Oldest Friend - The Painkillers (Off The Hip)
Of the four albums by The Painkillers since 2006, this is the first to feature a full band. It also reprises five of its nine songs from earlier recordings.
The Painkillers were formerly a duo - guitarist-singer Joe Bludge, a bluesman, and drummer James Baker, a man who surely needs no introduction.
Coming from Perth (yeah, yeah, the most isolated capital city in the world) kept them a secret from the rest of Australia. I remember rushing across town one Saturday night, after an opening spot by Wrong Turn at The Empire (RIP), to catch a rare East Coast Painkillers show at Sydney’s Excelsior Hotel (RIP again), and finding the band barely outnumbered by punters.
The Painkillers’ bare bones ethos created something unique that let the players’ personalities shine through - a hybrid of trashy blues with a quirky underbelly. It was shown off on songs like “Drunk On a Train”, and the debut album of the same name was the I-94 Bar’s pick for Best Album of 2006.
Fast-forward more than a decade - that’s several Le Hoodoo Gurus, Dubrovniks, early Scientists and Beasts of Bourbon reunions for Baker - and The Painkillers are a quartet. Have been for a while. The duo was joined by Martyn P Casey (Bad Seeds, Grinderman, The Triffids) on bass and Richard Lane (The Stems, The Chevelles, The On and Ons) on guitar, four years ago. The new line-up has been gigging a bit and preceded this album with an EP.
At this point, this review was going to bag The Painkillers for losing what made them great. For becoming a Real Rock Act. Who am I kidding? Repeated plays show they haven’t morphed into a hair band, that The Painkillers retain their garage-y vibe and that James Baker is still one off the best exponents of loose-and-limber, swinging jungle beats.
OK, “Honey Bees” has lost its subtlety, “Drunk On a Train” is stripped of much of its eccentricity, but they both still sound good. They're good songs. The updated “Redfern Girl” has genuine swing and the added bonus of wheezy harmonica laid over the top. Lyrically,it’s still the same regretful glance over the shoulder and a half-cut, optimistic look forward. With a full band, “Suicide Machine” takes on a Velvets vibe.
The title track is a beauty, a wordy Joe Bludge story about an old friend who shared the same travails before growing up. The unspoken bond put to song. The band rattles away behind him, wrestling with a dry and slightly ragged mix that suits pretty well. Martyn Casey’s strutting bass-line takes the song out. You can listen to it here. “Shenton Park Madonna” and “$6 Chicken” are two other new ones that are keen to make your acquaintance, too.
If you’re copping an album by The Painkillers for the first time, it won’t matter one fucking jot what went before. The Painkillers are a straight-up garage, rock and roll band. They play evocative but trashy and punky mid-tempo songs with unabashed panache, their music best enjoyed live with a bevy in hand and a Saturday-night-rolling-into-Sunday-morning ahead.
Just the sort of CD to kill the pain the morning after, too.