[8 April 2010]
If one wants to be lazy about things and discount the Triffids completely, they could describe the band as the missing link between the Go-Betweens and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. While there are instances in which the late David McComb and co. have married the classic pop sensibilities of the former to the widescreen drama of the latter, writing the band off in this way overlooks all the unique and original flavors the Triffids brought to Australian music.
The Triffids dealt more explicitly with Australia as an idiosyncratic and isolating continent than their peers. Songs about trekking across expanses of undisturbed land on your lonesome were made universal and palpable by the band’s accessible melodies and McComb’s compelling voice. The Triffids were also a band that dabbled in many styles—from indie pop to bluesy rock to country to new wave and soul—all which are covered on Wide Open Road: The Best of the Triffids.
Following the titular “Wide Open Road”, The Best of lays out highlights from the band’s back catalogue in a roundabout stab at chronology. Debut album Treeless Plain is represented by tough ballad “Red Pony”, then is interrupted by the unabashed pop excellence of “Reverie” (from an EP of the same name that was released one year later) and the string-filled single “Beautiful Waste”, previously absent from all Triffids studio albums and EPs. Its b-side, the somewhat funky anti-drug stomper “Property is Condemned”, shows up on Wide Open Road as well, with another Treeless Plain track, “Hell of a Summer”, wedged in between.
In writing, this ordering may sound like the work of a nonlinearity fixated chimp with an extreme form of ADD, but each song compliments its predecessor in terms of sound or emotion in a beautiful manner. At the album’s center are two songs selected from what is perhaps the Triffids’ masterpiece, Born Sandy Devotional: “Lonely Stretch” and “Stolen Property”. “Lonely Stretch” is the closest McComb has come to finding his inner Nick Cave; it’s a harrowing piece of desperation and desolation that contains the unsettling line, “I’m saving my empty shells for her.” When the song ends and thoughts of “how can the rest of this best of even begin to top that?” start seeping in, in comes “Stolen Property” and all skepticism is lost to emotion. It is a ballad that scales the heights of broken heartedness until it peaks at “finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers”, a clichéd saying rendered powerful by McComb’s affecting vocals.
Born Sandy Devotional and the band’s Island debut Calenture (a term used to describe the delirium faced by sailors who have spent too much time at sea) are the two albums best represented here, with four songs picked off of each. Among Calenture‘s charms are “Bury Me Deep in Love” (later covered by Kylie Minogue and Aboriginal musician Jimmy Little) and “Save What You Can”, which closes Wide Open Road. In another bit of clever organization, “Save What You Can”, which begins with the line, “Well it doesn’t look much like we’ll see the new year ” is preceded by a cut off Black Swan entitled “New Year’s Greetings”. Like “Stolen Property”, “Save What You Can” is a builder with the holiness of a Leonard Cohen song. The heartstrings are pulled just a little tighter every time the chorus kicks in and McComb sings “if you don’t get caught then steal it all” as though it’s the only way one can be saved.
For die hards already blessed with knowledge of the Triffids, Domino Records is also releasing a deluxe edition best of entitled Come Ride With Me that will feature all manner of obscurities and curios throughout the band’s entire career. For the newcomers however, Wide Open Road is an uncluttered, perfect case for the importance of these oft-overlooked Australian treasures.