Review by: Michael Strait
Album assigned by: Mark Maria Ahsmann
Okay, so, on the three major components to this album:
- The guy’s VOICE. He’s probably the most Australian vocalist I’ve ever heard in my life, and he’s such a quintessential rock singer too. Utterly snotty, disaffected, rough and raw, contemptuous – and yet also capable of projecting surprising amounts of personal emotion when necessary, not to mention carrying a tune if he really exerts himself. He’s a sarcastic rock n roll demon with some personal demons of his own; in other words, he’s like Mick Jagger if Mick Jagger was genuine. He’s my favourite thing about this album, and the chief reason I’m planning on seeking out some more Saints in future.
- The guitars. They’re what you might expect from a punk rock album recorded in 1978 – scuzzy buzzsaws aggressively sizzling about at high speeds, playing mostly chords and riffs. There’s a few cleanly-picked segments (well, clean here being contextual; they still sound like they’re struggling to swim their way out of a cloud of fuzz). The riffs, thankfully, are great, inventive and catchy stuff, and the few solos (still more than the average punk rock album of the time, mind) are a little amateurish but usually quite blistering and cool.
- The rhythm section. The drummer’s pretty good, all told, but unspectacular – he rarely draws attention to himself and instead just focuses on keeping time in a way that is just primal enough to not be boring and just professional enough to not sound lazy. The bassist is the real talent here, I think – his basslines are all super cool, noticeable, swaggericious and precise, and his tone ain’t bad at all.
Now, as for individual highlights: The first track, “Know Your Product”, is one of two tracks to contain noticeable horn arrangements. They’re used awesomely, and create probably the most memorable riff on the album. It’s fascinating just how well these pristine, majestic instruments blend with the mudslinging guitar and acidic vocals, but they really do fit perfectly and it makes me wonder why more punk rock bands didn’t think to do something like this.
There’s also three acoustic tracks on the album. I wouldn’t call any of them ballads, and in fact only the middle one – “A Minor Aversion” – is really noticeably slower than its surrounding electric rockers. All of them are awesomely evocative, anyway. They sound a bit too irreverent, irreligious and acerbic to be redolent of the American west, but they certainly sound like an old wooden dive bar in a desert somewhere, which I guess is fitting considering that Australia’s probably the only other place in the Anglophone world you can really find those sortsa joints. The vocalist in these songs really fits in perfectly – I can’t picture him as anything but a leather-covered, gun-toting motorcyclist fleeing some distant personal failing, kinda like Mad Max without the civilisational collapse. The harmonica used on one of the electric rockers – “Run Down” – adds pleasingly to this impression.
The track “This Perfect Day” is two and a half minutes of fuckin’ punk perfection, and I love it. Aside from this wonderfully, effortlessly cool clean guitar bridge which – again – sounds like the soundtrack to a cowboy walking through a tiny Australian outback town, the chorus sounds like it’s constantly falling over itself again and again in preoccupation with the vocalist’s self-loathing. This is how self-loathing in rock music really SHOULD sound, by the way – disguised, presented as a careless spit in the face of the world that he’s trying to hate in order to distract himself from himself. This song is part of a string of tracks, starting at track 7 and lasting the rest of the album, that doesn’t breach 3 minutes long, and that’s just what I need from my scuzz-rock. Lawd knows this kind of music can get tiresome if it sticks about for too long – I mean, a leathered-up biker cowboy might be fascinating to have in your town for a bit, but do ya really want him greasing up your spare bed for a week?
Some other things of note include: the riff on the final song, “International Robots”, which is such an exact and precise rhythmic match for the riff on Green Day’s “American Idiot” that it makes me suspicious of the latter group; the guitarwork in the chorus of “No, Your Product”, which sounds like it’s trying to reach the sky before flaming out and falling down into the sea like an early SpaceX rocket; the chorus on “Private Affair”, which is just gloriously catchy; and, finally, just the general joyousness I feel from this record. That might seem contradictory, considering how much I’ve just been talking about the guy’s self-loathing, but this music really does sound as if it is enjoying its rebellion against the world on at least a primal level. After all, even if you’re running from winged demons on a motorcycle, there’s gotta be some pleasure in the visceral thrill of going so fast, and that’s what I get out of this album. It’s characterful, soulful, genuine, evocative, powerful, loud and, best of all, damn good fun – listen to it at once.