Brujita - Chris Masuak & The Viveiro Wave Riders (I-94 Bar Records)
It’s difficult to believe that Chris Masuak is only in the second half of his 50’s when you examine his output. It’s been a diverse and solid career, spanning almost four decades.
He was in his late teens when he joined Radio Birdman. He was half of the sound of the “twin-guitar attack” that assaulted Sydney with its array of proto-punk influences, to forever stake Birdman a claim as one of the most influential bands the city has produced.
Then there were the post-Birdman bands. The Hitmen never had the songs, in my opinion, but they always delivered as a live act. Masuak’s guitar playing was the stand-out. Chris was still in his early 20’s and still forging his own style. It lay somewhere between the technical brilliance of Mountain and the pop-rock sensibility of The Dictators.
Then there were the Screaming Tribesmen, a band that had much stronger song writing and the place, I believe, where Masuak really found his feet with his distinctive guitar stylings. They were a band I saw a lot around 1985-87 and even travelled to the suburbs to watch.
Masuak has flirted with a variety of styles over the last 30 years. He’s played country, blues and surf, but he‘s always come back to his true home, proto-punk. He certainly is one of the finest players Australia has produced in this style.
This is the first release for Chris since his split with Radio Birdman. And this is Masuak’s opportunity to say “Fuck You”, on both artistic and personal levels.
The album opens with, “Another Lost Weekend” and I am stunned. This is pop. Melodic with hooks everywhere, with classic ‘60s organ and a trademark Masuak solo. The lead break is full of soul and supreme technical brilliance. The title track “Brujita” follows; my foot is tapping and I am singing along by the second chorus. There are more hooks here than on an illegal night-time trawler floating on the Hawkesbury River.
There has been much talk about two particular songs on the album, namely “No Younger” and “Birdbrain”. I would put “Bully Boys” into the mix, as well.
“Bully Boys and “Birdbrain” are melodic and hard rocking songs with finger-pointing lyrics, as well as an underlying sense of regret. I think some of the best songs ever written are in this vein. Certainly, Dylan’s “Positivity 4th Street” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” fall into this category. The artist has written to express anger and as well other emotions.
“No Younger”. Well, there is no overt mention who the song is directed at and who it is about but you can guess. It certainly is not subtle. And as someone who is friends with the subject and have worked with him, I find it a little unnerving. Then, I filed it alongside with John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep” and it made sense. Yes, a band is like a family and an emotional experience and these lyrics are almost as cutting as the most vicious of divorce songs.
“Niagara” is the most musically furious song; with a spray of scattergun guitar that penetrates….yet again, bursting into hooks and melody. The lyrics don’t do it for me. It is the weakest song on the album. It’s a little corny for my ears. I never was a fan of the Detroit Diva and her whole mystique yet, it is an ode to a friend, and I get that.
Masuak re-located to Spain a few years ago and now lives in the village of Viveiro. “Viveiro Rocks” is about the town. Once again, the rollicking anthem sing-along value of it becomes apparent. Here is a live favourite. I can hear 100 Spaniards chanting along, jumping up and down and topping up with the best Spanish beer.
“Go with the Flow” closes the album and nd actually it’s my favourite song. It is a perfectly-written rock song with its chord progression, guitar lines and the way the chorus kicks in. This is exceptional writing and should have been the single. I know see Chris as a brilliant songwriter on the strength of this song alone. Sublime.
There is certainly an urgency to this record, almost like the debuts by The Clash and The Dammed. You sense Masuak had to write and record these songs. That is where the comparison ends. Again, I will make mention of the guitar playing. There is an arsenal of scales and styles and exceptional technique throughout the album. Masuak is a guitar player’s guitar player.
The only criticism is on the recording. It is very clean and lacks bottom end. Masuak’s music really lends itself to analogue recording and/or mastering. This is sharp sounding but too crystal clear and you feel the cymbals in front of you. There simply seems to be a lack of warmth and maybe just a few more mics in the room to capture the power of the band (and quarter inch mastering) might have boosted the sound.
