The Triffids | REWIG25 | Released: 05/02/07
In The Pines and Calenture, reissued by Domino nearly two decades after their original releases, are two very, very different albums. In The Pines was recorded in a Western Australian woolshed on a budget barely clearing four figures of Australia's woebegone dollar and the most expensive single item on the bill, as dutifully noted on the sleeve, was beer. Calenture was recorded in studios in London, Liverpool and Bath, with a major label's money and a soon to be big-name producer. Two very, very different albums, by one very, very different band. Before embarking on the globe-spanning journeys on which In The Pines and Calenture gestated, The Triffids had, in 1986, banked the first of the succession of masterpieces which Domino are presently engaged in repackagaing, Born Sandy Devotional, a furious hymn to the desolation of the soul, set in the Australian outback. Born Sandy Devotional won gleaming reviews at the time, and again upon its re-release in 2006 ("A dazzling treasure," said Uncut, "One of the dozen greatest albums ever made," said The Guardian). The Triffids recorded Born Sandy Devotional in a studio in London, its blindingly intense reflections of their homeland perhaps partly fuelled by homesickness. In The Pines was to serve as a reconnection. Back in their native Perth, The Triffids rented recording equipment, loaded their vehicles with musical instruments, eight-track recording equipment and the aforesaid beer, and went bush to Ravensthorpe, Western Australia, population 450, a 550 kilometre drive across the emptiness which had inspired Born Sandy Devotional. In The Pines seemed, at the time, an eccentric career move.
The Triffids were widely believed, by their modest but fervent fanbase and a legion of crusading critics, to be but one determined, faithful leap from ascent to the stratospheres. Wandering off into the outback, much like one of the deranged characters that had inhabited Born Sandy Devotional, did not seem calculated to redeem the tantalising promise of that astounding album. The Triffids knew what they were doing, though: In The Pines is a thing of modest majesty, at once haunted by the desolation of its circumstances (the gothic folk waltz of the title track, the knelling, intense "Kathy Knows") and suffused with the infectious camaraderie of people making music for the joy of it (a rowdy singalong of Bill Anderson's country standard "Once A Day", led by Graham Lee, at what one can only suspect was the end of a very, very long day). In The Pines has often been likened, in terms of both songwriting quality and spirit, to Bob Dylan and The Band's The Basement Tapes, and it is not unduly flattered by the comparison. This re-mastered reissue also makes clear that In The Pines, far from being a perverse diversion, occupies a logical position in The Triffids' canon. Its relationship to Born Sandy Devotional was always explicit, in its manufacture amid the very landscape Born Sandy Devotional painted, and in the appearance of Born Sandy Devotional the song, which was omitted from the album with which it shared a name.
What is fascinating about this reissue beyond, of course, it being a bunch of great songs recorded by a shockingly great rock'n'roll band is that In The Pines is properly revealed as the sketchbook from which The Triffids would create their most opulent, most ambitious album, Calenture. There was at least one hint of this on the original edition of In The Pines. "One Soul Less On Your Fiery List", a melody as graceful as its title was cumbersome, reappeared on Calenture as "Hometown Farewell Kiss". This reissue reveals that the In The Pines sessions yielded three more songs that were held over for Calenture, "A Trick Of The Light", "Blinder By The Hour", "Jerdacuttup Man".
On the long drive home from Ravensthorpe and the (only marginally) longer flight back to Europe, The Triffids must have believed that they secreted considerable magic up their sleeves. They did. Abetted by producer Gil Norton (later to work with Pixies, Counting Crows and Foo Fighters, among others) and occasional member Adam Peters, The Triffids sculpted an astonishing collection of gorgeous, glorious glacial pop songs, evocative of approximate contemporaries like U2 and Echo & The Bunnymen, as well as of the 70s-vintage orchestral pop standards written by Jimmy Webb for Glen Campbell. Calenture, repackaged with an extra disc of demo recordings, was named after an arcane term for sunstroke; the album's bewildering failure to shift copies by the million suggested that that the record-buying public had fallen prey to precisely this affliction. Calenture roared into life with its opening track and first single, "Bury Me Deep In Love", a soaring ballad that still deserves to be remembered for more than soundtracking the wedding of Harold and Madge on "Neighbours". Despite starting with the bar set so stratospherically high,Calenture did not waver. "A Trick Of The Light" blossomed into a feather-delicate pop classic reminiscent of fellow under-rated Antipodeans The Go Betweens. "Jerdacuttup Man" McComb's channeling of the internal monologue of a centuries-dead British Museum exhibit drew from Celtic folk roots planted deep beneath the surface sheen of the album's production. "Holy Water", set to a shuffling drum machine, hinted at the always restless Triffids' interest in electronica, something explored further on the newly included b-side "Love The Fever" (and on as-yet-regrettably-unreleased covers of Madonna's "Into The Groove" and Pet Shop Boys' "Rent"). "Save What You Can", the album's closing track for which a new video has been shot is the perfect signoff, definitive David McComb, both ragingly passionate and coolly laconic."Time is against us," he croons, "even love conspires to disgrace us, and things being what they are. . ."
Two very, very different albums from one very, very different band and two chances to buy records this astonishing is one more than anyone should need.