Record Reviews

In The Pines / Calenture

It’s long been my belief that no home is complete without a full set of Triffids albums. It is for this reason that I now own multiple copies of the Triffids back catalogue, somewhat sheepishly finding myself in lonely corners of the globe repurchasing records already owned. In forlorn moments of heartsick and homesickness, it was to David McComb that I would all too often turn – out of sheer need to feel closer to the sky and the land and someone who offered comfort through catharsis.

For me, The Triffids are the quintessential, and most crucial of all Australian bands. While Born Sandy Devotional* is the signature Triffids album – from the sand-meets-the-sea cover art, the conjuring of empty, aching landscape, and the anthemic ?Wide Open Road? – it was recorded in London. Whereas with the follow-up, *In The Pines, the band famously recorded in a shearing shed in the middle of nowhere, Western Australia. The glorious romantic poetry of this grand gesture is still unparalleled in Australian music history.

Magically for this lovingly repackaged remastering, the mixing engineer and producer Bruce Callaway had for over 20 years saved ?for prosperity? (!) not only the original 8-track tapes, he also kept the letter McComb sent him with implicit instructions for ?character and warmth?, for the songs to ?flow together and interact, via conversation between songs, etc?, that the cover would echo the photograph collage of Exile On Main Street.

Listening to it all now, one feels that this is a watershed recording. It’s not often we are offered glimpses of our best artists with their guard down – here we have peak McComb songwriting combined with the band having the time of their lives, attentively responsive to McComb as he feels his way through, the songs unadorned yet intrinsically sophisticated. The previously unheard version of ?A Trick of the Light? perhaps illustrates this best – a breezy acoustic country take, a whimsical delight in contrast with the more deliberate, embellished version that would become the jewel of Calenture.

A year later, with the band now signed to Island, Calenture emerged from the woolshed chrysalis. It is The Triffids? pop album, and remains a sweeping, majestic masterpiece. McComb’s voice is overwhelming, a terrifying embodiment of ruinous emotions reined into literary form. The shuddering, howling depths of ?Kelly’s Blues?, ?Unmade Love? and ?Vagabond Holes? still give most outback thunder storms a run for their money. Elsewhere, the loveliness is equally devastating: the blissful ?Holy Water?, the pedal steel and Hammond organ fleshed ?Hometown Farewell Kiss? while ?Save What You Can? is almost unbearably lush.

As these records have rarely been far from my own heart, I can’t objectively claim them to be anything but what they have always been – extremely difficult to live without.