that night, and on this album, was that music must be FUN.

These guys always seemed to be having a ball, but in a laidback, whacky uncle sort of way. The songs either rush at you smiling gleefully, or just sit around spinning slightly confusing tales that make you giggle (or shake your head in embarrassment). Imagine Pavement channeling Jonathan Richman.

Indeed the band even give a nod to Jonathon (along with Jim Henson and fellow Brisbanites The Melniks) on the outstanding (and cleverly titled) Singlette.

This album is chockfull of tracks that still sound fresh and still make me happy. I defy you to listen to Alone or If Yr Famous and You Know It, Sack Yr Band and not be enamoured. Here are two different versions of the equally impressive Pack Yr Suitcases (with and without theremin/bandmates):

File under: Guaranteed to get your patootie jigging

197. The Cure – “Greatest Hits”

The Cure occupy a curious spot in pop music history. They somehow retain pseudo-alternative credibility, while pumping out what is pretty mainstream New Romantic material.

Album Cover Cure The Greatest HitsPerhaps we were all distracted by the dishevelled persona of Robert Smith with his quirky mix of edginess and vulnerability.

Irrespective, this collection showcases their capacity to deliver hit after hit. The band did progress over their career, moving from a more synth-heavy approach (think Duran Duran or Japan) to more jangly, layered guitars (James or Wonderstuff).

At their best the band is hard to fault. Gems like Let’s Go To Bed, The Lovecats, Why Can’t I Be You and Close to Me are catchy as all hell, built around Smith’s hiccupy vocals, basslines worth wiggling to, and horn blasts screamed out for mouth-trumpet-alongs.

The standout track is the justifiably lauded Just Like Heaven. Of course, the Dinosaur Jr version topped the original, but you can see why J Mascis was inspired.

Speaking of inspiration, there is a certain music-geek-delight in discovering that the band’s Friday I’m in Love has become a big enough cultural icon to inspire its very own t-shirt. The song deserves it and your record collection deserves this this album.

File under: Good for what ails ya

196. Cuddlefish – “If I Could Sometimes Take The Lining Of My Stomach And Make Wings I’d Fly”

In the tiny world of bands who frequented the Candle Records label, these guys were always the odd ones out.

Album Cover Cuddlefish If I Could Sometimes Take The Lining Of My Stomach And Make Wings I'd FlyAlthough they ticked the ‘predominantly acoustic’ and ‘Australian’ boxes, they lacked the requisite pop sensibilities, and presented as more on the ‘smelly hippy’ side of the folk-rock community.

As such, I was never particularly enamoured by them, and only picked up this CD as part of the run-out sale when the label was closing-up shop.  I’m not even sure I gave it a spin until yesterday.

I can’t say I’ve got much positive to say.  This is underproduced, underexciting material.  The main driver sound-wise is an undynamic violin and plinky-plonky vocal harmonisation.  Most of the songs have no lingering capacity (beyond the upbeat Airy Day).

For those of you who were close followers of bands around Melbourne in the mid-late 1990s, these guys can be described as much more North Fitzroy (think the Empress Hotel) than mainstreet Fitzroy (i.e. The Punters).  For modern punters, that probably translates as Northcote cafe rather than Collingwood bar.

There were other bands who did this sort of stuff so much better, like Treehouse and Nude Rain. Seek them out.

An aside: this CD is packaged very well with a cool cloth CD sleeve and a funky folded lyric sheet.  If you wanna buy it off me, please email.

File under: The inverse relationship between album title length and content quality continues.

195. Robert Cray – “Strong Persuader”

Back around the time I was buying that Crowded House album I queued up with a gang of mates in the Brashs store on Collins St to get a friend’s copy of Robert Cray’s big hit album signed by the man himself.

Album Cover Robert Cray Strong PersuaderI’m sure we felt very cool and sophisticated standing there with a very adult crowd, many of whom I suspect were wearing nifty jumper combos and pastel pants, and like us had haircuts of the mullet variety.

That memory has stuck with me down the years, along with the impression that said album was some sort of blues classic.  It lead me to pick this CD up cheap last year.

And here my recollections let me down.  This is not some seminal example of the blues genre.  Rather it is a testament to the wrongness of the mid-late 1980s.

Here we have a bloke wailing away on his guitar in the same cleancut fashion that make Eric Clapton some unendearing. The tracks are all tales of sleaziness and misogyny, presented in a sort of titillating way that will most appeal to white blokes with manicured hair, chains and hairy chests, and Cosby-era middle class African-Americans pretending to get the Blues.

File under: I’m persuaded to hurl this CD across the room…strongly

194. Crowded House – “Crowded House”

This record (for it is indeed on vinyl) was in the first dozen or so I ever purchased.  And this trio were one of the first I saw live on a semi-regular basis.

