one faint deluded smile

Sunday, August 14, 2005


new wave or what?

One thing I can be sure of: I saw The Reels for the very first time at French's Wine bar in Oxford Street, Darlinghurst. Don't ask what year, or even think about anything more specific because I really have no idea after all this time. However, it was very soon after I'd seen Midnight Oil there too but this was well before the Oils became the most loved rock band in Australia and some parts of the Western world. Yes, they were both paying their gigging dues, all round the state and far across the territories.

mp3: Love Will Find A Way

As per this very delightful track (their first single), you can see that The Reels started off as a slightly electro New Wave Pop band. Lots of gorgeously overlayed synths but drums and guitars are just as important. A bit too XTC maybe but with less problematic singing and lyrics that are direct instead of annoyingly abtuse. And... just listen to that fabulous Polly Newman rhythm keyboard stuff in the right channel - what an arranger he was.

mp3: Quasimodo's Dream

I can well remember that I saw this version of the band for the very first time at The Rockgarden in William Street, King's Cross. By this time, they'd dropped the guitar completely, added yet another keyboard player - Karen Ansel - and made their outfits even more garish whilst keeping the backdrops as plain, plain white. God, they looked fantastic with their small synths and tiny radio microphones. As futuristic as all get out and I ached to be one of them. The music just got better too with all those reverby vocals: Ooh and Ahs and so on swimming round my skull. No wonder this track was voted in the Top 10 Aussie songs of all time, even if it's lyrical content is completely incomprehensible - it's all about the 'feel', isn't it?

mp3: No.3

I think I heard this track for the very first time at the Trade Union Club on Foveaux Street, Surry Hills. But I could be mistaken. They must have thought the sound needed toughening up after an album's worth of synth and vocals and drums and mostly downbeat tunes. But it's still the same lineup. Great Glam Rock backing yelps abound but it didn't sneeze itself near the top 100.

mp3 : Bad Moon Rising

I definitely saw this for the very first time on Countdown (Australia's most fab rock show) because, well, they were a 2 piece by then and they'd given up on the gigging stuff. Yes, it's a cover of the old Creedence Clearwater Revival track but it leaves the southern boogie in the cupboard and replaces it with stately, cod-symphonic flourishes. The video was marvellous with Dave Mason's slow motion long-haired walk past a revolving batch of friends, band members and 'legends'.

Some other things to know about The Reels:

- Always well before their time, they predicted the 90's Lounge Music revival 10 years earlier when they released an album of louche cover versions including "This Guy's In Love With You" and "The Last Waltz" as 1982's "Beautiful" (on K-Tel, btw)

- Always supremely ironic, their late 80s album and tour entitled "Neighbors" was based on cover versions of other Australian artists... and didn't they just hate it all by then.

- From the beginning, they pretty much detested the rock business, Australian suburban life, country towns, artists, idiots... all of life, really. Grand misanthropes to the bitter end.

- Guitarist Craig Hooper was the next door neighbour of a work friend. Apparently he shouted a quite lot.

- Buy their best of "Requiem" at your local Sanity store or on the internet here.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Jack and The Firm

caine in newcastle

I saw "Get Carter" in the early 70s and loved it immediately. Michael Caine at his sarcastic best, the grimy streets, pubs and clubs of Newcastle, the sex, the tough guys and girls: it's easily one of the greatest crime film I've ever seen.

mp3: The original Roy Budd theme

This track just sets it up perfectly with a propulsive R&B riff and a slightly off-key tune winding around. It's as deft as the main theme for "The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3" but not so arty. The shots behind the song are of a progessively bored Carter on the long, night train back home and. It chugs sluggishly downwards as the train reaches the end of the line - fairly obvious but it still works.

When I arrived in my current place of abode in the early 90s, I had a complete fetish for crime fiction and sought out the movie at the local video store. It still thrilled me, even if it's flaws were more obvious than ever. Over the next few years I borrowed it again and again until the shop owner told me that I was the only person that ever took it home. Ah, little me and my obsessions.

mp3: Stereolab's version

Around this same time, Alison and Busby were re-releasing a whole raft of terrific 60s and 70s crime fiction including minor masters like Macdonald, Hines, Stark and... Ted Lewis. I snaffled all of these up but "Jack's Return Home", "Jack Carter's Law" and the non-Carter book "GBH" stood out simply because of their toughness, location and lack of easy resolutions. Lewis killed off Carter in the first book so all the subsequent ones are flash backs of a kind, fleshing out the characters and making the life seem even more tawdry than I could imagine. By the time of the last novel "Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon" you could tell he'd had enough - the plot is weak and awkward and the people seem a bit stiff and ridiculous. But they all manage to resonate with me still. And they're one of the few places where I can read "c*nt" without cringing.

mp3: The Flaming Star's version

No idea who these lot are - some sort of garage rock outfit. But it's quite a storming version all the same.

All your Get Carter needs can be found here. Whilst a lot of pics can be found here.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Is It Too Early?

snowbug buildings

To reminisce about The High Llamas, that is? I think not. They were basically dead in the water by the end of the 20th century with their halcyon days in the later half of the 90s and the critics "world as oyster" phrases lapsing 5 years before that.

They were the first band I wanted to hear again and again after I rediscovered my love for music in 1995. The mix of electronics, Beach Boys / 60's melodies, classic, extensive horn and string arrangements, silk-dry production and, most especially, their cool, calm reserve resonated with me deeply (and still does). I suppose that this last point could be seen as a personality flaw in normal circumstances but unless you love this aspect of the band then you really will hate them.

As most people do.

mp3: Checking In, Checking Out

After Microdisney broke up, Sean Hagan kept up the sophisticated indie pop with a solo release and then the 1st HL album "Santa Barbara". But it wasn't until "Gideon Gaye" that the band's sound and style started to coalese. 'Checking In...' is a transitional song with all those guitars and Steely Dan / America influences showing through but the extended instrumental section at the end points to a slightly more expanded vision.

mp3: Dressing Up The Old Dakota

"Hawaii" came along a couple of years later and was minutely tuned with short bridging tracks between the longish songs. And the production is superb - not a note or voice out of place. 'Dakota' starts with one of those Brian Wilson plink-plonk piano arrangements which I would tire of by the end of their career but the repetitive, looping end section always manages to fascinate.

mp3: Glide Time

1997's "Cold and Bouncy" takes the heat out of their music even further. Rarely emotional, they now sound like ultra-perfect space age bachelor pad music. 'Glide Time' is 50's lounge updated with 'sophisticated' vintage electronics.

mp3: Triads

By "Snowbug" they were practically frigid. I ached to hear something that even promised real sentiment but I knew it could never be - they simply wouldn't be the High Llamas if personality seeped through. 'Triads' comes closest but it's the arrangement that does it once again. Sparse, clean, ascetic. Not the kinds of words that make the young folk sit up and take notice.

Their later albums refine this sound even further but the tunes aren't there any more and the record company money has all but dried up so the production can't match the ideas anymore. A few desultory almost solo tours and now no word for a year or so.

A box set is all that can await the fans.