An album which has captured the hearts of many, and it’s easy to hear why: David McComb’s melancholic and at times confessional lyrics delivered in a dramatic style of singing, coupled with the folky, slightly baroque (a fiddle and some other strings here) and alternative/post-punky instrumentation were quite unique at the time. Pretty far removed from the rest of the world, and stuck minding its own wilderness, Australia in the ’80s was an interesting place for music in which the influences were coming not from what was going on past the oceans, but rather from consecrated acts such as Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground or Television.
With this sound (which strongly makes me think of a marriage between Echo & the Bunnymen and The Smiths), the Triffids arose with their debut album in 1983 – a mix of all sorts of influences that, when put together, sound… boring? To reiterate – this only makes me want to listen to Echo & the Bunnymen. The oddball lyrics and larger-than-life instrumentation work much better for me when they’re handled by the British band, whereas here they feel constrained by a few factors with chief among them being an underwhelming rhythm section. The drums and bass could certainly put me to sleep.
I also don’t understand the Folk Rock tag. This is Post-Punk / Early Alternative Rock through and through: the jangly guitars are here and the folk instruments such as the fiddle are second place to the melancholic atmosphere that the band creates.
Though a lot of these songs have actual, easily-identifiable meanings and themes ascribed to them (unlike, say, R.E.M.’s Murmur), the lack of cohesion which can be heard in the band’s playing busts this for me. This album is short and yet feels way longer than it is, on account of a lot of drawn-out passages.
My favourite songs are “Branded” which has a great main riff to it and some stellar lyrics (“I once told someone I truly loved them/ They laughed at me and they spat in my face … / If you’ve broken a pure heart, you’re branded for life”), and the closer “Nothing Can Take Your Place” which sounds quite different from the rest of the album through how lively and straightforward it is. One other song I like would be “Rosevel”. Some very good strings on that one.
The rest is give or take. “Red Pony” is often quoted as a highlight but it’s just hard for me to take seriously. Apologies for referring back to Echo & the Bunnymen, but what made Ian McCulloch’s lyrics stand out was his ability to pack a large amount of weird shit into one song (“Thorn of Crowns”) or to make said song very exotic or otherworldly (“Bombers Bay”). “Red Pony” tries to jam the self-titled metaphor (whatever it’s about) down my throat constantly, but it’s just not interesting, and not that creative in my opinion. The same can be said of “My Baby Thinks She’s a Train” (great finger-snapping melody) or “Old Ghostrider” and “Hanging Shed”. They’re mediocre songs which are only elevated by Dave’s voice and the somewhat competent band.
But, you know, there’s worse stuff out there. If anything, I have to command the Triffids for their creativity and the way they married Folk Rock (which I still don’t think it falls under) with Post-Punk. Now that I’m finally done with the review though, I’ll go give Ocean Rain one more spin.
Key Tracks: “Branded”, “Nothing Can Take Your Place”
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When I’m not busy being a corporate drone, you’ll find me writing reviews and essays about music, video games, films and other nerd stuff encompassing all eras.