The Screaming Tribesmen: Date With a Vampyre / Top of the Town / Bones and Flowers

[12 February 2012]

By Elias Leight

Forced Exposure compiles some unreleased material by the Screaming Tribesmen

Forced Exposure has compiled and re-released an assortment of work by the Screaming Tribesmen, an Australian rock group who tend towards the crunchier side of the ‘80s rock and roll spectrum. The first disc combines the Date With a Vampyre and Top of the Town EPs from the mid-‘80s and adds a slew of covers that show the band has good musical taste. The second disc includes the full length Bones and Flowers and augments its ten tracks with B-sides and demos. An obsessive Screaming Tribesmen fan may be excited by these additions, but mostly the material was left off the EPs and albums for a reason – it’s fairly characterless stuff from a band that doesn’t have a whole lot of things setting it apart in the first place.

The Date With a Vampyre disc starts with a bang: The title track has a goofy, spooky piano intro before descending into propulsive guitar bashing and a sexy, amusing, dangerous story of a date with a vampire girl (Why this song was not used in any of the Twilight movie soundtracks is beyond me). This song’s rock and roll simplicity – themes of sex and love and above all forward momentum – carries forward across the rest of the original EP tracks. The Top of the Town mini-LP comes next, and it starts with “You Better Run”, which is more jangly and harmonic than anything on Date With a Vampyre, but also a little less interesting.  This sets the tone—the first EP is more of an infectious romp; the second has less moxie. With the exception of the low-to-the-ground guitar mire of “No Chance”, it’s fairly characterless rock and roll.

Then comes the songs that haven’t previously seen the light: Nine tracks from performances or rehearsals, including one unreleased original. A lot of these are live covers. A well placed and well picked live cover can be a killer addition to a performance, and it’s cool that the Screaming Tribesman like the Velvet Underground’s “I Can’t Stand It”, a truly great song collected on the album V.U.; ditto for Television’s “See No Evil” off Marquee Moon. But these fairly faithful live covers, though recorded with good sound, aren’t really worth listening to on recording. At a live show, they would be welcome because of the surprise factor and the pleasure of hearing the band crunch through a homage to some great music. At home, you want to pull out Marquee Moon and V.U.. “It May Be Love” is the unreleased original, and it packs a raucous wallop that would’ve fit nicely on the Date With A Vampyre EP. 

Bones and Flowers has more studio polish – bigger drums, less fuzzy urgency and more of a steady chug, cleaner vocals and shinier harmonies, more strums and less hacking. It sounds like an amalgamation of all sorts of ‘80s indie-rock from the U.S., but it doesn’t have enough punch, melody, or exuberance to stand out. Then there are two b-sides, three demos, and a live recording of an unreleased track.  The first b-side, “Color Me Gone”, has a nice bounce; the second, “Don’t Turn Away”, garners attention for its blistering intro of churning guitars and a scream of frustration and joy. Of the rest, the demo “What You Said” is best, a good piece of guitar pop that deserved more fleshing out. 

The Screaming Tribesmen are a solid rock band. This re-issue shows they had some talent, but not a lot of hidden depth.

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