I was always someone who said the inner politics of Radio Birdman and Masuak’s sacking was no one’s business but the band’s. That said, as a music writer (and not accepting the chorus of comments that flooded social media a couple of years ago) I can say that Masuak was, on a creative level, “the George Harrison of Radio Birdman”. He was much younger and was overshadowed by two very talented and powerful egos. At least four of these songs could have been basis of a new Radio Birdman album. That said, the greatest post Beatles album was indeed “All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison.
“Brujita “ is a very strong album with songwriting akin to the Flamin’ Groovies, the Dictators and the melodic side of The Only Ones. A pop sensibility pervades throughout and the guitar-playing is of highest order, right up or surpassing the best of Mountain and Blue Oyster Cult. It is diverse and at times technically brilliant. I file this as one the strongest post-Birdman albums. It simply rocks!!! - Edwin Garland
For those who haven't quite worked out why this is called the I-94 Bar, Chris Masuak is an ex-guitarist from Radio Birdman and the Bar's name refers to one of their songs. He's also been in the Hitmen, The New Christs and the Screaming Tribesmen. He’s quite good at his trade.
In fact, when he picks up the guitar, he will make you look stupid and incompetent. Don't worry. It's nothing personal. He just makes everyone look stupid and incompetent.
One way of looking at this album is that it's Chris' third solo album. Another is to view it as the debut album by Chris Mazuak and the Viveiro Wave Riders. It certainly has the feel of a debut album.
Generally, an artist or band gets a pile of songs together that they drag from venue to venue until they make a name for themselves. The songs are amended as the I's are dotted and the T's crossed. The singer learns the way around difficult notes and still look good. The musicians learn where to strike a power chord and hit a pose in synch. The band goes into a studio, slams the thing out and it's beautiful.
Later albums tend to be written, recorded and then taken out on the road to see how many of those new songs you can throw in the bin without anyone noticing. This is why so many debut albums are regarded as classics and the second album risks being your sophomore jinx.
With "Brujita", Chris Mazuak presents us with a set of songs that have clearly been road tested. He's made the switch from guitarist who sings to frontman. He's centre stage and calling the shots but the band plays like a band. The bassist and drummer know the songs like they wrote them themselves. It's impossible to fault. It rocks. It's fun. I can't imagine they don't blow the roof of everywhere they play.
My first thought upon listening to this album was how apparent it makes Chris' absence from Radio Birdman seem. Although this doesn't sound like a Birdman album, it has all the light touches that Chris bought to that band.
As a whole, the album sort of sounds like the kind of Dictators/Flaming Groovies/Blue Oyster Cultish kind of disc you would expect from Chris. He's pulled back from that Ted Nugent play every note on the neck thing and concentrated on melody. He's added a lot more roll to his rock. Songwriting style tilts more towards Flaming Groovies, sixties pop and a hint of country rock. But the influences are broad.
The track “Bully Boys” could be a Mick Jones Clash song circa “Give ‘Em Enough Rope.” Solos move toward the heavier end of the equation. Both lyrics and guitars freely throw in post-modern variations of classic rock licks and styles. Here's a bit of "Hot Rails to Hell" blended across a rival melody.There's a Ron Asheton quote and a snatch of Niagara lyrics. He quotes his life story through his cultural references. The songs are almost paintings.
The Destroy all Monster's chanteuse acts as muse for the track "Niagara”. But who could blame him for that particular obsession? He spent 30 years on stage looking at Johnny Kannis' backside only to one day look up and see Niagara's bottom fronting the Hitmen. You'd have trouble getting that picture out of your mind, too.
But there will be controversy and much of it courted. Anyone familiar with the Radio Birdman story knows they are seldom a happy bunch of campers. (Well the current version actually seems delighted with each other's company but this is a new development. Relationships within other versions have been less - shall we say - cordial.) Given the lyrical content of this album, you'll probably be able to work out what Chris thinks about what's happened to the band and his non-inclusion in the touring band.
