Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month, Gary Steel presents something local from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Today’s surprise item?
Originally appearing in In Touch magazine, December 1980, here’s my review of the impossibly rare **** (or Four Stars) album from Wellington’s Terrace Scene.
Various Artists – **** (Sausage) LP REVIEW
ALONG WITH THE Gordons’ magnificent debut single, **** is one of the most exciting releases this year. Not only is the music incomparably nonconformist, but it’s uniformly of world standard. Each band is distinctly original, yet the tracks complement one another through a common cause: rebellion, subversion, anti-police and authority (or something along those lines).
Without more ado, the people on this record are: The Wallsockets (whose idea this was), Life In The Fridge Exists, Naked Spots Dance, and Beat Rhythm Fashion. Wellington bands all, though it is unkindly parochial to emphasise that fact.
Life In The Fridge Exists, a loosely-assembled collective of whom photographer/writer Michael Gallagher is the brainchild, contribute three tracks. ‘Have You Checked The Children’ is the most convincing. It’s a menacing slice of teenage rebellion/subversion with Lady Sam providing voice of steel narrative: “Your children hate you!” ‘First Death Take’ is a manic-depressive Gallagher-led pained-voice tirade, but I can’t hear the words so comment is reserved. ‘Peter The D’ closes the album. It is a manifestly ponderous riff, a vivid, descriptive sax complementing Gallagher’s narrative about, well… buy the album. Pity LIFE’s most famous tune, ‘Phil O’Brien Song’, had to be omitted for legal reasons; fated to lie in the vaults of libelous infamy. Though LIFE do become tiresome on too many repeat listenings, they’re the surprise of this record in that their tracks aren’t as disposable as many thought they would be.
The Wallsockets are a comparative disappointment. Their performance is strictly sub-standard garage punk. Their main assets on vinyl are the songs and Lynette’s vocals. They have a knack in composing nifty little anthems, the samplings here being ‘H&C’, ‘Euthanasia’ (which puts forward the case for putting granny in her grave), ‘Blue Meanie (anti-cop harassment) and ‘Snerl’ (a lovely little novelty with one of the classic simple guitar solos of all time).
Naked Spots Dance have by far the most potential of these bands – apart from the fact that they’re now the only really functioning one. Their music is already so evolved and curiously complete. It leaves spaces that remind one of Jefferson Airplane (don’t laugh) without the ponderous pretension. Yet the musicianship is genuinely creative, with Levene-type guitar and a great pouting-voiced lady singer. ‘Secrets’, and particularly ‘Crescendo/Circle Moon’, are the most impressive. The latter begins with a spiraling invective against a career-orientated type, and then sinks into a heady, atmospheric vein repeating: “The moon came out tonight/I sat there watching it/The moon came out tonight/There was no stopping it.” ‘Banana Baby’ appears to be a mean put-down of sexual stereotypes, while ‘Subtractions’ is surprisingly conventional by comparison.
Beat Rhythm Fashion are a studio conception and creation. Their two tracks are ‘None In The Universe’, an almost American-sounding pop tune with sneer, and ‘Not Necessary’, which boasts the immortal lyrics: “Not need no house/Don’t want my own home/I would prefer to be made of air/It would make me so happy/Not to be here.”
Unfortunately this review is rushed due to impending deadlines. I can only stress that this is one to buy, folks! GARY STEEL
Note from the author: I wasn’t to know it, but **** would have already sold out its limited print run (200 copies) by the time this review appeared. Of course it’s a terribly naïve review and probably soaked in whatever lucidity-killing compounds were going around in 1980, but hey, it’s a review of an album that has become one of the most revered underground releases in NZ music history, mainly, I would think, for its rarity value rather than its music, which as someone pointed out, does sound rather rushed and demo-like. What interests me most is the fact that four bands decided to make an album together, rather than opt for individual EPs, as just about everybody else did. I guess that was the Terrace Scene, and the organisation of The Wallsockets.