June 01, 1999

New Sounds and Old

Filed under: Archive,Music

CDs reviewed by Murray Bramwell

As their inspired name suggests, Melbourne band Weddings, Parties Anything have always been a rough and tumble live act. With a sound driven by Mick Thomas’s gruff vocals, and a battery of accordions, fiddles and guitar, WPA have the same post-punk approach to traditional music as the Pogues, Billy Bragg and Dick Gaughan. But they are also very much of their time and place – best described, such as life, as temper democratic, bias offensively Australian.

After more than ten years and almost as many albums, Weddings have called it a day. But they have not left us empty handed. First there was last year’s nineteen track ‘best of’ entitled Trophy Night (Mushroom) and now, posthumously as it were, a double live set taped last Christmas Eve at Melbourne’s Central Club. They Were Better Live (Mushroom) is a hundred and forty minutes of boisterosity. Mick Thomas belts out classics from the WPA setlist. Opening with Barrett’s Privateers and Away Away, Industrial Town and Hungry Years the performances, taken from seven nights of definitely-the-last-chance gigs, have a discernible home ground advantage.

The band plays a fast, open game. Jen Anderson’s sinuous fiddle, Mark Wallace’s accordion and Michael Barclay’s wristy drumming all provide a nimble delivery for Michael Thomas at full forward. He has written plenty of sturdy songs, most of them distinctive, and all of them brimming with Fitzroy and grey skies over Collingwood. They fit seamlessly with the traditional arrangements – and some excellent covers, especially Wide Open Road , a number from the days of the Triffids and the lamented David McComb. Pub rock is often considered an extinct form these days. They Were Better Live is a reminder of what we are missing.

Renee Geyer has been making records since Mushroom Records was a very small spore. She has always had a great voice and strong material but since her collaboration with Paul Kelly on Difficult Woman back in 1994 she has really dealt herself back in. Sweet Life, produced by Kelly and Joe Camilleri (whose Black Sorrows album, the under-rated Beat Club was one of last year’s best kept secrets) has bags of style and a long finish.

From her own song, Best Times, with its creamy dubbed vocals and funk guitar from Ross Hannaford and Paul Berton, to the soulful phrasings of the Paul Kelly original, You Broke a Beautiful Thing, Sweet Life stacks up well against the sort of classy production work Roger Davies has done with Joe Cocker and Tina Turner. With such musicians as Clayton Doley, John Clifforth, Jeff Burstin, Rick Formosa and the whole of the Kelly Band on board, this album is an A-list occasion. On one track Renee Geyer sings “I want the cake and the candle”. For Sweet Life she deserves both.

Following up their debut album Taken For a Ride, Black Taxi is back at the head of the rank with Saturday Street (Larrikin). Featuring the svelte vocal talents of Leah Cotterell, April Roncivalle, Yasmin Shoobridge and Rachel Kennedy, Black Taxi record under the auspices of the Northern Melbourne Institute of Tafe. With this raft of compositions from veteran Adelaide songwriter Terry Bradford, who in collaboration with Dave Wayman wrote and produced, Black Taxi is right on the button. There are samba rhythms on Mr Greenaway, acoustic folk strains on Gone to Water and brassy swing solos on Don’t Go Thru Town Dave. The closing track, Jubilation, says it all. Black Taxi is smart, jazzy and full of vocal beans.

VAST is an acronym for grandiose. Actually it stands for Visual Audio Sensory Theater, a concept not so much high as tottering. Brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Jon Crosby, VAST (Liberation/Mushroom) is a ragout of the sort of Big Sounds you might get if you crossed Pink Floyd at its most majestically vacuous with Prodigy at its most crashingly lame. Touched, with its arena rock vocals and pretentiously laced with samples from Bulgarian folk music and Tibetan chanting is full of false promise. Pretty When You Cry is teenage misogynism, I’m Dying, Temptation and Three Doors have an awful religiosity, all vague flourishes and pompous allusion. VAST has the sort of production that makes your woofers sound good, but a better title would probably be MT.

UK composite, Faithless has been gaining ground for about three years now. From the debut single, Salvea Mea to their album success, Reverence , the band has been getting regular airplay and recognition for their cross-over success. For cross-over success, read mainstream. Which is why even a stranger to Clubland such as I, might have stumbled over the techno energies and quirky lyrics of their single, Insomnia. The band toured here back in April showcasing material from their latest release Sunday 8 pm (Festival)

The key to the Faithless success is that they are so multiskilled as to be three bands in one. There is the rapid fire AAAABBBBBCCCCC rhyme scheme of veteran rapper Maxi Priest, the pop ballads from singer/songwriter Jamie Catto and the wall of sound keyboards from former rave DJ, Sister Bliss. The Faithless sound is credited to the musical alchemy of Producer/Mixer, Rollo. It is he, camera shy and refuser of interviews, who is the wizard behind the curtain bringing together Maxi, Catto, Sister Bliss and their respective genres.

Sunday 8pm opens with twittering birdcalls fed into a slow synth fugue which then shifts pace to a funk beat. Dave Randall’s acoustic guitar tinkles, Sister Bliss plays some Satie-ish piano chords. We are in Rollo’s tone poem, The Garden. This is enticingly followed by the hard end-rhymes of Maxi Priest, the lanky English Jamaican vocalist/ Faithless frontman. His world “contained in the space between bass and drum” is interestingly personal in focus.

There is the memoir of a fractured childhood, Bring My Family Back and the gritty celebration of precocious sex, She’s My Baby. There are other vocals from Catto, even a guest spot from Boy George. But it is Maxi who is the centre of interest. He is the Faithless sound, and his lyrics, matured by experience and Buddhist calm, are infinitely more appealing than the psychotic hostilities often associated with hip-hop.

Which is why Postcards, Maxi’s diary of life on the road has a casual flair and sense of the particular which is genuinely poetic and, amidst the generic milking-machine sounds of techno, highly distinctive. It is also why Maxi can stand centrestage, as he did recently at Heaven, surrounded by the bombastic drum and bass fanfare of six labouring musicians and announce -” This is my Church/This is where I heal my hurts/ It’s in natural grace/ or watching young life shape/It’s in minor keys/ Solutions and remedies/ enemies becoming friends/ where bitterness ends/ This is my Church.”

The lyrics, over-run by a giant tide of pounding beats, pattering rhythms and stitching syncopations, are from God is a DJ. A less ironic, intelligent and musically astute outfit would swiftly fall to earth with stuff like this. VAST certainly does. But the driving beats and layers of sound, the sardonic delivery from Maxi and the shrewdly eclectic production from Rollo, ensure that Sunday 8pm is an appointment worth keeping. Faithless are not only an excellent access point to contemporary dance club music, they might just heal your hurts as well.

All CDs kindly supplied by Festival Music.

The Adelaide Review, June 1999.

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