Provenance – Collected Works
A new compilation captures The Lovetones’ marriage of pop sensibility and misty-eyed psychedelia, writes PATRICK EMERY.
Back in the 1960s, when the standard fare of the music industry was the catchy, radio-friendly single and albums were held together loosely with forgettable filler, record labels would capitalise on an artist’s success with a greatest hits record featuring previously released hit singles. Eventually the album became a worthy product of its own and, in the cyclical ways things happen, overtook the single in popularity. Commensurate with this development, the compilation album tended to appear later in an artist’s career, often reflecting the artist’s decline in output and the label’s naked desire to exploit their once-productive charge’s halcyon era.
The relevance to The Lovetones and their newly-released compilation album Provenance is two-fold. Firstly, The Lovetones are a band that captures and extends the best of the classic 1960s pop sensibility. Secondly, unlike the near-dead band relying on a greatest hits album to resuscitate a failing career, Provenance is a timely reminder of the songwriting brilliance of The Lovetones, and Matthew Tow in particular.
The Lovetones rose from the ashes of Tow’s previous band, the ’60s pop influenced Drop City, who despite experiencing a modicum of popular and critical success, found themselves a casualty of the late-1990s break-up between the independent music scene and the major labels. Tow headed over to the US where he hung out with Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, finding both a supporter for Tow’s songwriting and a kindred ’60s spirit. (In the early part of the century, The Lovetones would assume a central role in the now infamous Brian Jonestown Massacre tour of 2003.)
The Lovetones have gone on to release five studio albums and develop a strong live following – particularly in the US where arguably the band is better known than in Australia. Provenance collects the best tracks from their catalogue, capturing their marriage of pop sensibility and misty-eyed psychedelia.
It eschews a chronological progression, as well, choosing instead to chart a more diverse course across The Lovetones’ evolution. Tracks from the band’s debut album, Be What You Want (released on Greg Shaw’s Bomp! label in 2003), are nestled away later in the record. ‘Give It All I Can’ is awash with a frontal-lobe massaging sonic aesthetic, while perennial crowd-pleaser ‘The Sound and The Fury’ walks the perfect line between dirty garage rock riff and astral exploration. If the songwriting lacks the delicacy of later Lovetones material, the primitive aspect of the track captures the band’s original brazen attitude.
Many of The Lovetones’ subsequent releases should, in an ideal world, be pop classics in the commercially successful sense of the term. The opening track, ‘Mantra’ from 2005’s Meditations, builds gradually from the ground up: a simple drum beat, Matthew Sigley’s viscous bass lines and a culminating riff that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ray Davies’ finest licks. Tracks such as ‘Wintertime in Hollywood’ from 2007’s Axiom and ‘Love and Redemption’ from 2008’s Dimensions are near-perfect pop songs, as elegant as Paul McCartney at the height of his musical powers. ‘I Gotta Feel’, also from Meditations, is the ideal soundtrack for a road trip anywhere, anytime. Close your eyes and listen to ‘Inside a Dream’ and you’re transported into a Lewis Carroll-like world of infinite possibility. ‘This Great Romance’, written by Sigley, sparkles and dazzles with the grace and beauty of a Victorian heroine. ‘There Is No Sound’ is the tender romantic lament many have purported to write, and most have failed dismally.
Beyond The Lovetones’ pop sensibility lies its indulgence of psychedelia. ‘Journeyman’, ‘City Meets the Stars’ and ‘Navigator’ capture the elastic dimension of the genre, both within the lyrical context, and in the stretching of a basic melody into broader musical territory. Unlike vapid practitioners of the psychedelic craft, The Lovetones know that at the heart of any great psychedelic exploration lies a simple structure – and sharp-edged melody – that holds the entire journey together. Sadly, one of The Lovetones’ finest live psychedelic moments, ‘Pictures’, isn’t included, though the Magical Mystery Tour-inspired ‘Stars’ does its best to convey the acid-freak sensibility of 1968. Co-written by the enigmatic Anton Newcombe, ‘A New Low’ could be a metaphor for his plummeting lifestyle, or maybe it’s just a cracking good song.
Provenance comes with a bonus DVD featuring live footage taken at a show at the Metro in Sydney in 2008 (from memory, during the band’s support slot for Brian Jonestown Massacre). The Lovetones have always been a band that revels in a live setting, and while the included footage doesn’t necessarily capture the enjoyment of one of their shows, it does give you a sense of the passion and intensity the band puts in.