You Am I
Sound As Ever/Hi Fi Way/Hourly, Daily
Overflowing deluxe reissues of their first three albums remind us exactly why You Am I are national treasures, writes ANDREW P STREET. Spoiler: it’s because these are fucking great records.
You Am I have long toiled in the shadow of their first three albums, but now they can actually embrace this fact with these deluxe reissues. They’re throwing themselves into it too, with a near-sold-out tour for albums two and three, and Sound as Ever getting an airing as part of Splendour in the Grass. And listening back to their debut album again now, with the benefit of hindsight, you can see why it’s not getting quite the same level of celebration as Hi Fi Way and Hourly, Daily: it’s a strong record that only occasionally sounds like You Am I.
That’s partially down to Tim Rogers’ vocals: he’d soon become far more adept at pulling out that strangulated howl of his for deliberate effect rather than as the default setting. But it’s principally because of Mark Tunaley’s drumming: specifically, the use of double kick and those big Dave Grohl drum fills. In fact, with Tunaley behind the kit, those Nirvana comparisons that were made in the early days make a hell of a lot more sense.
It’s spirited and raw (those dry, upfront vocals in particular), with songs speeding up as they barrel along – most notably on the still magnificent ‘Berlin Chair’. That and fellow singles ‘Jaimme’s Got A Gal’ and ‘Adam’s Ribs’ are the enduring classics, while many of the other songs sounds like they exist principally to give Silverchair ideas. (The US version of the album dropped Tulaney’s Tumbleweed-sounding ‘Off the Field’, and rightly so.)
The bonus disc contains B-sides, rarities and live recordings that mark the transition between the Tulaney period and the “proper” You Am I with Rusty Hopkinson behind the kit. The solo acoustic “Maker’s Mark” version of ‘Jaimme’s Got a Gal’ is lovely, and the choice of covers indicates where the band would be taking their cues from going forward: their take on The Who’s mod-tacular debut single ‘Can’t Explain’ is appropriately spirited, while the cover of John Lennon’s exhausted White Album classic ‘I’m So Tired’ has a menace the original lacks.
However, somewhat surprisingly, the tracks from the first EPs are not included, so those possessing the Snake Tide, Can’t Get Started and Coprolalia discs can rest assured their money was not wasted.
“It’s not polished, but it’s damned exciting.”
Then again, what’s here is pretty great. The sarcastic 12-bar blues of B-side ‘20,000’ is cute but slight, but the live-in-Seattle tracks show what a savage band the trio had become. This is the recording that made up the Someone Else’s Crowd live disc that was on the original Hi Fi Way pressing, but includes the previously absent ‘Embarrassed’ and a take of the classic ‘Young Man’s Blues’ (which in turn takes its cues from The Who’s Live at Leeds). Rogers’ guitar work is on full display, and there are some lyrical substitutions and occasional musical flubs as they burn through their set. It’s not polished, but it’s damned exciting.
And then we’re on to the masterpiece. There’s little that can be said about Hi Fi Way that hasn’t already been covered to death by various Classic Australian Albums wrap ups: it still sounds amazing, thanks to the unobtrusive production (by Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo), Hopkinson’s rock-solid drumming and some of the best songs Rogers was ever to write. The rockin’ moments – ‘Cathy’s Clown’, ‘Jewels and Bullets’, ‘Minor Byrd’, ‘The Applecross Wing Commander’ – have the guts of anything on the first album while showing a new appreciation of dynamics. And the more emotional moments – the still-heartstring-pulling ‘Purple Sneakers’, the obsessive ‘Handwasher’ – punch one right in the feels.
“Say what you like about Rogers, the man steals from the best.”
Meanwhile, chord-based strums like ‘She Digs Her’ and the glorious closer ‘How Much is Enough’ signpost the sorts of songs that were to become a YAI mainstay going forward. (Although every time I listen to the coda I still expect it to turn into Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Everything Flows’: say what you like about Rogers, the man steals from the best). Look, it’s a goddamn classic for a reason.
The bonus disc is also superb, containing some of the best B-sides from this golden period: specifically, the swaggering blues of ‘When You Got Dry’ and the strummy ‘Hi Fi Way’. There’s also a lovely double-acoustic-guitar version of Chris Bell’s ‘You and Your Sister’, along with throwaways like ‘Sci Fi Way’ (a pastiche of ‘Telstar’-style ’60s guitar instrumentals), and the snide two-minute punk of ‘Bitter Young Man of the Fanzine Press’.
Then there are live recordings, including a Live at the Wireless and several Sydney live recordings, including a version of ‘Handwasher’ that starts life as the Beatles’ ‘Things We Said Today’ and an unhinged version of the Spencer Davis Group’s ‘I’m a Man’.
Finally, Hourly, Daily. Barely a year after Hi Fi Way the band returned with a quasi-concept record about 24 hours in suburban Australia and from the opening title track it showed how ambitious the band had gotten: Mellotrons, cellos, and pianos accompanied Rogers’ plaintive voice. And if ‘Good Mornin’’ was a return to the classic You Am I sound, no previous recording had boasted a production trick like the tinny AM radio compression of the opening verse. The singles continue with the glorious ‘Mr Milk’, one of the band’s most jubilant songs and most blatant and shameless lifts – but even XTC would have to admit that they gave the ‘Senses Working Overtime’ bridge a hell of a new home – and then ‘Soldiers’ kicks in with jaunty brass.
The album’s somewhat frontloaded (side one also contains ‘If We Can’t Get It Together’ and ‘Wally Raffles’, so it’s a damned hard act to follow). If the second side doesn’t hit the highs of the first, then it’s suffering more by comparison than from any intrinsic lack of quality, although ‘Moon Shines on Trubble’ should have been a Britpop smash.
“ But when you’re faced with reissues, the only question is whether they’re worth getting.”
The bonus disc is basically You Am I Covers Corner: between the B-sides and a period live recording we get The Who’s ‘Circles’, The Easybeats’ ‘I’ll Make You Happy’ and ‘She’s So Fine’, The Move’s ‘I Can Hear the Grass Grow’, ‘(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown’ by Archie Bell & the Drells (via New York Dolls, and The Johnnies…), Iggy & The Stooges’ ‘Search & Destroy’, The Beatles’ ‘You Can’t Do That’ and Dylan’s ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’. But none hold a candle to the mighty Hopkinson-sung version of The Mummies’ ‘(You Must Fight To Live) On the Planet of the Apes’. As a window in the band’s record collections, it’s instructive if nothing else.
But when you’re faced with reissues, the only question is whether they’re worth getting. After all, if you’re reading Mess + Noise there’s a greater-than-even chance that you’ve already got well-worn copies of these discs in your collection. Should you stump up again?
The answer’s a comprehensive yes, thanks to the bonus discs: if you don’t have the B-sides and live recordings they’re absolutely worthy of your attention. And if you do, then you’re clearly the sort of obsessive fan who’s hardly going to let the previously-unreleased tracks go by. It would have been nice to get the earliest tracks in there too, but what’s here is absolutely necessary.
As a document of one of the most important Australian bands of the last 20 years, these are absolutely vital. But there’s a more important reason you should have them: they’re three fucking great albums.