[19 March 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
There have been a few bands named the Killjoys. There was a ‘70s UK punk/new wave band and, most famously to me as a Canuck, a ‘90s Canadian alternative rock band that had a few near hits in their homeland. However, the Killjoys up for review here is a boy-girl Australian band that has been around since the late ‘80s. Their latest release, Pearl, offers interested listeners two facets of their sound in that the album is a twofer. Included with the disc is a remastered edition of their 1991 debut full-length, Ruby, which had previously been out of print for more than a decade following the collapse of the record’s distributor. So there’s a lot to take in with Pearl / Ruby and the albums are thematically linked not only with having a reference to a gemstone in their title, but both are very lounge-y, chamber pop pieces, as the Killjoys sound is reminiscent of bands such as the Sundays: lush country-pop numbers with, in the former band’s case, liberal use of vibraphones as backing.
Starting with the new album first; Pearl is the sound of a band scrambling to reclaim their past glories, and is a ropey, inconsistent affair. It is telling when one of the album’s best tracks is actually a bonus cut tacked on at the very end of the disc: “Shifting Sands”. Elsewhere, the band tries their hand at low-fi indie pop with “The Coloured Bird”, which, being a bit of an intriguing and jaunting piece, doesn’t really fit with the sound of the rest of the record. “I’m Drinking So Much It’s Coming Out of My Eyes”, despite the over-wieldy song title, is an appealing pub-rock track. However, then you get “Ladbroke Grove” as an album closer (save for that bonus cut), and while it is a beautiful piece of classical acoustic guitar picking alongside a careening violin, doesn’t really feel like an adequate closer or an “end” to the record. It would have been better if it had been sequenced further up the song order. All in all, Pearl has appealing songs, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag, too, that feels like a band throwing a lot of ideas against a wall to see what sticks.
Ruby, on the other hand, is a much more consistent affair, and it’s easy to see why it won the Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards trophy for Best Independent Release back in the day. The album is gorgeous and haunting, with the odd bright and punchy number like “Michael Told Me”. Cellos make a careening appearance on “Sometimes Blue” and those aforementioned vibes provide the instrumental backing against Anna Burley’s winged vocals on “I Don’t Really Know”, which sounds like it came out of a music box. Overall, Ruby has the better songs – which is unfortunate, as you get the indication that the band has only gone downhill from there – and is the real reason for picking up this set. Pearl, I might come back and revisit for specific tracks. Ruby, I’ll listen to the whole thing straight in future listening.
Pearl is worth picking up if you like to swirl a martini around while listening to music. However, the real star attraction of the set is Ruby, an album now more than 20 years old. Say what you will about how that bodes for the future of the Australian Killjoys, but their best days might be behind them. Pearl is a rough gem; Ruby is well polished and sparkly. When you buy Pearl, what you should be really buying it for is, alas, the inclusion of Ruby, a truly magnificent album that has to now settle for being tacked onto an inconsistent affair.