“Yeah nah, it’s alright hey.”
At this point in their 25-year career, Aussie punk staples Frenzal Rhomb are essentially ‘critic-proof’. Which, as you can probably imagine, makes my job as an objective (*cough cough*) music journalist slightly difficult.
Whether it’s through their collective charismatic personalities, radio-host gigs, much-publicised feuds with dodgy celebrities, expansive environmental and political consciousness, or their incredibly consistent musical output (fun-fact: they’ve had the same line-up since 2002) and near-spotless back catalogue, Frenzal have made themselves a household name amongst multiple generations of Aussie music fans. If it wasn’t your older brother and his brain-dead mates who showed you the lyrical genius of piss-takery classic ‘Russell Crowe’s Band,’ then it was likely your Dad or your mid-life crisis uncle, and that’s really saying something when it comes to a band who’re prolific for having a song called ‘World’s Fuckedest Cunt’.
Recorded at The Blasting Room in Colorado, with punk-rock hit-makers Bill Stevenson (The Descendents, A Day To Remember) and Jason Livermore (NOFX, Rise Against), ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’ is the group’s eighth studio record, coming to us hot on the heels of last year’s greatest hits compilation ‘We Lived Like Kings (We Did Anything We Wanted)’ and six years after their last full-length effort, 2011’s ‘Smoko at the Pet Food Factory’. As any dedicated fan will tell you after a gutful of drink and illicit materials, Frenzal aren’t ones to deviate greatly from their sonic blueprint, with an uncanny ability to stay relevant within the emerging trends of punk and alternative music, whilst simultaneously remaining true to their roots and ‘underdog’ status.
In this respect, ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’ rings true with all the trademark Frenzal elements that fans know and love: the tongue-in-cheek lyricism and nasal vocal prowess of affable frontman Jason ‘Jay’ Whalley; crisp power chords courtesy of Lindsay McDougall; percussionist Gordon ‘Gordy’ Forman's cracking snare hits; and the throttled, funky grooves and harmonised backing vocals of bassist Tom Crease.
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So, with the above cliff notes satisfactorily checked off, we could easily end this review right here and bail the fuck out. Any self-serving Frenzal fan would already have enough to go off, and they most likely aren’t paying attention to ‘critical opinion’ anyway. However, our illustrious editor prefers that our album reviews have a word count that's more befitting of an addendum to War and Peace [HAHAHAHAHA - Alex]. So please, read on below for a ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’ blow-by-blow.
At over 20 tracks in length, there’s a little something for everyone on ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’. Did you enjoy the shit out of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 back in the day, and do you feel like it’s not really “punk” unless it says ‘Fat Wreck’ somewhere on the front? Well, quick cuts like opener ‘Classic Pervert’ and ‘Sneeze Guard’ should get you longing for the late 90’s and the pre-eminence of ‘A Man Is Not A Camel’. Hardcore vocals pop up here and there, like on the blistering ‘Pigworm’ or the raucous ‘Storage Unit Pill Press,’ which seems almost tailor-made for fist pumping and pogo mosh.
But hey, remember when Livid festival was still a thing? Sure you do! Dust off those Dickies and strap on a wallet-chain, because Frenzal have you covered with ‘Shut Your Mouth’-era bangers like ‘Bunburry,’ ‘Cunt Act’ and the guitar heroics of ‘The Criminals’ Airline’. On the highly enjoyable ‘Organ Donor’ towards the album’s end, Whalley manages to rhyme ‘difference’ with ‘vas deferens’ in an act of supreme wordplay that somehow rivals even the indomitable best of ‘Sans Souci’. While ‘The Black Prince’ sounds like some chimeric, derro-Weezer, and is just straight-up more enjoyable than any post-‘Pinkerton’ Weezer.
And for those of you who laughed bitterly as the younglings were dabbling in angular side-fringes, while you were desperately trying to wash baking soda out of your too-far-gone dreadies, the soft, melodic pile-on of ‘I’m Shelving Stacks (As I’m Stacking Shelves),’ the paranoid, non-PC country twang on ‘Don’t Cast Aspergers on Me,’ and the sliding chorus of ‘Ray Ahn Is My Spirit Animal’ (a raging, lyrical hard-on for The Hard-Ons bassist) should satiate your ‘Forever Malcom Young’ fix.
However, it wouldn’t be a Frenzal record without some witheringly sarcastic, lyrical gems, and thankfully ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’ has those by the truckload. Highlights include: the pain of making pointless small talk on ‘School Reunion’ (“Steven Archer and Carol Johnson/These renovations they won't pay for themselves (whooooa)/It's great to hear they just got in to the market at the right time/They won't sell for at least a year”); an alcoholic ode to existential commiseration on the poignant slow-burn ‘Beer and A Shot’ (“Nothing left to do/But to sink like cement just to float through the roof/When I hit the ground everything will come true”); the take-down of rampant consumerism and mining capitalism on ‘Digging a Hole for Myself’ (“I am my own worst enemy/My kids are the priority for me/So I damn them for eternity”); the co-dependent anthem ‘Messed Up’ (“Fucked up high on isolation/And then you came and smashed my face in/Messed me up and now I'm racing to get messed up with you”); and the cryptocurrency call-out ‘Waiting for the Postman’ (“I'll be hiding by the doorway 'til it's time to claim my prize/The receipt for the order hidden on external drive/I'll hold out that five star rating 'til the fucking thing arrives”).
And just when you thought Frenzal had absolutely nothing left in the tank, album closer ‘Food Court’ provides a picture-perfect denouement to ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’ with its melancholic dream-space of isolated, effects-heavy riffs, and Whalley pining away his drug-addled reverie with a sombre reflection of suburban discontent.
If you like reading (and let’s face it, if you got this far down, you probably do), then ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’ can be easily summarised using a slight paraphrase of a 90's smoked meat ad: ‘Is Frenzal. Is good.’ And if that’s not convincing enough, then I’ll let a Frenzal classic speak instead: “Get fucked, you fucking fuckwit/You can't move into my house.”
‘Hi-Vis High Tea’ is available now through the Frenzal Bandcamp page, and in various other physical/digital formats here. And here, for all your viewing glory, is a clip of Frenzal Rhomb playing Big Day Out in 2001. Highlights of the short interview before their set include: Andrew G's ponytail, Lindsay's goatee, and Gordy looking like a Steven Seagal movie extra.