The Rubens Channel Grumpy Paul Kelly In New Song

29 October 2015 | 11:47 am | Ross Clelland

Yes, that does sound odd as I read it back but covers a lot of what’s going on.

In these multi-skilling days, let us speak of the intriguing ebb and flow of the side-project. That other musical idea, which can sometimes overwhelm the first thought.  Some can manage the balance, the juggle. Some even organise to keep several guises on the go. Thus, when I say ‘Tame Impala/Pond side-project’, you could quite rightly guess at what Kevin Parker might be up to now. But you have jumped to the wrong conclusion. For GUM is another overlap in the Venn Diagram, where Jay Watson investigates a different tangent of his muse. Anesthetized Lesson (Spinning Top Music) has the (let’s call him) drummer (among the other things he does…) offering up some slightly more spacey squeaks and burps, while still somewhere in the psychedelic universe their various noms-de-art broadly inhabit. 

Your band may well overflow with various talents. The new year’s Sydney Festival will allow the many-splendored Jack Ladder And The Dreamlanders to showcase the other directions and skills of various members, in one evening in the rococo surrounds of the Spiegeltent. But here the idiosyncratic ways of the Benet, the Callinan, and those sometimes of PVT, fall in behind their nominal leader for a grab-bag of influences from a various decades. To Keep And To Be Kept (Self-Portrait) has some ‘70s Bryan Ferry in its croon, visualised through the fuzzy glow of an ‘80s video presentation, and some much unexpected ‘90s boy band choreography – although it sadly lacks a ‘catch the butterfly/release the butterfly’ hand gesture of longing. But this is a minor quibble. PS: also includes a disembodied Sharon Van Etten. 

Then there is that talent you might not have quite expected. You might know Kit Warhurst as the man behind the, er, kit of Rocket Science. But setting aside the sticks, he offers the nicely guitar-drenched rock of Nothing In Melbourne (Independent). Belying it’s title, there might be a bit of The Strokes brand of New York noise to it, which motors along for a mere two minutes and thirteen seconds, before you get the feeling it finishes just a bit too soon. In these short attention span times, that’s a refreshingly rare thing to say.

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The conversation with himself that Rivers Cuomo is having through the new Weezer piece, Thank God For Girls (Republic) is a little more uncomfortable. OK, creepy. There’s a collision of Jesus and cannoli, and the grumbling of a man who is worried about being compared to others, but signs up to Tinder anyway. Much as there is nostalgia for their socially awkward, but perfectly pop-sensed younger days, I feel I may just swipe left and move on. 

Oh, you want whiny? The whiny that inspired the likes of My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco. Yes, it’s Placebo. Brian Molko’s air-raid siren wail of the boy always scorned still seeps down your ear-canal like lava spiked with echidna quills. But the fact they’ve survived for this long without actually opening a vein in the bath, despite the ongoing heartbreak of their lonely lives means they’ve been anointed with the strange monument to a career that is the ‘MTV Unplugged’ album. Even that’s become a bit more than the simple acoustic rendering of the back catalogue. Like here there’s grand piano, string section, showers of special effects lighting, and yet The Bitter End (Universal) still has a frayed adolescent ache, rather than having manned up sometime since the turn of the century. 

So, whether tooling down the deadly Hume in a Falcon, along Route 66 in dusty Mustang, or cruising an autobahn, the rumble of the wheels on bitumen remains the perfect underpinning to the thought process of wondering about who or what you’re running from or to. Adam Young is musing on The Queen Of The Plains (Stanley Records), a rich voice heavy with…something. It’s somewhere on the line, maybe with some old Springsteen tunes fading in and out when a radio signal is picked up between towns. Emma Swift is necessary counterpoint voice of she who’s hopefully waiting at the end of the drive, before a blurt of mariachi trumpet suggests you may skirted a bit close to the border when your concentration drifted off before you had that coffee. 

Having grown up a little as well, The Rubens are letting themselves get a bit jaundiced about their youthful sillinesses as well. The visuals of The Night Is On My Side (Ivy League) are full of pretty people trying to be sensual, but succeeding in merely being pretty, as Sam Margin gets reflective, with a bit of that despairing sneer that might feel more comfortable coming from Paul Kelly in one of his grumpier moods. Yes, that does sound odd as I read it back but covers a lot of what’s going on. Whether some of the band’s past audience can grow with them is to be hoped. Or maybe they’ll find a more discerning set of listeners, for it’s rather well put together – even allowing for its arched eyebrow.