If the Ramones were a perfect band, their visuals and music and general aesthetic all meshing into one whole, then the Chats are getting there: their look, their lyrics, their sound, and their videos are all of a piece. This comes at a price, in that only bands this simple and self-contained can edge toward perfection. This is similar to how short stories can be perfect, but novels cannot.
Consider punk rock: fast, rudimentary rock ‘n’ roll that you can easily pick up and play and which has little time for dignity. Punk music takes on the muscular nihilism of the Stooges, the racket of the ’77 crowd, the football chants and questionable political affiliations of Oi!, the hair shirt austerity of hardcore, and the drunken shambling of garage and still, as with pornography, you know it when you see it, or hear it, as the case may be.
The form’s simplicity makes it incredibly versatile. The above subgenres are all based around the same principles but are vastly different due to the precepts that the bands bring to the table. Some of these are musical, obviously, but many of them are historical, ideological, or intertextual. Of course, this simplicity also makes the form highly accessible. This accessibility means that people just learning to play can start a band and sing songs about the things around them without such concerns as good taste or any notion of what the right way of going about it. So you could give this incredibly simple form to two groups of people at differing points, and it would yield vastly different results.
In the case of the Chats you can smell the beer and sweat and feel their frustration with living paycheck to paycheck in Queensland. The story is relatable. This is why “Smoko“, the single that brought the band into something like the mainstream, resonated with so many people — that and it’s also a great tune. Continuing with relatability, the songs on High Risk Behavior are about having the clap and wanting to eat in a pub, dining and dashing, getting wrecked, and having to pay your rent. In lyrics, music, and style, High Risk Behavior is a lot like the Chats’ previous records.
Listeners don’t need to decode this music as they would if it were, say, a jungle track made on an Atari ST, like “The Future” by Noise Factory or droning electronic rockabilly noise like Suicide. (Of course, it could be argued that jungle is inherently punk in spirit, which serves to highlight the unique relationship between punk rock and rock.) In this sense, you could see punk almost as a content delivery system; it may not be innovative, but that may be the point.
That said, if you’re familiar with the genre, and this record doesn’t just sound like more of the same to you, then you might be interested in the John Lydon-esque direction the vocals in opener, “Stinker”. You’ll hear that some of these songs (average length about two minutes) approach a Minutemen-like succinctness. You might also find that this record sounds a little harsher and the songs a little more focussed, musically, to the point where the garage-y aspect of the Chats’ sound is almost stripped completely and the form is abstracted in a manner that sounds almost post-punk.
On 2018’s self-titled EP, the band sometimes engaged in a slightly broken C86 type pop sound, complete with sort-of sung choruses. This is now largely absent, though hopefully, the Chats hasn’t abandoned that style entirely since it gave them an emotional nuance in prior albums that’s largely absent here. It seems their musicianship has improved, too.
You’ll also want to take the band’s visuals into account since the paratextual media has always played some part in punk. Bondage trousers and Destroy t-shirts were as much a part of ’77 punk as the music, so I think it’s fair to take the mullets and shorts as part of this band’s aesthetic alongside the music. These are on display in the band’s hilarious DIY videos and fabulously silly album ads. “Bogan”, Australian slang for a, shall we say, “unsophisticated” person, is a pejorative term applied to punks. But if it’s said to imply cultural impoverishment, then punks might simply reply that this dumb punk record is smarter and more interesting than anything Muse has ever done.
There would be no need to be so effusive about all this side stuff if the Chats didn’t have the tunes, and they weren’t, you know, good. After all, nobody listened to Scritti Politti just because they are a theoretically sound proposition (if anyone listens to Scritti Politti at all). But High Risk Behavior is so full of hooks, personality, and humour that you might find yourself, wanting to play that 28-minute record again. It’s a rare thing to want to hear a record on repeat, but rarer still is a record that you feel like you know having just heard it just once, and this is particularly true of the singles, which sound closer to ‘classic’ Chats than a lot of the album.
‘We just make songs for people to jump around and have fun to,’ says vocalist Eamon Sandwith, in a way perhaps analogous to what Brian Eno once called, in a completely non-pejorative way, ‘idiot glee’. It’s harder to do “simple” well than it looks, but the Chats do it over and over again. Yes, this is not a ‘serious’ (i.e., middlebrow) album, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
We could imagine punk rock as being a kind of anti-folk music, in that rather than doing a communal song in your style; you hang your song on a communal style. As often correct punks Art Brut once shouted, channelling Billy Childish, “Punk rock ist nicht to”. It never will be as long as guys like these keep coming out of the woodwork and grabbing punk rock by the scruff of the neck. Because punk rock can never die. Only the people who play it.