Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: Cut/Demon Flower/Juggernaut

Cut (1992) is a far better welcome to the 90s for Hunters & Collectors than it could have been. It's a conscious step away from the last couple of albums, with a harder sound and more interesting beats. "Holy Grail", probably the best known Hunters song next to "Throw Your Arms Around Me", is about the band's failure to crack the US market; helped by its tried and true chord progression ("More Than a Feeling" transposed to a different key), it's ironically the closest thing they had to a hit over there. Oddly, "True Tears of Joy" is, according to Wikipedia, the band's biggest hit, yet I'd never heard of it until I bought the box set.

Demon Flower (1994) ushers in the band's "ho-hum" period. Their lives show justified their continued existence well enough (see forthcoming reviews of Living in Large Rooms/And Lounges), but Australians, particularly the youth, were looking to You Am I, Silverchair and Powderfinger for their fix of local music. "Betrayer" holds its own amongst the best of the Hunters catalogue and claims some of the best brass work since the early days, but the most of the rest of Demon Flower is fair to middling at best.

Juggernaut (1998) is no improvement over its predecessor. Mark Seymour had by now smoothed out the gravel in his vocals to the point where he was hardly recognisable as the same that graced any of Hunters' early albums, so when the band steers away from the middle of the road to rock, it's not as effective as it once would have been. When they do make it work, such as in "Mother Hubbard" and especially "Wasted in the Sun", which combines the slow-burning intensity of some of the downbeat entries in the band's early catalogue with the pop sheen of Cut, it really works. However, this doesn't happen often enough throughout the album to distinguish it significantly from Cut or Demon Flower, nor make it a worthwhile sendoff for such a locally lauded and globally under-appreciated band.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: What's a Few Men?/Ghost Nation

What's a Few Men?
(1987) is the point at which Hunters & Collectors had completely transitioned from Krautrock fanboys to pub circuit mainstays. The almost Midnight Oil-sounding single "Do You See What I See?" is strategically positioned as the second track, and it still is, and was then especially, one of the band's biggest hits. What's a Few Men was re-released in the US as Fate, a calculated but unsuccessful move to try to break into that elusive market. The tracklist is also different: four tracks are missing, with four added in their place, and the tracklist has been shuffled around. The album's proper title is taken from A.B. Facey's memoir A Fortunate Life, and the title track is one of those missing from Fate, which is a shame; it stands out of context as a decent World War I song and is a better ballad than "Around the Flame". Also missing are the decent "Still Hanging 'Round", the excellent, bluesy "Give Me a Reason" and the so-so "Breakneck Road". Fate's extra tracks, appended to all CD versions of What's a Few Men? vary; "Back on the Breadline" and "Something to Believe In" genuinely deserved an Australian release (and, having said that Fate failed to appeal to the US market, "Breadline" did receive a lot of airplay on US alternative radio stations), but "Wishing Well" and "Real World" don't stand out here and I don't imagine they would if I were to recreate Fate with some iPod programming.

Ghost Nation (1989) starts with a bit of a red herring. The verses of "When the River Runs Dry" are led by the rhythm section, like in the old days, while the choruses are of the catchy variety that fans were used to by then. It was their biggest hit at the time, deservedly so, and another song on high rotation on many alternative radio stations in America. As with some other Hunters 7 Collectors albums, Ghost Nation starts off well but then loses momentum, but at the moment I consider it a notch above What's a Few Men?.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: The Jaws of Life/Human Frailty

The Jaws of Life
(1984) is the point at which Hunters & Collectors started fashioning their jams into traditional song structures. I'm totally on board with that; hmmm, what's that other band I listen to that's influenced by Can and Talking Heads and named after a song by one of them?

"42 Wheels" kicks off with - you guessed it - the sound of a car engine starting, bringing to mind the noise experiments of Sparklehorse a decade later, before that glorious rhythm section stomps out an almost "Rebel Rebel" type rhythm, accompanied by slide and tremolo guitar that goes on to punctuate most of the album. Highlights include the downbeat "Hayley's Doorstep" and an excellent cover of my favourite Ray Charles song "I Believe to My Soul" (shortened to "I Believe").

Human Frailty (1986) takes definite steps towards the Hunters sound that would pack the pubs throughout the remainder of the 80s and 90s, streamlining the songs into more radio-friendly fare. 1985 single "Throw Your Arms Around Me" shows up here and was again released as a single (not for the last time); though barely charting in the top 50, it became one of Australia's most beloved songs of all time, although it sounds out of place here, being Mark Seymour's first attempt at a sensitive pop song. Falconer's drumming is calmer here, but interestingly, Archer changed his bass style little, and didn't really need to.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Horn of Plenty box: Hunters & Collectors/The Fireman's Curse

I got this recently for $50, which I'm pretty sure is about $150 cheaper than when it came out. It's ridiculous value, really - 14 CDs and 2 DVDs. Everything the band recorded over its 16 year career is in there. I intend to review all of it piece by piece, starting with the self-titled debut and its follow-up The Fireman's Curse. I was already familiar with these two albums, having bought the first (with the World of Stone EP appended) and downloaded the second, but the rest, barring certain popular singles, will be all new to me.

I was surprised to learn that Hunters & Collectors took its name from a song by Can from its late era that I haven't yet familiarised myself with, but the first two albums more than elucidate the connection. Hunters & Collectors is bookended by its two best tracks, "Talking to a Stranger" and "Run Run Run". Both revel in the locked groove motif of Can, but "Talking to a Stranger" filters it through Gang of Four, sounding a lot like "What We All Want", only better - a big call considering that that's my favourite Gang of Four song. Hunters & Collectors is one of the best Australian albums of the 80s - another big call, as that was a great decade for "Oz Rock" - and John Archer and Doug Falconer were together a greatly underrated rhythm section.

The Fireman's Curse is slight step down from its predecessor. It's less consistent and the lyrics are more oblique than ever (not that the lyrics were the point at this stage). Still, it begins and ends as strongly as the debut, and is probably already one of my favourite albums of 1983.

Sex, War & Robots