Hi-Fab! - Little Murders (Off The Hip)
Fifteen years ago, talented Victorian songwriter Danny McDonald told me that Little Murders was THE great lost power-pop band of Australia’s halcyon musical underground days of the 1980s. They were defunct at the time and an Off The Hip re-issue of their early material - and another reformation - were away off in the future.
Of course, Danny was right. He’d grown up with the band’s songs and they’d left a permanent mark. Little did he know that in 2015 he’d join Little Murders for their fifth and latest studio album “Hi-Fab!” - or that it might be the best thing they’ve ever recorded.
Little Murders have been around the block and then some. Named after a celluloid black comedy, the band sprang from Melbourne’s punk underground in 1979 and became that city’s leading torchbearers for the mod movement. Through many line-up shifts, singer-songwriter-guitarist Rob Griffiths has remained a constant.
Rob is an English expat and that’s important. In the same way that “Ten Pound Poms” ibrought the blues and beat music of the UK to an initially bewildered Australia in the early ‘60s, Griffiths stuck his collection of Who LPs and Union Jack suit under the noses of the black-clad denizens of Footscray and St Kilda. Lots of them liked the sounds, if not the wardrobe options.
OK, that’s simplistic but you get the drift. Rob used to write a blog (“100 Songs”) which was a look at the music that had made an impact on him. Apart from an obvious passion for music, the other stand-out was the breadth of genres that he’s taken in. Which leads us to his songwriting.
“Hi-Fab!” is full of rolled gold, guitar pop classics. As a writer, Rob Griffiths is right up there with a select few (Dom Mariani, Jeremy Oxley among them) of recent times who can summon up classic tunes that are timeless. All of the music of the aforementioned have distinctive, shared elements but their output never feels formulaic. Like the best songs, the music of Little Murders are stories set to soundtracks, brimming over with open chords, hooky choruses, shimmering guitars and irresistible momentum.
Griffiths’ distinctive drolly melodic vocal is one thing. Warm yet slightly word-weary, it’s instantly recognisable. A band that’s perfectly suited and in simpatico with his songs are another. From the opening “24 Hours From London”, with its acoustic bed and chiming guitar refrain, to the yearning, country-inflected pop of “God, It’s Been So Long”, these are killer songs played by a band at the peak of its powers.
“Whenever I Look At You” gets grittier treatment in the guitar department and has a singalong chorus that positively floats above the sea of handclaps. The much-traveled Rod Hayward is a long-serving master on lead guitar and new Danny McDonald is mostly playing rhythm. “The Real Thing” shows off their partnership perfectly with choppy chording and a cranked-up lead-break.
“Hi-Fab!” is Tony Robertson’s swansong with Little Murders and he brings some of his best bass and most melodic parts to the party. “The Kid” is barely mentioned in roll calls of great Aussie bassists but he’s a master and his partner in rhythm, Mick Barclay, is rock solid.
The warm and layered production of Chris Pilkington lets each player’s parts shine through. It’s a combination of textures and transparency. Guests on keys, horns and backing vocals add colour - such as on the Northern Soul swagger of “So Bad”. Anna Burley’s vocal assist on the 12-string propelled “Merry Go Round” is stunning.
The Who haven’t written a decent song in 25 years but even grumpy old Pete would be happy with “Out Of Time”.
Little Murders are journeymen on the Melbourne live music circuit and their appearances elsewhere are few and far between. It’s the mark of a great album when it sounds like the band had a ball recording it and it makes you want to rush out and catch them live. This record is Fab.