Dangerous - Sugarchild (MGM), Get Bye Good High - Papaya Fuzz (Burning Sound) and Bigger than Life - Jack Lee (Alive Naturalsounds Records)
One of these CDs bored me pissless, but I’m going to give it four-and-a-half bottles. One of these is a seven bottle disc, the other is also four-and-a-half bottles and (I thought) a damn sight more enjoyable.
Nothing exists in isolation. We all develop differently, in different ways, from the same stimulus. One man is a banker, another, a thief.
Musicians are popularly both isolated and part of the crowd. Some might as well open their own bank ("Elton’s Bank’) while others we suspect nick the washing off clotheslines and have garage sales every Saturday and Sunday morning to make ends meet. (No, I won’t snitch).
I’ve never heard of Sugarchild, but apparently they formed in 1994 and they are from Perth where they were hugely popular. Triple J have them on their website. There is no Wikipedia page, certainly , and not much else really bounces up in a basic Google search. This is what Triple J says:
‘90s indie darlings Sugarchild are back with an album of dark, sparkling and utterly contemporary rock songs. “Dangerous” sees the band delivering on its early promise with themes and tunes for the current age. “Dangerous” is set to shock and awe with epic guitars and vocals that switch between sweet and menacing.
About once a week or fortnight, I try to visit an old friend of mine, Paul. He lives where I grew up, which is the northern suburbs of Adelaide. I hate the place. Nothing but ugly memories and reminders of why I fled. Most of the people there are fine, of course. I just cannot abide it. Ugly, bland, empty. Just like your northern suburbs, I reckon.
Visiting the local shops where we used to go shopping every Thursday night, with the nearby library which we’d visit every Tuesday night … somehow it looks increasingly drab and dowdy. Run-down. Hopeless.
If it weren’t for Paul (he received quite a bit of useful pocket money) introducing me to bands like The New York Dolls (and hundreds more) I’d probably be a suicidal banker, or a paunchy librarian, or a cranky swimming guard, instead of what I am now.
Like I say, nothing grows in isolation. No man is an island (though you can be lonely in a crowd).
Anyway, when I go for the long drive I usually like to slap review CDs into the slot and see what’s happening in the wider world. This trip took longer than usual due to the forest of assorted road-works along with hordes of huge trucks not bothering to indicate until they’d changed lanes. You know.
Sugarchild’s “Dangerous” is, first, extremely well done. It sounds great. It has all the elements you’d want from a band if your taste ran to ‘90s darlings’. Great drumming (Tim Jewell), paint-smart guitar (Ian Dolphin), and a vocalist (Katie Attwell) whose technique and delivery is just spot-on. And that’s why “Dangerous” gets four-and-a -alf bottles. There’s nothing wrong with this record except the reviewer, who found the thing boring and predictable and a chore.
For me, Sugarchild still inhabit the ‘90s, and “Dangerous” is not remotely “dangerous”, the music does not “sparkle” and (unless you’re Boris) the ‘90s are anything but “utterly contemporary”. Everything Sugarchild does on “Dangerous” fits a mould. You know exactly what’s coming down the line.
The lyrics are mostly stacked cliches and unimaginative, mawkish language. Here’s the best line: “Anyway I’ve got nothing left to do with some air miles and a picture of you” - and I think there might be a typo in there. I hope there is, at least.
If Triple J are playing this - or did when it came out late last year - then that sums the useless sods up. “Dangerous” is to me, old-hat, tired and worn out. The guitar fuzzes quietly in the background, there are no distinct songs that I could discern, the whole thing just meanders along like all those other wretched 90s bands who don’t have songs but think that noodling and trundling with the occasional wail is what songs are all about. Imagine two LPs: Billy Joel’s most rocking song (whatever that may be), put against the New York Dolls’ least rocking song off any of the first two LPs.
See what I mean?
But like I say. Sugarchild put a lot into this. Millions loved this kind of sound, and while the ‘90s threw up some astounding music, as with every suddenly popular wave, there was an awful lot of horseshit, and some of it got extremely successful. In 2017, many of us older folks, and the younger folks who looked up to the punk-new-waver-alt-indie folk who happened to get there first, still heap praise on bands returning’who are long, long past their prime, and cannot deliver an enjoyable gig.
Bob Short’s recent review of Blondie was the only one that saw the flaws - everyone else seemed to have been enraptured because of who they supposedly are. If Patti Smith had’ve turned up in Adelaide, I wouldn’t have gone; the Stranglers are coming back to Oz yet again and yet again I won’t be going. The moment is gone, and as far as I can see, nothing of significance has been produced in aeons.
Sugarchild, I’m sure, will be popular again (although I can’t really see much to demonstrate they were ever popular, I wasn’t much of a radio listener or gig-goer in the ‘90s), and they certainly deserve kudos for being able to encapsulate that 90s big rock sound so well.
Just don’t ask me to see them live - that CD was the most irritating I’ve experienced for you (dear readers) in a long while, and as far as I’m concerned they may as well cover “We Built This City on Rock’n’Roll”. Sugarchild have a Facebook page but I refuse to provide the link. Find your fucking self.
Right. The next disc I put in, after pulling over because my heart was pumping so hard (no, not Sugarchild, a Woollies double truck thingy scaring the shit out of me) was Papaya Fuzz, who I’ve also never heard of.
