Monday, 14 July 2008

Swan song

I've raved before on here about The Triffids, the best group ever to come out of Australia (yes, even better than The Go-Betweens). When they appeared on the scene in the mid 80s, they were rightly lauded by the music press, but like so many other great bands of that era, failed to quite cut it commercially, even when they moved from an Aussie indie label to Island.

Their best album, to my mind, was 1986's Born Sandy Devotional, on which they sounded unmistakably Australian (no, scrub that - unmistakably Western Australian). Great, poetic songs about loners and losers, all of them victims of an unforgiving, harsh landscape, with a country-tinged, occasionally epic backing.

By 1989, they were experimenting with drum machines, samples and programming, and although you couldn't describe The Black Swan as an unqualified success (it's far too eclectic, ambitious and thus unfocused for that), it's actually stood the test of time pretty well. And it's just been re-released, complete with loads of bonus tracks (it was originally intended to be a double album), although the best things about it are still probably the 'typical' Triffids tracks - the gorgeously languid Too Hot To Move, the poppy Goodbye Little Boy and the hugely evocative New Year's Greetings. The latter is based on a Les Murray poem, The Widower In The Country, and fully does its source justice.

The album had just come out in May 1989 when I saw them play at Newcastle University. In fact I remember walking past the students' union record shop on a very hot day (we had summers, back then) and hearing Too Hot To Move blasting out, and going straight in to buy the record and tickets for their forthcoming gig.

Live, they were wonderful - intense and brooding one minute, poppy and playful the next. But sadly, that was it. They took a break, never intending it to become permanent, but it did. Singer and main songwriter David McComb released one patchy solo album, and dabbled in other bands, but died in 1999, closing the door on a sadly underrated band.

Do yourself a favour - buy the re-release, buy them all if you can. You won't regret it. In the meantime, here they are in their heyday, performing Wide Open Road.


PJ Nolan said...

I remember them playing the Trinity Buttery in Dublin - must have been around the same time they were in the UK. They were a great live band! Sort of paisley velvet underground 'nuggets' stylee.

Matt Merritt said...

That's them! The time I saw them, David McComb introduced every other song as "a very old folk song that's impossible to dance to" - they'd then launch into both their own stuff and covers of songs like What Goes On