College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #548 to #545

hunters fate

548. Hunters & Collectors, Fate (1988)

I.R.S. Records had the Australian band Hunters & Collectors under contract for U.S., but the label executives didn’t particularly like how, well, Australian the band sounded. The band released their fifth studio album, What’s a Few Men?, in their homeland, naturally expecting it would carry over to the other territories where they had distribution agreements. In short order, though, I.R.S. expressed reservations, beginning with the album’s title, which was drawn from a memoir by Australian writer Albert Facey. A set of instructions were given to Hunters & Collectors: a new album title, a new track listing, and even some new songs. The common instinct is to take the side of the artist over the label, but the fact that the edict prompted the inclusion of the practically perfect “Back on the Breadline” on the revamped album, the folks at I.R.S. are deserving of a medal.

The rest of the album, retitled Fate for U.S. release, is filled with the slick, swelling, earthy, earnest rock music that record labels were starting to bank on as U2’s booster engines kicked in. The lean, seething “You Can Have It All” and the thumping rock song “Do You See What I See?” could have been fine additions to any album rock radio station’s playlist. And the grand, anthemic “Something to Believe In” echoes the precise potency of material on U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. Similarly, “Faraway Man” has a slicked up eighties rock sound, in line with the Alarm. Comparisons to some of the countrymen of Hunters & Collectors can be made, too. “Under the Sun (Where I Come From)” is similar to the handiwork of Midnight Oil, albeit more what they crafted a few years later, blessed with ample money and studio time when they recorded Blue Sky Mining.

It’s open to debate whether the reworking of What’s a Few Men? into Fate made it a stronger album, or even an album better suited to the U.S. market. What’s certain is it still didn’t live up to the hopes of I.R.S. Records. The band and label parted ways. By the time of their next album, Ghost Nation, Hunters & Collectors had a new U.S. home with Atlantic Records.

 

human 14

547. Human Sexual Response, Fig. 14 (1980)

The wiseacre attitude that infuses Fig. 14, the debut full-length from Boston-based Human Sexual Response, was forecast by earlier musical ventures mounted by the various band members, including an a cappella county outfit and a group entirely reliant on kazoos for instrumentation. They’d gotten a touch more serious by the time their goofball streams converges in the burbling brook of Human Sexual Reponse, but really only so far as polishing up their playing. In demeanor, the group is like a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band for a new generation.

Since the emerged as the nineteen-seventies were tumbling gracelessly into the nineteen-eighties, Human Sexual Response’s music naturally bears the scruff of the era. The warped guitars and robotic weirdness of “Dick and Jane” position the group as a wild-eyed hybrid of Devo and Gang of Four, and the dramatic sweep found in dramatic “Marone Moan,” and “Anne Frank Museum” make them sound like leftovers from a wisely abandoned rock opera. The band can push hard, as the fevered “Guardian Angel” demonstrates, but they’re more likely to be signaling they believe this new wave music they’re playing is kind of a dippy lark. A surprisingly faithful and adept cover of “Cool Jerk” reveals the group to be a skilled bar band that happens to have a fleeting ambition for crackpot invention and just enough ability to shuffle together the two stacked decks of their musical personalities. Only the weirdly unsettling “Dolls” (“Bloody footprints in the bathtub/ Who’s sleeping here?”) gives much of an indication of possible growth beyond the agreeable but fairly basic trappings of their art.

Human Sexual Response mustered only one more full-length release before breaking up and scattering apart to a startling wide range of careers. Many of them still dabbled in music, with drummer Malcolm Travis arguably landing the most impressive gig by taking the same role in Bob Mould’s band Sugar.

 

mighty out

546. The Mighty Lemon Drops, Out of Hand (1987)

Following Happy Head, the Mighty Lemon Drops’ modestly successful debut album, the pop-rock master craftsmen from Wolverhampton were prodded to get some new music out pronto. In the go-go independent music and college radio scenes of the nineteen-eighties, there was no time for dawdling. Every semester a band was absent was a change to fade fully from the mind of fickle young student programmers. And just one song and a B-side wasn’t quite good enough in the U.S., so the lolling single “Out of Hand” was teamed with a bunch of live tracks and few bit of recorded flotsam. Out of Hand isn’t really a primer, nor is it much of a memento. It’s a placeholder, but a reasonably diverting one.

If the new material on Out of Hand seems largely inessential, it’s also all pleasing enough. On “Count Me Out,” the band comes across as a sort of update of the Easybeats, and “Rollercoaster” has some nice jittery guitar work and a headlong forcefulness that predicts that evolutions the band would go through on their next couple albums. The Mighty Lemon Drops were just getting starting, but their process of finding their collective way resulted in some songs that could put other band’s entire catalogs to shame.  Out of Hand provides at least an inking of that rocket-charged talent.

 

hunters living

545. Hunters & Collectors, Living Daylight (1987)

Dashed off quickly after Hunters & Collectors lengthy tour in support of their album Human Frailty, the EP Living Daylight was meant to buy the Australian collective a chance a little buffer before they could get down to the work of creating another full-length studio. Only three songs long in their native country, Living Daylight was fleshed out with a couple more stray tracks when I.R.S. Records issued it in the U.S. Either way, the EP is a quick, joyous jolt of basic, polished rock goodness.

The title cut is perhaps the most telling evidence of the EP’s fairly quick turnaround time from conception to release. “Living Daylight” is filled with lyrics that are somehow both rock-generic and bafflingly nonsensical (“Here comes the living daylight/ Here comes the great outside/ Like a morning bird on a barbed wire fence/ It will not be denied”). It also compellingly argues that any stitched together scraps of song can still work if the resulting crazy quilt is played and sung with unembarrassed conviction. On other parts of the EP, Hunters & Collectors seemingly take the more modest expectations associated with such a project to get loopier and looser. “Inside a Fireball” has a raw-throated abandon that reminds me of the Felice Brothers and other fellow descendants who are  practitioners of especially slapdash indie rock, and “The Slab” is like Nick Cave trying his hand at psychobilly, which is exactly as amazing as that description makes it seem.

Living Daylight was a successful stall, and Hunters & Collectors were soon back in the studio, and their next full-length studio album arrived in Australian Record shops before the end of the year. Titled What’s a Few Men?, the album earned the customary plaudits and associated handsome sales at home. Across the ocean, some reworking was required, But then, we covered all that already (see #548).

To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs

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