And so the Australian Explosion continues to saturate the collective unconscious of 21st Century rock music. OK, so it’s not so much an explosion as it is a mild tremor peppered with an occasional firecracker or Roman candle. The most noted of Aussie exports here in the states—Jet, the Vines, You Am I—mine dog-eared sects of conventional guitar pop, subsequently stunting the growth of yet another so-called “rock revival”.
You can add the Sydney band Major to this growing list of adept, yet underwhelming, talent. The Bliss Domestic—Major’s full-length debut—showcases an accomplished quartet breezing through a uniformed batch of perfectly inoffensive pop songs. What do you do with an album such as this, one that demands neither praise nor scorn from the listener? The Bliss Domestic is like an uneventful day at a 9-to-5 job: nothing out of the ordinary happens, the kitchen coffee is still nauseating, the recycled air is a little stuffy, and the end doesn’t come quite soon enough. Ringing guitars? Check. Layered harmonies? Check. Meaty hooks? Check. Substance? Hmmm… not so much. Major has a wealth of lures within its tackle box, but the results are too formulaic to cast a lasting impression.
Let’s play Name That Influence. “Smart Casual” traces Superdrag’s blueprint of power pop note-for-note—so much so that I was searching the liner notes for a documentation of royalty payments. “Choosing No. 5” is early ‘80s XTC, complete with a Dave Gregory guitar riff and quarter note rim shots on the snare. “Circa Time” is as unsuccessful as post-East Side Story Squeeze; it regrettably abandons the sonic explorations of its verses for glossy, spit-shined choruses. And “All of My Promises” possesses the charm of a lesser Fountains of Wayne tune, but blows its potential with an overly sentimental chorus (the title alone should have given that away from the start). Whether it’s the title track’s John Hughes soundtrack aspirations (quick: visualize the rolling credits) or the three-chord Semisonic pomp oozing from “No Regrets No Goodbyes”, it seems that the stars just aren’t aligning themselves for Major this time around.
The biggest problem with the songs on The Bliss Domestic is that they don’t seem to be about anything (and even if, by some unlikely misunderstanding on my part, they are about something, Major gives me no reason to care). “In circa time / Lay beside it / Towing the line / Pull don’t ride it” goes the baffling chorus of “Circa Time”. In “Big Deal”, ridiculous lines like “One night stands and ugly words / And sortin’ through the pain / I wanna run with you through open fields / Watusi in the rain” are tossed off like commonplace exchanges. When’s the last time you felt like doing the watusi in the rain? Maybe it’s an Aussie thing. Seriously, try singing along to this lead-tongued clunker: “New Year’s Eve 2001 / 14 Angel Street / Ecstacy, 78 Saab / Gerry Rafferty” (from “All of My Promises”). Most disappointing of all is the refrain of “Shake”, a song that sneers its lip at the slaves of fashion and image. What are we to do when it’s been made clear that “a new shirt’s gonna change everything”? Well, that’s simple: “Move on and shake!” Huh?! Look, I’m not asking for profound displays of deft lyricism, but surely four band members can put their brains together to create a less asinine payoff.
The closest The Bliss Domestic comes to striking gold is the six-minute “Without Love”, unfortunately tucked away as the second-to-last track. Its simple but universally effective theme (“you can’t get by without love”), swimming in major to minor chord fluctuations and King’s X harmonies, is able to render a brief impact. The song does eventually wear out its welcome, thanks to a subdued section of atmospheric noodling and the cries of a female backing vocalist that vainly strive to achieve the weight of “Gimme Shelter”.
Major’s shuck and jive only gets it half-right: a golden melody here, some inspired harmonies there, an earth-shaking chord progression elsewhere. If only all of these ingredients were used simultaneously, Major would be on to something truly inspired. Until then, I’ll be sticking to the bands that have too obviously served as its inspiration.
// Notes from the Road
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