Remember what I was saying about not living on an island? Papaya Fuzz (a three-piece from Switzerland) inhabit a place similar to the skronky bit of 1981, garagey, feedbacky fuzz via blues (but don’t look for blues). Back then, “Get Bye Good High” would’ve sat on our turntables for about the next four years. Lee Ame is the guitarist and vocalist, and they must be a thrill to see, as the music is all high-energy squall and crush.
Remember the early to mid-‘80s? Of course you do. All of those bands which were okey-dokey back then keep turning up and doing reunion gigs. Which, seized in a sort of brain-lock, people keep telling me how much they loved (insert okey-dokey back then band name) and that I should go along because it is imperative etc etc. Oh do fuck off. As with every suddenly popular wave, there is always an awful lot of horseshit (christ, I’m quoting myself) and the ‘80s were no exception. Which meant that some excellent bands flew under the radar in the tidal wave.
Although you’ll spot influences with Papaya Fuzz, it ain’t necessary. Personally, they remind me more of Kill Ugly Pop! than the first Gun Club LP, but who’s heard of Kill Ugly Pop! these days except nutters like me?
Assuming the average I-94 Bar reader has a quite a music collection, you’d be daft not to snap up an LP with titles like “God is a Yogurt” and “8 Dicks”. “Get Bye Good High” is an excellent example of a band working within a genre and getting some huge fun out of it. Ame’s striking yips and yowls and three or four note in one syllable vocals are fabulous. And that’s not all. Get your hands on these three dicks today.
So. From the ‘90s to the ‘80s… Now we come to Jack Lee. The name might not ring too many bells. That’s fine. Ok, if you’re serious about your 1970s Noo Yawk Noo Wayv then you’ll recollect that Blondie’s “Hanging On the Telephone” is a cover of a song on The Nerves’ EP. Jack Lee was the guitarist in The Nerves. If you’re not familiar with any of this, go check out the Wikipedia page - Wikipedia always has errors, and often big ones, but it’s an excellent starting point if there aren’t any other immediately obvious starting points. Here’s a better intro tho, by Mark Deming.
“Bigger than Life” is essentially a reissue of two LPs issued in the ‘80s: “Jack Lee's Greatest Hits Volume 1” (there hasn’t been a Volume Two; the songs were recorded after The Nerves etc), and “Jack Lee”.
As LPs, both are fucking brilliant.
As with every suddenly popular wave, there is always an awful lot of horseshit … nope. Jack Lee and the rest of the Nerves weren’t actually part of a wave. Peter Case later formed the Plimsouls and seemed about to break through… as he did with many of his later bands in the 80s.
Jack Lee doesn’t inhabit the 80s. And I despise the term “powerpop” and frankly remain unimpressed with the narrow scope of “glam” (my mate Paul was trying to tell me that early Queen were a glam band, and I disagree. I think they had aspects of glam, but that’s it. They were heading for a longer, stronger career from day one. And glam … well, the point of glam was that it was fun and kinda disposable.) Certainly the presence of the 80s sits here (particularly on the second LP with the synths), but really, the heart of Jack Lee is straight outta 1964. And, like I said, ‘Bigger than Life’ is fucking brilliant.
Why? Well. Back when the Beatles were holding your hand, there were a lot of fuming males who knew that wasn’t the squeaky-clean thing they wanted to do with girls. And as the Beatles developed, they figured out how to write songs more connected with their reality, rather than an idealised thing (if John Lennon’s “Power to the People” was idealised, it was also heartfelt, as was the other side, “Open Your Box” - you have to wonder at that single. It really did seem to encapsulate the hippy politics of the day. (Will I get letters?)).
So here’s Jack Lee. Think of all those fantastic, high-pitched 1960s pop classics, especially those British ones.
Now imagine them about the writer’s actual reality. There’s a lyrical hook, musical hooks and intelligent, heart-felt vocals amid a powerful driving melody and tune.
Not just once on each LP.
Every single song, it seems. The Barman has already reviewed this LP individually; he comments that “the digital format’s ability to accommodate a double LP’s worth of songs can make collections too big for their own good. Pop albums should be concise and sharp. Smashing two together doesn’t always work.”
No, it doesn’t. On the other hand… first, unlike the benighted Sugarchild, Jack Lee made my return journey from Paul’s an utterly magical delight; second, who said you have to listen to the thing all at once? “Bigger than Life” is a mix-tape maker’s wet dream, a radio jock’s delight. If you want people’s attention, want to boost the mood, doesn’t matter which song you pick.
“Bigger than Life” is more thrilling than you have any right to expect. A roller-coaster of pop with smarts and yearning and loss and bitterness and regrets. The man has had a busy life; reading into the songs, much of it has been of the ‘eventful relationship’ nature. Unlike so many ghastly oiks on the front page of the ‘Daily Libel’, Lee took the raw material of his ordinary circumstances and elevated his experience into something akin to ‘real literature’.
After spending some time working in the film industry, Lee seemed to drop out of show business, though in the 21st century he played a handful of shows with a band called the Jack Lee Inferno, and said he was recording a new album. That LP has yet to appear.
Perhaps if we all get “Bigger than Life”, it may finally find a release.
- Sugarchild: "Dangerous". Buy it and annoy people with taste and knowledge.
- Papaya Fuzz: "Get Bye Good High". Buy it, drive and wreck the car.
- Jack Lee: "Bigger than Life" You should already have this. If you have ever enjoyed a '60s pop hit which got your attention the way a crisp clean green apple gets the attention of a starving man - get "Bigger than Life"