Tagged: Tim Rogers

Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine: Get Yer Dag On!

DAMIAN COWELL was the guy in TISM. We know because he told us so (in a song called I Was The Guy In TISM, recorded with the DC3). Anonymity can be a tough mask to shed. Think of Kiss without the war paint, or the Residents without the eyeballs: what lies beneath can only be a disappointment. Years ago, a friend of mine ripped off Ron Hitler-Barassi’s balaclava in a mosh pit. Stupidly, I asked him who it was. “Some guy,” he replied. Who did I expect?

But amid the constant clamour for TISM to reform (how many original members would it take? Who would know? Would anyone care?) Cowell, the artist formerly known as Humphrey B Flaubert, has been quietly building a catalogue that’s not far short of his old band. And if people aren’t as interested in listening to an advertising copywriter in his mid 50s as they are in TISM, maybe they’ll listen to him alongside a supergroup featuring the cream of Australian satire. Hence the Disco Machine.

The first Disco Machine album boasted cameos from Shaun Micallef, Tony Martin, Kathy Lette, John Safran and the Bedroom Philosopher, along with a bunch of other celebrities and fellow musicians: Lee Lin Chin, Julia Zemiro, Tim Rogers and Kate Miller-Heidke. That, if nothing else, speaks of some serious pulling power and the esteem Cowell is held not just in Australia’s musical community, but especially in comedy circles.

TISM were the rarest of joke bands (their first gig was poetically called The Get Fucked Concert) in that the joke has remained as obnoxious, funny and true as it ever was – and the music was frequently as good, if often let down by the production. They cut to the quick of Australian society and manners, pricking the left’s self-righteousness and the right’s mendacity in equal measure. Sometimes they even played it (almost) straight: The Philip Ruddock Blues is as good a protest song as anything written by Midnight Oil, though they’d probably cringe at the comparison.

Get Your Dag On! is the second Disco Machine album, and Micallef and Martin are again present, alongside another stellar roll-call of guests: Celia Pacquola, Judith Lucy and many more. There’s an irony in there being a slightly identikit anonymity about many of these pounding dance-floor grooves, but that doesn’t matter, because (a) irony is central to everything Cowell does, and (b) Cowell can sing: his melodies and phrasing make many of these songs instantly memorable.

And then there are the lyrics.

It is honestly difficult not to quote some of these songs in their entirety. My favourite is 365 Lemmys, featuring Henry Wagons, which points out how everyone’s favourite rock & roll outlaw made fundamentally conservative music by never deviating from a proven formula: “Lemmy turned it up to 10 / Lemmy did it all again / And again and again and again and again / Lemmy was totally Zen.” In a similar vein, Can’t Stop The Music* (*conditions apply) observes that the most common revolutions in rock now are in the modes of distribution and consumption.

Come On Waleed features Henry Rollins (who just gets the title line) and Melbourne songwriter Liz Stringer. It rattles off a list of fallen heroes, both artistic and sporting: “No means yes, I learned that from Lance Armstrong / And Pistorius left us no leg to stand on.” The chorus then begs the beloved polymath columnist/academic/musician/co-host of The Project, Waleed Aly, not to follow them down the celebrity S-bend: “Don’t go changing on me!”

Another inspired duet is between Micallef and Regurgitator’s Quan Yeomans on When You’re Incredibly Good Looking, which imagines a beautiful person’s secret fear that they might not have got where they were on the basis of merit alone: “Thank God I’m ugly!” goes the chorus. Myf Warhurst guests on two songs: I Smell M.A.N., with Machine Gun Fellatio’s Pinky Beecroft, and My Baby Is Interested In Geopolitics But I Just Wanna Dance (with Tony Martin). The delight of these tracks is just how well she sings them.

Best of all is Barry Gibb Came Fourth In A Barry Gibb Lookalike Contest. Pairing Cowell with a purring Adalita, it shamelessly borrows its hook from Prince’s Controversy, and starts with an oblique reference to his own dilemma: “The truth is horrid / Never quite as good as fiction / That’s why we run away from it / How else do you explain religion?” Later comes this middle-eight: “Young girl with passionate views says journalism is the calling for me / Then finds out that her job at the news is to keep the public stupid and angry.”

It seems sadly unlikely that TISM are about to get back together anytime soon. But while Get Your Dag On! might not reach the heights of Great Truckin’ Songs Of The Renaissance (what could?), it stands tall alongside much of what came after. Cowell is an ad man you can trust.

First published in The Guardian, 16 February 2017

You Am I: Porridge & Hotsauce

Every artist needs a few demons to get by, right? You Am I’s Tim Rogers knows he’s got ’em; he just doesn’t call them out by name: “They’re just some pushy friends, they’re on my couch, they’re on my knee.” He’s learned to live with them over the years. “If I don’t let ’em in, some other fool will / If I don’t let ’em in, maybe they won’t come back again.”

Daemons (as Rogers calls them) sits squarely in the middle of You Am I’s 10th album, Porridge & Hotsauce, and it wants you to know he’s OK. If this ballad – just acoustic guitar and strings – could almost seem too self-aware for its own good, it’s nonetheless reassuring. Rogers, who has been open about his struggles with anxiety and depression in recent times, is at ease with himself.

It’s also reassuring that the remainder of Porridge & Hotsauce is hot rock & roll, many of its 13 songs coming in well under the three-minute mark. Tearing out of the blocks with Good Advices, which dismisses the well-intentioned opinions of others with a flourish, it’s an enjoyable ride, with Rogers in fine voice and his band’s capabilities shown off to full effect.

It’s the sound of a group that’s at ease with itself, too: one that knows its strengths and, mostly, plays to them. The obvious exception is the swinging soul revue of Two Hands. Recorded with the Dap-Kings’ horn section, it’s an extension of Rogers’ recent work with the Bamboos, and stands out by virtue of sounding like nothing else You Am I have ever recorded.

That aside, we’re in familiar territory. The bottom-of-the-bottle reflections of One Drink At A Time reveals Rogers’ huge debt to the Replacements; She Said Goodbye could have been recorded by the Easybeats in 1968, and the charging power-pop of Out To The Never Now features a vocal turn by second guitarist Davey Lane. These are among the best songs here.

Others have a slight by-the-numbers feel. Beehive could easily have slotted onto the band’s third album Hourly, Daily; Bon Vivants and A Minor Blue are rumbling rock numbers that make a noise but don’t hit nearly as hard as they mean to, and the closing title track is a 90-second throwaway about what it takes to get you going in the morning.

What Porridge & Hotsauce lacks, inevitably, is the nervous tension of You Am I’s tremendous early work, when Rogers’ daemons weren’t confined to the couch and were raiding the liquor and medicine cabinets. That hint of danger, so crucial to the best rock & roll, is absent here. This happens to bands that have been around a long time: it’s why the old stuff is, indeed, often better than the new stuff.

So if you already own nine You Am I albums, you will find little to surprise you here. But there will be much that delights, too. For Rogers’ sake, I’m glad he’s got his daemons on a leash. For his art’s, I hope they stick around, like those annoying friends you can’t get rid of and talk too damn much. You’d kick them out, too, if what they had to say wasn’t so interesting.

First published in The Guardian, 13 November 2015