Tracks like "No Younger" and "Bird Brain" don't really suffer from an over reliance on subtlety. Some of the lines are a little overly obvious. That said, there are people who would pay good money to be a fly on the wall when Rob Younger hears the “Might as well be lovers” line. But, I want to side step that. As John Lydon once noted, anger is indeed an energy and Chris has certainly found inspiration in adversity.
Rather than kicking off a new round of the war against the jive, let’s concentrate on the positives. This is Chris’ best and most consistent album since his work on “Radio’s Appear”. That’s a fairly big call, I know. Despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune he has taken arms against, this is probably the most upbeat album any ex member of Radio Birdman has produced. (Well there is that album by Warwick and Julie out of the Flaming Hands that I quite like too…) It is a seriously good power pop record tilting at the power side. It is definitely worthy of your attention and definitely deserves five bottles.- Bob Short
“Brujita” is a delightful plunge back into the fun as well as the smarts of the Chris Masuak well all know and love. Surf's up, bully boys!
Why so cheerful? Well, Masuak has dived into the well of misery and come up with a sparky pop CD. I mean, we’ve all know he had pop chops from way back; later, with the Hitmen for example, the band reached beyond crunching beer-sodden granular rock and produced songs Slade would’ve been proud of (“I Don’t Mind” and “Don’t Hit Girls” spring to mind).
Over the years I’ve been told my taste in music is rather broad. So when I give Sunn0))) or Wire or Eric Mingus or Anton Becker the emphatic thumbs up, I don’t expect the bulk of I-94 Bar devotees to scamper out and grab an armload of CDs and vinyl. That said, commercial megaliths like the Red Hot Something or Others aside, the current state of rock’n’roll crowds in Australia is a far cry from the 1970s or 1980s.
However, Chris Masuak is a different kettle of fish (the Barman told me to say: “Full disclosure: I know the man a little”). Not that that matters particularly. A bad album is a bad album and if “Brujita” were bad I wouldn’t bother reviewing it; suffice to say, this little beast rates four-and-a-half bottles at the bar, and can I get lemon with that?
Many readers here on the I-94 Bar are Australian rock fans. So you’ll probably not merely aware, but very aware, that unless I mention something straight away, you’ll think I’m dodging the issue. For several of the most important years in Radio Birdman’s career (back in the Paleolithic mid-‘70s), Masuak was the “other” guitarist (the one who didn’t throw shapes). The reason I must mention this so specifically is that there could be a case for two songs here being aimed at Birdman.
It’s impossible not to trip over Birdman fans here in Australia. Of the older, grizzled and mortgaged Radio Birdman fans, at the time many believed that it was Klondike’s influence which kept the band sounding powerful and imminent rather than a two-squirt thrash band; on the other hand you had your Tek aficionados, and then there were others who loved watching the byplay…
Although it’s true that while many haven’t especially noticed Masuak’s absence from Birdman, many others wish the funds could be found to drag Masuak, Kannis and the rest of the Hitmen around the country for one more glorious debauch. Stooges fans (I know you’re out there) would also love to see the return of Niagara to Australia alongside.
And then there’s Screaming Tribesmen fans …
See, Chris Masuak is the real deal. The kind of rock the commercial dimwits call “classic”, but not in that ghastly, pompous way. You won’t find a Barnes or Farnes-like track here, nor Lynnrd Skynnrd, nor Chicago or whatever tedium is currently in the charts … mind you, the juggernauts of bombast could do worse than covering almost any of Masuak’s songs here (only a couple of which creep over the four minute mark).
Masuak currently lives in a village in Spain called Viveiro, from where he sallies forth… and the Spanish love him. Over the border, Masuak always pulls good, enthusiastic crowds. He turns up on Spanish front pages. Real live Aussie gringo rock which swings, rocks and pops your clogs; no big long-winded rep to live up to, just sweating and playing in front of the great unwashed (that’s us, but the Spanish us) out there in towns, a troubadour in a country who loved troubadours.