Album Cover Crowded House self-titledFor a pimply-faced 15 year-old, these guys were a substantial step beyond the world of big-hair metal and unadulterated teen-targetted pop. Here were songs with substance and meaning, and music that was complex but approachable. Meanwhile, the three band members had sufficiently quirky personalities to make the stage show extra special.

23 years later (!!!) I return to give the album another spin.  And it holds up very well. 

The songs, of course, have that familiarity that springs from obsessive teen scrutiny (and regular mainstream radio rotation). But, more than that, they are still engaging, slightly obtuse compositions.  The lyrics retain that universality and comtemporariness (a word?), while the music is lush.

Side A of the album is much poppier and laden with their classic singles (Mean to Me, Don’t Dream…) and more directly invokes the skiffly-Beatles aspect of Finn’s songwriting.  Side B is the darker, artier set with less traditional verse-chorus etc structures. This is when the band get closer to The Cure in sound.

These guys deserve their accolades.

File under: It’s nice when your memories aren’t sullied

p.s. I know there’s a NZ-Oz ownership dispute on these guys, but I believe there are sufficient Melbourne links here to warrant me labelling the ‘Oz Artists’

193. Davell Crawford – “The Piano in the Vaults, Vol. 1”

I can find no evidence of this CD actually existing beyond our personal collection.  The world-wide-interweb contains no reference to it or its contents, and the website of the purported author doesn’t deem it worthy of a plug.

Album Cover Davell Crawford Piano in the Valuts Vol 1If we hadn’t actually purchased it from Crawford himself at a festival I would be more dubious.  But we did, so I’ll just assume he’s pursuing some underground guerilla commerce (not unlike 50 Cent back in the day).

The album itself is highly representative of what we saw on stage back in Byron Bay four years or so ago: rollicking, heavy-handed blues piano action accompanied by luscious, gospel-styled vocals. 

This is the sort of material you’d expect to hear late one Saturday night in an authentic New Orleans gin joint, or perhaps the next morning in a revivalist church session. 

Crawford blast through a series of standards (Strange Fruit, Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand, If I Had Hammer) accompanied by some talented (yet anonymous) singers. He also finishes off with what I assume is some sort of licensing obligation for any artist claiming New Orleans affiliation – a burst from Iko Iko.

Might I suggest you accompany with some gospel sisters action?

File under: Give him the keys to the city (of New Orleans)

192. Davell Crawford – “The B-3 and Me”

Davell is a piano-playing dude we spied for the first (as yet, only) time up at the Eastcoast Blues and Roots Festival a few years back. 

Album Cover Davell Crawford B3 and meHe was hammering at some jaunty New Orleans boogie woogie and got our rears moving in all the right ways. We picked up one album at the time (review to come) that showcased this sound pretty well.

This earlier CD from him explores very different territory.  While the cheesy album cover hints at some Fresh Prince/Luther Vandross intersection, this is sadly a very mainstream jazz effort.

I have pretty Philistine leanings when it comes to the skivvy-wearing, beat-poet-invoking world of jazz.  Every now and then something takes my fancy, but typically I’m left pretty cold by the preference for musical showboating over entertainment.  Also, I like lyrics and the human voice.

This album falls short on all front.  Crawford is attempting to reincarnate the B-3 Hammond organ as an instrument, so he squelches out a range of jazz standards, accompanied by some tenor sax of the very blurty, high-end toot-toot variety (I did tell you I was a Philistine). 

While the drummer typically does a pretty good job, the tendency of the organ to invoke basketball/ice hockey images makes this a less than relaxing listen. 

File under: I can understand why B1 & B2 are a duo

191. The Cranberries – “No Need to Argue”

Cranberries reportedly help to protect you against various sorts of cancer and also urinary tract infections. And they taste quite nice.

Album Cover Cranberries the no need to argueI’m not sure said band’s music has such powers. It certainly isn’t obvious from listening along.

As with their debut effort, this album stomps through some well-trodden terrain, certainly for rock outfits of the Gaelic persuasion. There’s some slightly Celtic rhythms, that jangly, over-micced guitar, plus the somewhat ethereal vocal stylings.

The hit tracks here are stronger. Ode to My Family and Zombie have that certain contagiousness that no doubt had the band’s label wetting themselves with delight back in the day (as they envisaged their dominance of AOR airwaves for decades to come).

The latter tune attempts to shed some insights (in an arty way) on the futility of the ‘Troubles’ in the Emerald Isle. Alas, it does not capture my attention much at all or reveal anything of interest. The only positive impact it has is to remind me of the film Shaun of the Dead which was loads more fun than this album.  Here’s a cool clip I find setting scenes from that film to some dancey track:

File under: I’m arguing that this album isn’t worth owning