Triffids – The Black Swan + Treeless Plain + Beautiful Waste and Other Songs

January 01, 1970


Australia has been a nurturing ground for iconoclastic rock
‘n’ roll ever since the ‘60s, beginning with the Easybeats and subsequently
moving forward through AC/DC, the Bad Seeds, Men at Work and scores of other
bands who achieved varying degrees of fame and notoriety. However none were more deserving – or as
sadly unappreciated — as the Triffids, a group that purveyed acinematic view
specific to its Down Under environs. Few other outfits captured the sweep and
spectacle of the rugged Australian Outback as superbly or as specifically,
while creating such an indelible imprint in the process.

It’s to Domino Records’ credit then that they’ve opted to
give the band a second look, courtesy of a series of reissues that have
expanded the Triffids’ original offerings and packed them with bonus songs,
unreleased tracks, liner notes that reveal personal insights from surviving
band members and other highly coveted accoutrements. Last year, the label reconfigured three of
the band’s seminal efforts – Born Sandy
, In The Pines and Calenture, the former being the album
that originally introduced them to American audiences. Now Domino has opted to
up the ante with further forays into the Triffids catalog, specifically those
recordings that found the group expanding their palette and creating some of
the most sophisticated recordings of their career.

This round of reissues bookends the band’s career, from
their earliest outings to the final album considered their ultimate
masterpiece. The Triffids’ sound can be
effectively documented on a progression of rare EPs — Raining Pleasure, Lawson
Square Infirmary
and Field of Glass — all recorded early on, between 1983 and 1985. Banded together under the collective title Beautiful Waste and Other Songs, every
track originally released on these three EPs is now available on a single
CD. The initial sequence from Raining Pleasure, spearheaded by
rollicking “Jesus Calling,” spotlights singer/songwriter David McComb’s
penchant for parlaying a croon into a swoon, taking a stance that’s by turns
somber and sedate, testy and turbulent.
The songs culled from Lawson
Square Infirmary
find the Triffids playing the role of down-home denizens,
rambling from the woozy hoedown “Figurine –” which sounds like Eddie Cochrane
plying Hank Williams — and the jaunty “Mother Silhouette” to the rustic, back
porch designs of “Mercy” and “Crucifixion.”
The Field of Glass set wraps
the disc up on a darker note, with McComb channeling Jim Morrison over a
musical backdrop that recalls the Velvets, Echo and the Bunnymen, Nick Cave
and the early Airplane in a muddled, turgid brew. It’s scary stuff, a precursor of the more
ominous application that would follow later on.

With that varying pastiche, Treeless Plain, the Triffids’ full-length 1983 debut, was the first
recording to fully flesh out their sound.
While the emphasis continued to be on McComb’s dry delivery, the
instrumental arrangements moved along at a good clip, particularly the
propulsive undercarriage steering songs like “Branded,” “Old Ghostrider” and “I
Am A Lonesome Hobo,” a Dylan composition that became one of the first and only
covers finding a way into their repertoire.
“Old Ghostrider” and five other tunes – four of them taken from that
first album -are reprised as bonus tracks on this reissue, extracted from a
live performance recorded immediately prior to their debut. They find the band in an upbeat mood,
enthused, exuberant and seemingly ready to take on the world.

Unfortunately those expectation were never fully
fulfilled. The Triffids’ trajectory
culminated just six years later with The
Black Swan
, a sprawling opus that successfully summed up the band’s sound
in all their elegiac glory. Cinematic in
its wide-eyed overview, it found chief McComb writing songs from an arched
perspective and a dramatic motif. “Too
Hot to Move, Too Hot to Think” sets up the scenario, via a parched perspective
that illuminates the vast and eerie expanse of the Australian hinterland. The sinewy, half-spoken groove of “Falling
Over You” might have found a compatible niche on today’s airwaves alongside the
most atmospherically inclined rappers, as ironic as that might otherwise
seem. Likewise, the calculated croon of
“Go Home Eddie” and “Blackeyed Susan” (not so coincidentally, the name of
McComb’s next band), as well as the mellow love songs, “New Years Greeting” and
“Fairytale Love,” combine to provide an emotional embrace. An extra disc of
demos and excised offerings enhances that welcome return, albeit it in more
stripped down settings. It provides a
worthy wrap to this Triffids triple play, not to mention a welcome return for a
band that remains as intriguing as ever.

“Jesus Calling,” “Too Hot to Move, Too Hot To Think,” “Old
Ghostrider,” LEE ZIMMERMAN

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