A new two-disc retrospective proves once and for all that GOD's ‘My Pal’ was an aberration, not the norm, writes TREVOR BLOCK.
This is the reissue that was always going to happen someday, the CD we had to have. And it doesn’t need any more of a title than those three uppercase letters in that distinctive typeface.
Like the Eastern Dark, GOD are best known – for better or worse – for one killer single and a string of live shows that have assumed near-mythical status with the passing of time. But if you only know them for ‘My Pal’ then you are in for a surprise – the range of material on display here may not be quite what you expect.
I should declare some sort of interest here. I knew them as they formed, wrote the press release for ‘My Pal’ (and then promptly got paid to review it) and had various adventures with them in live venues all over Melbourne and beyond. I drank beers with them, after first making sure they got beers to drink, and I still use the nickname they gave me. It's not that long ago that I was asked to sign a copy of their Rock Is Hell mini-album with my photo on the back either.
At the time of forming, the band were all teenagers, but let’s forget about all the age-related brouhaha that so fascinated many who wrote about them at the time. Suffice to say, they were young but well informed, and all four of them were very definite about what they wanted to do. That certainty and self-belief led to some internal tensions at times. It resulted in the four different covers of Rock Is Hell (one for each band member), but was more often a useful and positive thing. After another night of being ripped off and pushed around by a venue owner or headline act – sometimes both – they could still generate enough camaraderie to get through the load out at least.
And although at the time, Tim Hemensley and Joel Silbersher often seemed to get an undue share of the attention, it would be foolish to overlook the contributions of Matty Whittle and the late Sean Greenway. Whittle had a high degree of input, and his sense of humour is stamped all over their records, while Greenway gets plenty of songwriting credit and was settled in his role as main guitarist before stepping out as frontman with The Yes Men.
Disc one is solid, with all their studio stuff: the Rock Is Hell mini-LP and the full-length For Lovers Only, both remastered and on CD for the first time in years. The songs fall into a few broad strands. You get silly ones (‘Worm Sweat’), slightly more serious ones (‘Headin’ For The Id’) and their rock ones, which veered between passionate anthems and flat-out sexual fantasy.
“If you only know them for ‘My Pal’ then you are in for a surprise – the range of material on display here may not be quite what you expect.”
‘Meatcleaver Boy’ was always a fave, with lyrics like, "You piece of punk rock shit/You know you look like all fuck/And if you only had a beak/Well then you’d look like Donald Duck.” It pretty much distills their age, their aggression and their ability to rock out in one glorious three-minute burst. As does ‘Half-Ass’, which includes the line, “Are you a man, are you a mouse?/Cause rock‘n’roll is grouse”; a line no one else but GOD would have used. ‘Half-Ass’ and ‘Human Abbreviation” both share a common interest in short people, by the way, and may or may not have been directed at Tim and Joel. And it’s interesting to see that ‘She’s Hungry’ still hasn’t regained it’s full title (‘She’s Hungry For Hot Cock’) many years after a parentally inspired bout of self-censorship.
Disc two, however, is the key part of the package. It opens with a pair of covers: ‘Real Cool Time’, which was originally included on the Hard To Beat Stooges tribute album, and the KISS track ‘Strutter’, which appeared on an Au Go Go Records Christmas giveaway single alongside tracks from Sunset Strip and No Man’s Land. They treat the Stooges very casually, bending the song’s ultra-basic structure right out of shape before ending it in a mass guitar freak-out. There's a sense they barely know it technically, but so what? ‘Strutter’ is just as meaningless, but they seem to play it with a bit more respect. There is no snobbery at work here. In the GOD universe, the Stooges and KISS were equally important – and both were just as fun to play.
The live set that follows is the real clincher. This was their final performance ever at Richmond’s Central Club in 1989, faithfully restored from the original tapes. There were a few cuts that couldn’t be scrubbed up enough for inclusion, but it’s immaterial. Here they are, in all their swearing, instrument-swapping glory, with long intros and in-jokes all intact. This is what they were like live.
Time and events have given ‘The Day They Buried Hemensley’ a sting in the tail (the singer died from an overdose in 2003). With passion and energy to spare, it could be a Powdermonkeys song if it wasn’t so tongue in cheek.
As for ‘My Pal’, the were never precious about it. I don't remember them ever saving it for an encore or singling it out for special treatment. Here, it pops up nine songs in. As per Leaping Larry L’s excellent liner notes, it was always something of an aberration, and not an indicator of their usual style. There are 30 seconds or so of its funk variant included here as part of the between-song schtick, as well as a roaring full version with that familiar chiming riff transformed into a raging mass. The pre-song rant by Hemensley is priceless, as is the speech that follows.
They close with the grinding metal of ‘Love You To Death’ and then a five minute feedback jam. Forgive them that slight self-indulgence. It was completely in character for them, and like they say, “If you don’t dig the rocking we are mocking/You aren’t worth our chockablocking.”
GOD is out now through Afterburn Records.