The Rise And Fall Of Goodtown
Wagons’ fourth LP 'The Rise And Fall Of Goodtown' sees the band move beyond their earlier country-based sound, writes TREVOR BLOCK.
There’s a country-esque song waiting to be written by someone – perhaps Henry Wagons – called ‘I Love This Record (But I Gave My Copy To A Beautiful Woman)’. Based on true events, it would explain why this review is a little late, coming as it does part-way through the national launch tour of Wagons’ The Rise And Fall Of Goodtown and while the video of the title track is already on high rotation on Rage.
Album number four sees the band move a fair way beyond their earlier country-based stuff – but then, Wagons have always played around with the format. Theirs is a more urbane urban strain, though not without the odd tip of the trucker cap to Nashville or Tamworth when it suits them. It’s that willingness to fool around and take risks that makes the inner-city’s take on the genre more entertaining than their rural cousins who seem perpetually bound to convention.
Despite the concept album-alluding title, there’s no overall narrative thread to Goodtown. Each song stands as a short story of its own: sketched out, filled in and brought to a conclusion. There’s no smooth sequence of sounds either. Within the first two tracks, you get a vicious boogie-style tune to kick things off (‘Drive All Night Till Dawn’) followed by a lilting folky number (‘Goodtown’).
If it’s hard to imagine a limp dick like Troy Cassar-Daly singing the “and I always bring the shit” line of the opener, it’s even harder to imagine how anyone else but Wagons could pull off ‘Goodtown’. The song starts out soft – but not at all not twee – before flipping over into something much darker, both musically and lyrically, as we learn that life in Goodtown is not all it’s cracked up to be. Indeed, the only way out, as Henry Wagons laments, is in a box. This jostle of style and pace works well across the rest of the album, and the production by Cornel Wilczek (aka Qua) moves with it – whether letting everything well up into massive Jimmy Webb-style choruses, or bringing Richard Blaze’s harsh guitar chops right up front.
"Despite the concept album-alluding title, there’s no overall narrative thread to 'Goodtown'. Each song stands as a short story of its own: sketched out, filled in and brought to a conclusion."
Back in the ’80s, Sydney cow-punk pioneers The Johnnies often played Oklahoma-born country legend Hoyt Axton’s ‘Greenback Dollar’, while Adalita recently recorded a version of his sly ‘Double Dare’ on the Suburban Mayhem soundtrack. He also wrote ‘I’ve Never Been To Spain’, which was a bit of a live favourite for Elvis Presley and is covered by Wagons here. It’s an odd tune, which strays and meanders around its subject matter with a kind of wide-eyed naivete that borders on plain dumb. But Wagons play this kitsch song dead straight, and pull it off beautifully. They know that having your tongue too far in your cheek can kill a song.
As usual, there’s no overt lust or even sleaze in Henry Wagons’ lyrics, although he admits the possibility in ‘Keep Your Eyes Of My Sister’. It’s the only cut here that really hints at sex, even if it does come with a twist: “You just like her/Cause she looks a bit like me.”
Wagons’ love songs are framed as great sweeping statements of dedication that often leave him drowning in a river of desire – whether it’s for mysterious women as in the seductive ‘Evette’, or for the lure of the poker table and whisky bottle in ‘The Gambler’. (Unlike the protagonist in the Kenny Rogers song, this guy has no idea when to fold ‘em).
The album closes with ‘Lightning’, a dark stormy cut that wouldn’t have been out of place on the band’s previous efforts. They too summoned lightning and invoked the Devil at some stage.
The Rise And Fall Of Goodtown is a great record; clever, entertaining and showing immense growth and change. Here’s hoping that it gets Wagons to that elusive Goodtown – or wherever else they want to go.
Wagons’ The Rise And Fall of Goodtown is out now through Spunk