It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from Aussie treasure Bernard Fanning, punk journeymen Descendents, Gympie thrashers The Amity Affliction and Christian rockers Skillet!
New Album from an Old Artist
Bernard Fanning — Civil Dusk
If you’re reading this column, chances are that you know at least one Bernard Fanning song.
As lead singer of Aussie rock stalwarts Powderfinger, Fanning was responsible for a plethora of hit songs including These Days, My Happiness and Passenger, as much a soundtrack to a generation as the songs of Cold Chisel were for the generation earlier.
He’s also had a couple of solo hits, most notably Wish You Well from 2005’s Tea and Sympathy.
Those familiar with Powderfinger’s middle of the road approach to music may be surprised at how hard Fanning rocks out on Civil Dusk, bringing a genuine heavy vibe to many songs. He’s also dropped the whiny tone that bothered some Powderfinger detractors, replacing it with a confident rock howl.
Born in Toowong, Brisbane, Fanning brings an unmistakably Australian outlook to his songwriting, less country than Slim Dusty and less pretentious than Tim Freedman (but with a touch of both in the mix). Many of the songs on Civil Dusk are immediately catchy, including the '70’s flavoured Change of Pace and the gospel influenced What a Man Wants, and he even manages to pull a slightly restrained performance out of country warbler Kasey Chambers on Sooner or Later.
There is little doubt that you will hear a selection of these songs as you listen to the radio over the next year or so, but fans of Australian rock should get on board early and pick up what could one day be considered a classic album.
Standout tracks: Wasting Time, What a Man Wants, Belly of the Beast
Sample lyric: ‘Still it lingers and without warning bitter memories appear.’ (Wasting Time)
Verdict: 8/10 — a nuanced album from an iconic Australian voice
New Album from an Old Artist
Descendents — Hypercaffium Spazzinate
Formed in 1977, when I was only three years old, the Descendents got together in Manhattan Beach, California. The original lineup featured Frank Navetta on guitar, Tony Lombardo on bass and Bill Stevenson on drums. It took the trio three years to realise that they might be more successful if they had a lead singer and so in 1980 Milo Aukerman joined the band, bringing not just a great voice but an iconic look that would come to define the band.
Debut album Milo Goes to College predicted Aukerman’s path, as he quit the band for three years to attain a PhD in biochemistry. Drummer Stevenson went on to join Henry Rollins in Black Flag, while guitarist Navetta took the split particularly hard, reportedly burning all of his equipment and moving to Oregon.
Unsurprisingly, when the band reformed in 1985 Navetta was nowhere to be seen, replaced by Ray Cooper, who in turn was replaced by Stephen Egerton the following year.
Over subsequent years, Milo left the band again to work as a biochemist, rejoined the band, then quit again to become a teacher, while the band released a number of albums, tried out a couple of different record labels and had a bunch of kids.
They also influenced lots of young punks to pick up guitars, with bands crediting The Descendents as an influence including NOFX, Blink 182, Fall Out Boy, Pennywise and The Offspring.
The first album since 2004’s Cool to be You, Hypercaffium Spazzinate is packed with everything you’ve come to expect from the Descendents; super-fast songs, clever lyrics and tight musicianship.
Thematically, the album addresses getting old (No Fat Burger), the over-medication of youth (Limiter) and mortality (Feel This) while still maintaining an upbeat vibe — an impressive achievement to be sure.
Standout tracks: Smile, Limiter, Comeback Kid
Sample lyric: ‘I can see your pain has left you locked up, beat down.’ (Smile)
Verdict: 8/10 — apparently taking time off to teach biochemistry is good for a band. Who knew?
Album I Expect to Suck
Skillet — Unleashed
Formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1996, Skillet have released a total of nine albums, received two Grammy nominations and toured so extensively they were once named as one of the five hardest working bands in rock. So why have I never heard of Skillet, I hear you ask?
It might be because they’re a Christian metal band and cynical reviewers like me like nothing more than to unfairly dismiss Christian rock bands as pandering saps with less rock credibility than Hanson.
Fortunately, the first time I listened to Unleashed, I had no idea that Skillet were fans of the big fella, so this review should be unbiased, as much as that sort of thing is possible.
The first thing that struck me about Unleashed was how clean everything sounded. Not just the vocals, which have been auto-tuned to near-Kanye levels, but also the crystal-clear production — there is not a hint of grime on this record.
If Rob Zombie were at one end of a hypothetical grime spectrum, Skillet would be at the other, only qualifying as metal because they turn their guitars up a bit.
Lyrically, Unleashed is all positive life messages (Feel Invincible, I Want to Live) with an underlying air of smug subservience.
At times, I wondered if the album (and by extension the band’s entire 20 year career) was an elaborate prank, particularly on the track Famous where the band promise to lift Jesus’ social media profile.
If you like heavy music, but don’t care for satanic imagery or adult themes, you could probably do worse than Skillet. If, on the other hand, you like music that isn’t necessarily appropriate for hyper-devout 5 year olds, you could probably give it a miss …
Standout tracks: Feel Invincible, Out of Hell
Sample lyric: ‘If you can hold the stars in place, you can hold my heart the same.’ (Stars)
Verdict: 4/10 — offensive in its inoffensiveness
Ch-check it out…
The Amity Affliction — This Could be Heartbreak
Formed in Gympie, Queensland in 2003, The Amity Affliction started life as a high school band playing school concerts and lounge rooms. After a couple of lineup changes (including new lead singer Joel Birch) the band released debut album Severed Ties in 2008.
Following an extensive touring schedule supporting bands like The Getaway Plan, The Amity Affliction released their second album Youngbloods in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim.
Despite clear anti-suicide themes, third album Chasing Ghosts attracted media attention and tabloid outrage for the cover art depicting a man who has evidently committed suicide by hanging. Still, at least the band managed to avoid any ridiculous lawsuits, which is more than could be said for Ozzy Osbourne and Suicide Solution …
The Amity Affliction provide a nice counterpoint to Skillet, in that they are grimy, angry and real. As on previous albums, Joel Birch uses his lyrics as a catharsis, howling at the pain and injustice of the world around him.
There is more emotion on a single track of This Could Be Heartbreak than on the entire Unleashed album and if I were an angry teen seeking direction, I know which way I’d turn.
Skirting a fine line between punk, emo and hardcore, The Could Be Heartbreak is a times hampered by Good Charlotte-esque lyrics, notably on O.M.G.I.M.Y., which is short for Oh My God I’m Missing You. Bad lyrics are still bad lyrics if they’re screamed, kids.
Still, if you don’t mind a bit of shoutyness in you music, you could do a lot worse than The Amity Affliction …
Standout tracks: I Bring the Weather With Me, Some Friends, All F***ed Up
Sample lyric: ‘The distance between us, it always defeats us.’ (This Could be Heartbreak)
Verdict: 7/10 — loud and proud
Enjoy what you've just read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out!
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