This is Masuak’s third full solo album, and it’s a corker, pop and rock entwined. And that’s not all; if you listen to the lyrics there’s some fascinating, dark and other-worldly threads a-spinning. You really get the feeling you’re getting to see more of what the man is capable of, “Brujita” is polished without being overly buffed, is rough about the edges but intentionally so. There’s an immediacy here which is (to bugger a phrase) hard to beat; the tight, clean sound emphasises Masuak’s pop sensibility and clear voice, the superb tightness of the band themselves, and how closely they dovetail with Masuak’s vibe.
Criticisms? Precious few. While I can imagine harmonies on some tracks, strings on others, and pianos, they’ve clearly made a decision to stick to Chris and the band, what it is and what it does live, rather than make something they’d need more personnel to do live; on the other hand, the CD has so many great songs they cry out for covering by a range of talents.
It’s a rare pleasure these days to hear an album with so many different angles; you can take it as a straight pop/rock album and play it over and over as you go about your day, you can put it on in the car and teach the four-wheeled creature to climb poles or pedestrians, or you can get under the surface a little and into the lyrics. But that’s not essential. Here we have a classic old-style pop album with a simple, modern production which highlights all the good points.
“Another Lost Weekend” opens the CD with a short, groovy little pop song and, given that we’re all shoving water uphill with a fork towards 60 y.o. and old age (how the fuck that happened I have no idea), Masuak is comparing that “classic” lost weekend with … where did all our time go, dammit? Also, the lyrics clearly indicate a recent illness which would’ve had many of us reaching for our old mate Jack or Mr Cooper; Chris’ response is a bit more down to earth:
When I woke up it was more than weird
It was everything I ever feared
But Doctor Ill punched me in the chest
It looks the worst
So do your best
Just look at that sea of eyes
They’re lookin at you tonight
You may be familiar with the 7” of the same name; it’s kind of Masuak to put his fabulous crowd-pleasing flipside, “Animal”, on the CD as a bonus track. The chorus (“De Puta Madre Animal”) is cute; say that wrong in Spain and you’ll be dealing with knives and angry men; say it right and it’s a cool thing to say. I won’t give it away, go to Spain and find adventure…
Slightly more uptempo, “Brujita” would have seen Masuak on Top of the Pops in a different time. So far we’re well into 1960s pop territory, via late'70s rock. It’s a strong, enjoyable mixture of heavy and sugar; you can either dance or waltz with your honey. It is, of course, a legend about a local ghost who’ll put you out of your misery when your love turns to ashes.
“Bully Boys” is in the same vein but like I say, it’s not The Archies (more like The Kinks or The Who on a diet); remember choruses you could chant to? There’s a lot more goin’ on…
From the Four Winds bar comes a dreadful cry
When the bungo pony starts to ride
You’ve lost your mind baby
Having said that, too many English football teams send out their woeful men to “We Are The Champions” when something like “Bully Boys” would be far more appropriate…
From Masuak’s splintery opening bars, you know you’re gonna be bopping to this one: “Niagara” is a tribute to Ron Asheton’s former missus, the artist known as Niagara. www.niagaradetroit.com
She’s my latest favourite
She is going to die
I don’t want her to go, Niagara
Don’t go, Niagara
This is one of the most straightforward rockers here, and yet it’s one of the weirdest, lyrically speaking:
Every home in Zurich
Has a smoking gun
They’re all locked and loaded
Every single one
I don’t know what Chris is on (he’s a naturopath and a Sufi Muslim, remember) but a day in this man’s head would be damned interesting. If you can stop dancing long enough to listen. Crowds sing along to this one…
“No Younger” is an emphatic, stonking, rippling track which soars and punches like a good ‘un, and will have feet ruining posh shoes from Madrid to Zurich to that little Australian harbour town I mentioned earlier. Superbly crafted tuff pop, this, great intro, middle and end with so much potential for a wig-out live I can’t wait to see it.
