[30 January 2007]
Hoodoo Gurus are integral to the story of Aussie indie music. The band’s eight albums includes a trio of releases in the mid-to-late ‘80s—Mars Needs Guitars!, Blow Your Cool!, and Magnum Cum Louder—that captured the excitement and self-deprecating humour characteristic of Australia’s version of the ‘80s. Though they never made it huge in America, hovering somewhere in the college radio quagmire, the band provided an inescapable influence to modern, successful Australian bands from Frenzal Rhomb to Jet. And I can’t really speak to the cultural impact of Stoneage Romeos when it was first released in 1984 (being, what, all of 3 at the time), but the subsequent influence of this band in Australia is truly inescapable.
The bios of the various members of Hoodoo Gurus reads like a must-hear list of Aussie bands from the end of the last century. I guess when you have as many line-up changes as the Gurus have had, it’s not that surprising. James Baker, who drums on Stoneage Romeos, used to be in the Scientists, and went on to percuss for Beasts of Bourbon (Tex Perkins’ hit-it-big band). Bassist Clyde Bramley was replaced in 1987 with Rick Grossman from the Divinyls. But lead singer/songwriter Dave Faulkner’s characteristically exuberant power-pop compositions and Brad Shepherd’s blistering guitar work provided a continuity to the band’s output that overrides these personnel changes.
Their influences may be the same as many bands of the period—sloppy garage punk, surf rock, and pop culture—but even on their debut, the Gurus were able to craft a feeling (more than a sound) that feels unique. Formed as Le Hoodoo Gurus in 1981, the band used the three years it took to release their debut to crystallize this tongue-in-cheek reaction to being in love, out of love, in a band, etc.
You can divide the songs on Stoneage Romeos roughly in two: there are the supremely catchy, slushy pop songs, and the more expansive, easily-placed ‘80s songs that owe a strong debt to bands like the Ramones and the Cramps. The lyrics to these songs are full of exuberance and B-movie camp. Exotic locales like a South Pacific island or Zanzibar, and occurrences like volcanic eruption, sacrifices, and ghost ships float through these songs as if it were as natural to talk about as a failed love affair. Even the most straightforward songs, like “My Girl”, twist: you wouldn’t know it just by listening, but it’s about Faulkner’s dog, not his girlfriend.
Stoneage Romeos is one of those albums that feels like a real album, not just a collection of singles with fluff—and even (especially?) now, that’s refreshing. From the immediately recognizable proto-pop-punk lick “That’s what I want” from “(Let’s All) Turn On” to the tale of drunken failure that is “I Was a Kamikaze Pilot” (“but I couldn’t fly it”), the Gurus easily demonstrate they have the formula for the three-minute pop song down, and the character to embellish that formula with ragged guitars and surf-rock fuzz.
The three bonus tracks that accompany the “Deluxe Edition” repackaging of the disc are certainly enjoyable, but are clearly b-sides. “Leilani Pt. 2” adapts a similar riff to continue the story of the album song—when we reach the point where Faulkner declares “My love is a red rock”, it’s a glorious, dark stomp; “Hoodoo You Love” shows the quality of Faulkner’s voice translated to the live setting, and the band just rocks out. Not a reason to get the reissue if you already own the album, but like most bonus material, something nice to sweeten the deal.
Hoodoo Gurus performed, again, at the 2006 Rugby League Grand Final in support of their 2004 reunion album Mach Schau. But it’s not their new work the band will be remembered for. Stoneage Romeos still thrills with optimism and ragged enthusiasm, all mixed up with a self-awareness manifested through absurdity. And that’s just excellent. “Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts”. That’s what I like, indeed.