Craig Lawler’s review of Inland Sea – The Re-mains new album

Praise be to the Rooster – An insider’s review of Inland Sea

There’s a bit in Pumulwuy where the Re-mains stop channelling Hunters and Collectors for a moment and the weight drops – Silence. It’s like aspirin. Finally, the Re-Mains have discovered dynamics. Producer and guitar-slinger Christian Pyle evidently understands the power of both silence and cacophony.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this band, I’ve been to the coalface many times with them, Bourke, Gooloogong, Melbourne, Maitland, Moree – I’ve driven hundreds of ks on dirt roads just to see them live, we’ve got history. I used to share a house in Marrickville with Mick, I went to Uni with him in Canberra in the 80s, I knew him when he was a skinny Albury cracker listening to Chris Rea for fuck’s sake. I reckon, I’ve probably been to more Re-Mains gigs in more places than anyone bar Mick, Uncle Shaun or the Owl.  But I rarely listen to their records.

I remember the conversation Mick and I had before he headed to Europe for the last time, the gist of that conversation?: get back, commit to music full-time, form a country rock and roll band and tour, tour, tour until something is built. That’s ten years ago and he’s been good to his word but what has been built? A consistently cracking live band that channels Creedence, Bob Dylan, WPA and the Bad Livers, which makes people from Saskatoon to Coonamble dance and drink too much, endless and indefatigable touring and a serious casualty list of crippled champions, line-up changes and ruined vehicles.

On record though?  Too much emphasis on trying to capture the undeniable wallop of the live arena and less on allowing a full expression of the band’s talents.  Records were something you got together in between tours to sell on tour, for someone who saw them live so often they were kind of superfluous – until now. This record’s been four years in making, not that they’ve been louching around Nellcote jamming and having orgies (much as they’d like to), but they’ve taken their time about it and it shows.

As you might have heard, there’s been a few hurdles: in 2007 a steer walked out in front of their van in the NT (home of no speed limits and no fences), Various bones and the steering column snap, the van careers off the road coming to rest between  two huge boulders, Grant and Dave are still severely injured. Uncle Shaun got Cancer with a capital C but he’s back and firing. Mick and fellow Re-Mains founder steel-guitarist Leigh Ivin’s fractious relationship burst, as did that with Leigh’s replacement Mick Elliott. Two northern Summer tours of Canada saw new horizons conquered and a now collectible early draft version of this record, featuring Mick Elliott’s guitar work, released.

Through all of that, this record lurked, like the band, like Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher, It would not fucking die. IT LIVES.

Track by track:

2nd Century – Hola Beatriz. An ode to the end of the doomed relationship between an Albury boy and a great Galician beauty, Beatriz Villares de Cuba. Beti lived with us in Marrickville where we would infuriate her with incomprehensible conversations in deep strine which she could not ken despite being a professional translator of English: “You stupid farmer Mick, you cannot even speak English, what is this Mull Bowl?”

Your Reward – Setting the tone of measured yet mobile sonic adventure, this one floods into your loungeroom like sunlight through the a gap in the curtains, you can see the dust suspended. It swings, it floats, it’s ruffled by a breeze, it lands. Tom Jones deftly underpins it all with trademark swagger.

Copper City Motel – Doctor Pump once wrote me a letter about his first trip to Mount Isa (1982?) with his covers band The Avengers. It involved Medi-slims, Flagons and riding Mad-Max-style on the Bullbar of the truck hooting at passers-by (mostly cattle). Not much has changed in the Isa. Every band in Australia wishes they wrote this song: “we don’t play no Copperhead Road” indeed. This song also chronicles the meeting of the Re-Mains and last-man standing tent-boxing operator Fred Brophy. Talk about simpatico – beating the drum, dealing with rough-necks, keeping shit on the road, trying to entertain. Fred hits the outback demographic square on the chin, the Re-mains try and draw them into a clinch and sneak in a few crafty rabbit punches coupled with the occasional flashy bolo.

Things I Remember, Things I Forget – It’s a slow-building waltz and Daley eschews the literal and drops his generally taciturn emotional guard.  “I’m a stranger, stranger in my own country, I’m a witness to death, and to deceit, and I’m a patriot …” An equivocal yet clear-eyed constitutional pre-amble if I ever heard one.

Pumulwuy –  conjuring both Tony Joe White and Hunters and Collectors, this is a belter. The great Eora guerilla gets a righteous tribute with a thumping bassline and clarion horns treatment which should come up huge with the aid of the Kenny G Spot Horns Experience at some stage.

Praise be to the Rooster – The first time West Wyalong has been mentioned in a song since the Aunty Jack Show (Kev Kavanagh if I recall correctly).  A fractured loping banjo-fuelled ballad of something gone wrong – it happened out on the Bland.

Who Shot Johnny D? – recalling the Re-mains classics Ballad of a Wrong’un and My Friend the Bushranger, this slice of subterranean north coast action sums up the dichotomy that is Nimbin – it’s like a tie-dyed, stupid-hat-wearing version of The Wire. It broods, it skulks, then explodes. Must go down a treat at Mardi Grass time.

Tequila and Methadone – Gronk national anthem.

Othello’s P76 – when I first streamed this on the Re-Mains Myspace page a couple of years back I knew something was up. Sonic adventure, an elliptical lyric and the poison dwarf square in the sights. It was my favourite Re-mains recording to that point and remains so.

This could be Anywhere – from the Canadian Prairies to the dun-green wastes of New South Wales, globalisation and road-weariness expressed through the personal.

Darn Tootin’ in Saskatchewan – I wish I was there.  Things get shifty in Canada, a party favourite. I reckon it’s the first time Canadian breakfast TV has been treated to lyrics about “waiting for the acid to kick in.”

Left on King – “In the ruins of where we used to play” just about sums it up. Sydney used to be the joint, bands from Melbourne used to move there to get ahead (can you imagine that?). Is anyone still there? “Every time I go to Sydney I get the flu”. Daley, you’ve been reading my mail …

Woke Up Sad – Good fucking grief – vulnerability expressed by Michael Daley in a public forum? Wonders never cease. Deft and gloopy electric piano makes it positively sweet. It hit me somewhat like the shock of Bob Dylan’s “I want you”. Where’d this come from?  The old curmudgeon’s got a heart.

Golden Shoes –  This spectral outro keeps the freak on.

Anyway, it’s the Re-Mains best record. I’ve just listened to it three times in a row – you should too.

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