“No Younger” can be read several ways (the thought springs to mind that it might just initially have been about Birdman) which is pleasing; that we’re listening to a superior pop song, however, is first and foremost; lyrically, I think we all know idiots (as described.)
“How could you be so wrong/Let me know how long/ You’re gonna milk that party trick” is just a sample of how good these lyrics are. Wendy James, you need to hear this album. Side One ends leaving us wanting more of this rather eloquent man.
Side Two opens with another stomper that crowds will love to sing along to, “Bird Brain".
Meaner than a man in a cold straight jacket
Harder than a last goodbye
The sorest loser in a numbers racket
Now I’m gonna tell you why
To this day all I can say
I must have been a birdbrain
Comment has been made that “Birdbrain” finds its inspiration in Radio Birdman; again, it doesn’t really matter that much except to grizzled old men from the aforesaid Paleolithic (like me, I guess). The song is the killer, kicking thing and while you’re bouncing round the room knocking over the furniture (and was that your wife’s favourite vase?) you’re focusing on having a ball. Which is what Masuak’s songs aim for first and foremost: the dancing bone.
“On the Down” opens nicely modern and heavy, that deliberate dragging squeal as Masuak fingers the strings; this is probably the most ‘70s-related songs here. Curiously, I am reminded of early, pre-ChinnyChap The Sweet; Masuak’s guitar lines here drift between brutality and fairy story - there are elements of it I don’t like, but mostly … fuck it, I want to see how he handles this live. Lyrically? This time, you’re on your own…
“Thirsty” is a twitchy, shifting little song, Masuak’s vocal tears above it in fine style. Clearly he’s been watching too many terrible B-movies on TV: “My baby’s drinking blood”, indeed. You can’t help smiling as you hear this for the first time, in between bopping around the room and listening to his rather clever guitar work which will take care of your wife’s other favourite vase and probably those flowers you got her by way of apology last time…
it’s a fascinating lyric:
Abuela’s runnin' wild
Beers and barracudas
In her sights
…then heads to:
Borealis Northern Lights
Electric curtains shut
Against the malice
Drums and huskies on the ice
“Eurovision” sounds a bit like a Doctor Feelgood out-take (bar the rather lovely harmonies) and is, it seems, about a pretty girl so drunk she speaks in Eurovision. Er, honey, you know that horrible occasional table you’ve never liked? It was a present from … ah, well, I’m sure we can get it fixed…
“Viveiro Rocks!” ends the lp itself, and I’d love to see Masuak play there; apparently the town square is packed and the place goes bonkers. It’s a great little pop tune, another of those audience participation songs so prevalent here; for you here in Australia, you’ll need to get another living room…
“Go with the Flow” is one of the bonus tracks, and it seems a perfect footnote after the album proper. Building in a series of stages, this is the kind of rather sweet, credible song the likes of Radio Birdman could never write:
Life is just a gentle river
Its currents deep with love and laughter
And as we travel soul to soul
Go with the flow
Masuak must’ve been in a good mood that day. It’s a perfect feel-good chill-down. The crowd are still dancing…
If you don’t have a dancing bone, replacements are cheap. If you’re determined not to dance, or even want to, in the presence of this record, you have truly lost your mojo and the best thing I can think of you is retirement in the New Zealand hills with plenty of sheep to keep you occupied.
If you ever liked the earlier Birdman, with all those cool pop covers sandwiched in, and their own cool pop songs before they gave them up (what on earth was that last studio album? where were the fun songs? where was the surf?), get “Brujita”. If you never liked Birdman really, so much the better, get “Brujita”, play loud and ruin those shitty shoes and the living-room. Sorry, honey.
What are you waiting for? Buy it here. - Robert Brokenmouth