Saturday, 7 June 2014

Favourite albums: CALENTURE (1987) by The Triffids

I love David McComb. This love goes way beyond mere respect or affection. The man has dragged me out of hard times on more occasions than I would care to admit. Seriously. Whatever it is, “The Seabirds” will do you good.

Calenture over Born Sandy Devotional was of course one hell of a tough choice, but I guess there comes a time when you start preferring “Across The Universe” to “Let It Be”. It is not necessarily ‘right’, but Born Sandy Devotional is so deeply engraved in my psyche that I barely even need to listen to it again. It’s a stone-cold classic. It’s in my all-time top 10.

This album, however, is not so much their essential Australian statement, as a collection of some of David McComb’s best songs. From the delicate opening guitar line of “Bury Me Deep In Love” to the glorious orchestral ending of “Save What You Can”, it’s a songwriting triumph very few could match.

And it is quite incredible to think that at some early stage of their existence The Triffids were doing effortless pop gems like “Stand Up” and “Farmers Never Visit Nightclubs”. Nothing suggested the dark Cave-esque edges of “Hanging Shed” or the desperate and suicidal vibes of “Tarrilup Bridge”, but that’s where we ended up a few years later. The Triffids’ great big style that combined roughness and romance in equal measure. If anything, that early melodicism ensured the appeal of whatever amphetamine-heroin-alcohol darkness David McComb would get himself into.

Calenture (fever of tropical climates) is tough rock music for emotionally vulnerable people. It’s full of love songs that showcase the wide range of McComb’s songwriting talent. It’s instantly memorable pop music (“Open For You”), it’s powerful sweeping ballads (“Blinder By The Hour”), it’s ‘dark’ and ‘difficult’ (“Unmade Love”), it’s romantic idealism (“Trick Of The Light”), it’s tough folk motifs (“Jerdacuttup Man”, possibly their greatest achievement), it’s anthemic elegance (“Save What You Can”). That was a band at their absolute peak, operating between subtlety and intensity. There’s just one threatening moment on the album, and it comes ‘courtesy’ of the first five seconds of “Holy Water”. What’s with that U2-styled groove?.. 

…But then David’s voice comes through and you know you will be fine again. The voice is deep and comforting, and it shouldn’t have ended the way it did. Though you can’t deny the fine lyric in the chorus of “Save What You Can”. ‘If you can leave’, it says in a painfully exultant way, ‘then leave it all’.

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