Lawnmaster – Curable Romantic ALBUM REVIEW
Self-deprecating, funny and deeply humanistic, this Wellington band’s latest deserves a hearing, reckons GARY STEEL.
The name’s a dead giveaway. LawnMaster is a New Zealand-owned lawnmower brand. Lawnmaster (lower-case ‘m’) is a Wellington, New Zealand-based band. The implication for some might be that Lawnmaster specialise in a kind of Kiwiana, but that would be specious.
Lawnmaster are inexorably Kiwi, but their sound and songwriting cannot be easily reduced to convenient cliches. That’s because they’re clearly aficionados of pop music in the wider sense and especially the craft of applying finely wrought lyrics to pleasing melodies.
I’m not sure exactly who is in the group in 2022 – it appears they’ve been around for at least 10 years although there’s scant information about them in the usual places. They appear, however, to orbit around the words, guitaring and singing of Ken Double. Although I haven’t seen Double in the flesh since our collaboration on pithy Wellington music oriented periodical TOM in the mid-1980s, I know him to be an ardent student of the entirety of the popular music spectrum as well as a dab hand at visual design and – very important in this context – a wordsmith with an innate wit that’s tempered with insightful turn of phrase.
And so it proves to be the case on Curable Romantic, which appears to be their third album. I liked it so much that I’m now planning to move slowly back in time to check out their earlier tunes. If the bizarre and hilarious video for ‘I’m A Danger To Myself’ (Warning: contains punk cult dolly material) is anything to go by, their earlier work will reward the time spent investigating. Note: Too saucy for YouTube, said video languishes on the Lawnmower Facebook page.
In essence, anyone who ever got a buzz from groups like The Go-betweens or Sneaky Feelings will love Curable Romantic. Like those groups, Lawnmaster are proud exponents of a kind of folk-rock with a tendency towards jangle, but it never defines them. They could equally be likened to salty American legends like Tom Petty, the connection being that like those groups and artists, they exist in a parallel universe where mainstream rock isn’t dumbed down and can still express itself with pithy and explicit lyrics that sometimes actually say something about the human condition.
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There’s an appealing knowingness about the words of a song like ‘Semi-Underground’, which seems to play on self-deprecation (“We’re semi-underground, it’s all we know… Nobody knows what we do/Or understands it/Least of all ourselves”) while the music, with a little of the kind of folkish jangle of a band like The Bats or even the sunny glow of The Byrds, bounces along warmly. That song, and others on Curable Romantic, manage to be both happy and melancholy at the same time. God knows how.
On ‘Mystery Date’, the singer is trying to convince the object of his affection that she’d be so much more interesting if she opened her damn mouth: “I’m so tired of mystery/Please tell me what you’re thinking… heaven knows what we’ll discover… We could have a much better time/If I was not reading your mind.” This one has a groove, while the somehow thematically connected ‘Silent Partner’ is very much in Go-betweens territory. Here, however, the relationship has gone stone-cold: “It’s 13 years of treading water/with a silent partner… Love’s not all you need, you can ask for the moon but the moon’s just a state of mind.”
I’ve used the term ‘folk-rock’ above but it’s important to understand that Lawnmaster can rock too. Like Neil Young, they can be strumming and picking acoustic guitars one moment and blasting some good gnarly riffs at you on electric guitar the next. They do all of this on ‘Good Day’, which glides on an irony similar to that of ‘Perfect Day’: “It’s a good day for a looming catastrophe/A good day to crash into the sun… freak out, carry on!” Speaking of Young, ‘Crawl Again’ doesn’t sound especially like him, but it comes across like one of his strung out, hint-of-doom rock sagas.
‘Queen Of Karori’ is a rather sad personality profile that could almost have been penned by The Kinks’ Ray Davies had he taken an Antipodean adventure, while power pop raises its head on ‘I Don’t Write The Songs’, another piece that bears the influence of Ray Davies and is very Kinks-like.
The 12-song collection ends with ‘Battles’, with its warm organ backing giving it a blue-eyed Southern fried soul feel worthy of Tom Petty. It’s an album that’s steeped in rock and pop history and contains a bunch of tantalisingly short, stinging guitar solos.