Who Can It Be Now?

Will Silverchair's platinum success yield a golden opportunity for a slew of Aussie imports?

Each song is a brilliant social essay on pop culture--it's as if Malcolm McLaren got hold of Depeche Mode and forced it to be riotously funny. Try imagining a politically correct U.S. band like R.E.M. singing, "If you want to save the world--don't recycle." The tune "Garbage" chastises Generation Xers for recycling "their parents' adolescent angst":

Paul McCartney once said that
the Sex Pistols
Were another band doin' Chuck Berry
At the time I thought 'You boring
old wanker'
But now I think it's downright scary.

It's to our misfortune that America is probably too uptight to enjoy TISM's send-up of good, old-fashioned Australian racism, as in "Aussiemandius" ("Don't call me nigger, whitey/Don't call me wing-nut, gippo"). Remember, there are still some people in this country who think Randy Newman cruises around L.A. in a convertible picking off vertically challenged people with a sawed-off shotgun.

Whatever future this recording has, you can be sure that if the members of TISM ever do set foot on American soil, the surviving Hollywood Argyles will sue the hell out of them.

Mental As Anything
Liar Liar Pants on Fire
(Ariola/BMG)

This band was once described by Trouser Press as "an Australian Rockpile." Mental As Anything certainly rocks as hard as Rockpile at its best, but the quintet sounds a lot more experimental and a lot less reverential when using older songs as a springboard for newer ideas. Witness "Surfer Joe Revisited," where the hero of the Surfaris' hit trades in his woody for a laptop so he "can get to Surf City on the Internet." "Marianne" is a pretty, Richard Thompsonesque ballad about Marianne Faithfull written from a fan's view ("You have been through the mill but you're still beautiful"), and it works without getting mushy àla "Candle in the Wind" (Faithfull is still alive, after all). There's even a great revamp of Wreckless Eric's lovable Stiff hit "Whole Wide World," which last saw action on the Monkees' reunion album.

MAA has released fine recordings since the late Seventies, yet still manages to muster a younger band's fire (i.e., it, too, can wipe the floor with Silverchair). This latest release is supposed to wash up on these shores soon, but because none of the band's previous recordings has made a huge splash, it most likely will sneak out unnoticed. It'll be your loss if you don't snap it up. There ain't a bum track here, mate.

Chocolate Starfish
Chocolate Starfish
(Beggars Banquet)

Okay, now to the not-so-hot stuff. Chocolate Starfish isn't awful; it just sounds like INXS trying to be Bush. On second thought, maybe it is awful! There's a humorless remake of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" (possibly inspired by INXS camera hog Michael Hutchence) and the inevitable hidden track, which consists of an--arrrgggh--"unplugged" studio recording of some indistinguishable tune. As This Is Serious Mum points out in its sleeve notes, "You can't polish a turd." And you can't make a Chocolate Starfish shine.

Tina Arena
Don't Ask
(Sony)

Ladies and gentlemen--drumroll, please--Miss Tina Arena! With a name like that, this artist should be Tejano's newest singing sensation. But, nope, she's just Australia's answer to Mariah Carey--and, like Alanis Morissette, she's a former TV teen star turned woman spurned. She pouts sometimes. She smiles sometimes. She sings about heartache sometimes (actually, she does it quite a lot). Her vocals call to mind a more stabilized, less soulful Lisa Stansfield. So do we need her in America? Not really. Will we get her shoved down our throats anyway? Not unless Sony pres Tommy Mottola becomes a bigamist!

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