[18 December 2007]
Why do the Lucksmiths continually get rave reviews from music critics who position themselves as the ultimate insiders, as the privileged listeners who have found the underlying, buried brilliance in the simple lyrics and jangly, easily-digested guitar melodies? Part of it might have something to do with the generally appealing concept of outsider art, with all its accordant myths and expectations. But more than this, the truth is there is a lot to love about the Lucksmiths’ happy-go-lucky acoustic pop songs. Justin had it right on when he described the band’s appeal in his review of their 2005 album Warmer Corners: you find yourself playing this record more than you anticipated, because not only is it easy to the ears, but it’s easy to connect to.
Spring a Leak is the Lucksmiths’ Holiday 2007 offering to fans. But, like most material from this band, there’s plenty here for even the Lucksmiths newbie. Well, that’s not 100% true—the press release even admits as much, acknowledging the variable quality of the tracks collected here, culled from radio performances and unreleased demos alike. Still, this 45-track compilation fits completely what we’d anticipate about releases from the Melbourne band. There are the requisite live tracks, the b-sides, and the “rarities”. There is a number of covers, some well-known and others obscure, and an odd remixed track or two. Listening to the two discs through, it’s not surprising that the whole thing washes by in a haze of pleasant Lucksmiths-ness.
Over this subtle accompaniment, clever or poignant lines hit doubly hard. “Macintyre” (off an early 7”) boasts a refrain that you’ll be singing right as it makes you wonder how Marty Donald got it so right. “Get Well Now” may be the most beautiful, heartbreaking get-well-soon card ever (“Don’t get well soon, get well now”). You know you’re in the presence of a masterful singer when nothing more than a simple acoustic guitar and this voice can completely transport you. In general, Tali White’s vocals are so smoothed-out as to almost melt away. The preciousness can be a little too affected at times, but more often it’s undercut by a self-awareness that manifests in humor.
The band’s keen humor ultimately saves the Lucksmiths from being an overwrought marriage of pop and twee. It’s apparent in the coughing lovers in “Smokers in Love”, or the characterisation of the persona’s librarian lover as having the mind of Sharon Stone in “Danielle Steel”. Live, this slightly messy larrikinism comes through stronger, as on the less successful but illustrative “Are You Having a Good Time?!?!”
But despite this, and the band’s occasional forays into more inventive sounds, samples or fuzzy electric guitars, the band continually find ways to reinvent minimal melody to make it charming and attractive again. These small-scale intimacies create a very personal relationship between the songs and the listener. Just like every other critic, I too have fallen under this band’s spell.
The Lucksmiths are one of a host of Aussie bands—others include Art of Fighting, Darren Hanlon and Sodastream—who have established themselves as purveyors of smart, middle-class pop music. You don’t associate these musicians with taking loads of drugs, e.g., just with writing insightful and gently insidious songs. If you’re in any doubt, a pair of gorgeous songs on the second disc should be more than enough to convince you. “Requiem for the Punters Club” settles into its forlorn mood over the course of five gorgeous minutes. “From Macauley Station” fades into the corners of its simple tune over a cello accompaniment: “I know by now / That no one cheers up when told to” Luckily for us, we’ll always have a Lucksmiths album to put on.