Matthew Bannister goes to the movies

August 19, 2023
2 mins read
Start
7/10

Summary

Matthew Bannister/The Changing Same – Go To The Movies (Powertool)

GARY STEEL has a sneaky listen to Matthew Bannister’s best album in years and declares it a qualified success.

Having now reached his 60s, former Sneaky Feelings singer/writer/guitarist Matthew Bannister seems more prolific than he ever. Not content with holding down a lofty position at Waikato University, he’s recently published a book about Don McGlashan’s pre-Muttonbirds duo/trio The Front Lawn, and now released this 10-song collection by his group, The Changing Same.

While some of Bannister’s 2000s output has sounded a bit raggedy, for the most part Go To The Movies is nicely performed and recorded and feels like a unified project.

Two notable exceptions are ‘Howl That Daylight Down’ (penned by drummer Bruce Dennis and sounding for all the world like Dire Straits on a blues bender) and ‘Stay On Top’ (composed by guitarist John Maydon and a brave attempt at a late ‘70s “no wave” disco/funk groove). Both songs are enjoyable in their own right but somewhat break the flow, as they sound like an entirely different band.

 

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All the songs have a similar sonic signature and the Wintec, Hamilton studio did a good job of capturing the music clearly and with its dynamic contrast intact. That’s aside from the two Bannister songs that have earlier origins: ‘Lothlorien’, a Lord Of The Rings tryout with what sounds like a shrieking Theremin recorded with Ed Cake in 1999, and the very last song, ‘Judgement Day’, a 2001 Auckland recording that’s a bit rough around the edges.

Bannister hasn’t lost what made his music so charming in Sneaky Feelings and Dribbling Darts: that keening voice and whimsical delivery, together with the ability to write classic but never predictable pop melodies.

It’s his slightly idiosyncratic approach, however, together with a real knack for writing the kind of lines a poet would never consider but which work perfectly in a song, that go together to make it all so special. Who else would write a song about the realization that he’s living in a bubble, at 8.30 in the morning, and think to rhyme “underworld” with “wonder girl”? (‘Living In A Bubble’) or think to sing about fatherhood and how he’ll fill the void when his son flies the nest? “Maybe when it happens I’ll be too far gone to care”, he sings on ‘Too Far Gone’. The jangle of his early work is still there, but so too is a slight jazz phrasing, expressed with unexpected melodic twists.

This is equally true of one of my favourites, ‘The Best Intentions’, with its Beatles-ish minor chords and words about our inevitable failures in life: “It’s not the things you do/It’s what you leave undone/That leave you with a heartache.” It’s a bit of an anthem, really.

The filmic theme announced by the album’s title is sporadic at best, but manifests itself on songs like ‘Judgement Day’, a reaction to the abnormality of constant dystopian themes in movies, and the hilarious ‘Song For Woody’, which I half-hoped was about Woody Woodpecker, but is of course discussing that troubling figure, Woody Allen. The song is an entirely reasonable response to having spent one’s late teens and early 20s being exposed (ha) to Allen’s often brilliant films (as I was), and how to process his work in retrospect. But the song has a bouncy demeanor, and jokey lyrics like: “He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing/A camera with a roving eye… He’s just like a chameleon/Who knows what he’s feeling?”

While Go To The Movies has a couple of unsettling changes of tone due to those two non-Bannister songs, overall it’s one of his strongest sets in years, and deserves to be heard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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