Back in ’91 when all things were about to get very, very guitar-based indeed Sydney band Smudge released the cheeky, obviously wonderful ‘Don’t Wanna Be Grant McLennan’. A backhanded tribute to the much-missed Go-Betweens troubadour, it managed to foreshadow both the rise of rackety rock as well as the kind of hazy summer sweetness that would typify lead singer and songwriter Tom Morgan’s musical relationship with Evan Dando and The Lemonheads (which consisted of him contributing to many of their most beloved songs including ‘The Outdoor Type’ and ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’)
While Dando’s glory days now seem firmly behind him – an abysmal two-hander with Juliana Hatfield at the Royal Festival Hall last year was a firmly struck nail in that particular coffin – his former collaborator has only now found the time or inclination to release an album under his own name. Frankly, it sounds like the beginning of something wonderful rather than a full stop at the tail end of a career.
These are sad, mostly slow songs, sure. They’re also stoic and benefit from a glint of mischief in their collective eye. Take for instance the gentle drawl and throwaway asides of ‘Best Thing For Baby’ – effortless and guileless, this tale of hapless lovers and half-baked schemes slouches forward into delectable slo-mo pop.
Almost every note here feels like an ebbing wave, a moment of somnolent joy. On the drowsy half-smile of ‘Awkward Living’ Morgan leads a waltz that makes references to sodomy somehow gentle and amusing, takes a Robert Forster archness and dissolves it into solemn church organ sound.
Morgan’s songwriting has aged well and while Smudge were a shaken can of fizzy pop this record is better characterized as a nicely aged, deep red wine that gets you good and drunk and heady.
That’s not to say that the occasional pop charge doesn’t occur – don’t overlook ‘Virtuoso’ with it’s rolling repetition and lolling lyric – ‘If she’s still there I’ll hold back on the bus fare’ he notes of a woman who’ll probably be gone by morning. It’s a sad wink from under the shades.
Things stay relatively downbeat lyrically throughout – ‘Don’t loan me any more money ‘cos you won’t see dollar one back’ Morgan mutters on ‘Mess With The Bull’, a detuned, battered beaut that offers singer/songwriter self analysis without any of the pretension or trappings that saddle lesser talents. It’s the best thing on the record.
There are a couple of mis-steps – the unnecessarily mean-faced ‘Jungleboy’ standing out un the style of a particularly swollen digit but on tracks like ‘Taste For Blood’ you’ll find the brevity and charm of the McLennan he definitely never wanted to be as well as the half-awake beatific nature of the Lemonhead he helped out so often.
It’s a sedate, satisfying pop album, this. Morgan sounds old, he sounds happy, he sounds sad. He also still writes excellent pop music. Go get.