Thursday, February 07, 2013

100 reviews # 7: The Saints, King of the Sun


If you had told me a few weeks ago I’d soon be enjoying with gusto a new album by The Saints, I would have said something like, what a strange thing to say or perhaps ‘really? How interesting’ while thinking, ‘that is exceedingly unlikely, and also, who are you to tell me what I will and won’t like’. But the fact is a few weeks ago on RRR I heard a song that I thought was terrific – angular and lyrically strange verse punctuated by odd bells, followed by a rousing chorus with lush brass orchestration, and I was most surprised to discover that this was a song from the new Saints album. It struck me so solidly I actually went to JB and bought the album – with very little expectation that any of the rest of it would be anywhere near as good as that one song (I just don't trust old songwriters, you see).

I am not one of those people with that boring obvious attitude to Chris Bailey’s Saints. I don’t care that Bailey continued on with the Saints after he and Ed Kuepper ended their creative partnership. I care as little now, in 2013 as I did in 1979 or whenever Bailey made that decision, or it was made for him. Kuepper couldn’t have continued the Saints without Bailey because everyone knew Bailey as the singer. Bailey might as well have had the band name, especially since no-one else could have it. But why anyone in the world thinks it’s any of their business now or at any time in the past 34 years to pass judgment on that arrangement I can’t imagine.

Of course, what a lot of antiBaileysainters will tell you is that they think Bailey is soppy and derivative and not punk and Kuepper in the punk Saints tempered that and gave it an edge. I have to admit I’m very au fait with the first three Saints albums and that after that (there have been 11 albums) my knowledge is patchy, though I think The Monkey Puzzle, which was the first real album after Kuepper, is excellent and I would listen to that anytime. The 80s singles (‘Ghost Ships’ etc) I like well enough, but I could live without hearing them again for a while longer in fact possibly the remainder of my life. I have some of those 80s albums in a little box set that Stewart Anderson gave me because he bought it on spec and was repelled by its unpunkiness. Didn’t want it in the house! There was another album they did about seven or eight years ago (OK I checked – 11 years ago) with the nonsense title Spit the Blues Out, which I also thought was more than tolerable, but it didn’t really take. I had been pretty oblivious to the records since then. Now this.

Like the song I heard, the album is called King of the Sun. The copy I picked up has a picture of a small posh boy from the century before last on the cover – why, why, why? (Similarly, why why is this film clip so fucking stupid).


Doesn’t matter. The album opens with the amazing title track. Which itself opens with a piano, then a somewhat plaintive and very esoteric series of couplets (which sound like a disconnected sequence of random lines) and into the rousing chorus, then rather than returning to a vocal verse, just a version of the verse with a solo and so on in it, and what can I say, then it goes back to the chorus then it ends. You don’t need this kind of recommendation, building your hopes up and so on, to make you like the song (you may already have heard it, particularly if you clicked that link) and it’s ok with me if you don’t anyway, but of course what you really need to do is happen upon it without knowing it’s this 40 year old band (or at least a permutation thereof – there’s no-one left of course from the original group except Bailey) you probably already have an opinion of.

So the other odd part of this story is that the rest of the record is largely pretty amazing too. I don’t know who the other members of the band ‘are’ (aside from their names). I don’t know if the drums are programmed, they sound like they could be but it might just be really good, precise, well-tuned pop drums. I don’t have a clue if anything on the record was just bashed out in a more or less in-the-studio, random way; sometimes it sounds like it may have been (even the great ‘King of the Sun’ sounds like it could have been a lucky studio jam, or at very least an imprecisely decided/inadequately rehearsed bash-it-out recording then fixed and/or ‘written’ in ‘post’; I’m thinking for instance of the eccentric way the drums change going back into the final verse, which do have an element of je ne sais pas pourquoi about them).

The low points include the occasional drossy lyric, or more precisely, drossy rhyme. There are bulk lazy non-sequitur couplets (the one employing the white cliffs of Dover springs to mind). We don’t need to go into them too deeply, but let’s just say there are more examples of this towards the second half of the record, which suggests to me that someone (presumably Bailey) knows when he’s doing it with one hand tied behind his back (and the hand in question is the one that comes up with the innovative or at least interesting stuff). There’s nothing that makes me want to scream, as I go towards the back half of the record, but compared to the five excellent songs at the front, it is definitely diminishing returns, with the exception of the quite funny final song.

I remember the time in the mid-80s when people used to talk about The Saints in the same breath as the Triffids or the Go-Betweens (or the Wet Taxis in their late phase or Sea Stories or The Odolites) and indeed that is sort of the space they had come to fill, as lush pop balladeers. It worked.

Here, I particularly like the ballad ‘Duty’, which, once again, doesn’t always entirely cut it in the lyrics department and then DOES, with total compunction. If I were a songwriter, and I wrote two songs as good as ‘Duty’ and ‘King of the Sun’, I would give myself free reign to fill up the rest of an album with total half-arsed rehashes of them, or ripoffs of other songs. Bailey doesn’t do that, and even if the misfires of tawdry lyric or bluesy workout rear up occasionally, that’s probably less a case of lack of inspiration, and more a case of ‘I’m just a jobbing musician, don’t take me too seriously, I’m not pretentious like some people you could name.’ Actually, I’m very, very impressed. 

*PS a few days later: The copy I bought also had a second CD in it of what I assume to be old 80s Saints music - I am only guessing because I recognised some of the top 40 hits like the abovementioned 'Ghost Ships'. It was a weird thing to find in there mainly because there was no indication on the sleeve or anywhere else that there was a kind of semi-greatest hits CD in there, so it could hardly be called a selling point. After I wrote & posted the above review I went online - no wait, I already was - and looked at a few other reviews, most of which were appallingly lame, polite and pedestrian, which is fine, I can dig that. But one or two did mention the great hits CD. For what that's worth (not a thing).

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Think you spelt judgement incorrectly. Or at least what we teach the students is use judgment when referring to cases not otherwise though I have never looked that up.

Anonymous said...

Inspiring. With so much of everything around its way too easy to make a perfunctory response but you've given ol' Chrissy Boy a proper listen and moved me to make moves to do the same.

ps I do rather tend to trust yr judgement - eg The Emu Parade comp is a ripper and after several years of half-hearted enjoyment thereof the Melb Water Vol 1 has really clicked with me

Anonymous said...

Unless I've missed a mention to it here, have you listened to the All Fools Day album? For me, it continues to be the best / most enjoyable work (and which can stand many repeat plays) that Chris Bailey has done post 79.