Anger, as the punk formerly known as Johnny Rotten put it, is an energy. For Amy Taylor, singer for Melbourne band Amyl & The Sniffers, it’s a renewable resource. “It’s my currency,” she tells us on Guided By Angels, the rip-roaring opener from the band’s second album, Comfort To Me. An electric performer, Taylor crackles like a live wire with too much current running through it.
One can only imagine what Melbourne’s long lockdown, and not being able to perform, has done to the psyche of someone like Taylor. Comfort To Me gets it all out in an eruption that’s more intense, and much less playful, than their self-titled debut from 2019. Taylor’s voice is defiantly flat, yet more powerful – like a poetry slammer fronting the Cosmic Psychos, the Sniffers’ spiritual forebears.
In Taylor’s words, she’s a “little bit classy, bit of a rat”. But she’s no cartoon figure, and the lowbrow profanity of a song like Don’t Need A Cunt Like You To Love Me is no joke. Like much of Comfort To Me, it’s an expression of independence and confidence. “I’m a businesswoman, run my own company,” she spits. The Sniffers swing furiously behind her in defence: “She’s 10 out of 10 / You’re so-so / You think you can fuck with her? / Hell no!”
In many respects, Taylor is reminiscent of the late Wendy O. Williams, who fronted New York shock-rock band the Plasmatics. She’ll show you her body, but only on her own contradictory terms; there’s an inner refusal to conform to anyone’s expectations of who she is, or should be. “I am still a hot girl, go on take a look” she sings in Laughing, flipping the bird at those who refuse to take her seriously: “You can keep fucking laughing!”
At times, Comfort To Me is terrifying. Knifey is about going armed in self-defence as a woman. Taylor makes it sound perfectly reasonable: all she wants is to go for a walk in the park and, unlike Courtney Barnett, she’s not messing around with keys between her fingers. “Out comes the night, out comes my knifey / This is how I get home nicely,” she hollers. The threat of violence is a persistent undercurrent in Comfort To Me.
Yet there’s also a disarming vulnerability. Hertz, No More Tears and Maggot are all twisted love songs (the last featuring the lyric: “C’mon maggot, put your maggots in me” – Feel Like Makin’ Love it is not). Capital pushes the band into more political territory, something Taylor admits she’s only beginning to get a handle on, but it starts with a recognition that she’s part of a machine: “They sexualise my body and get mad when I exploit it”.
The best song here is the second single, Security. Behind all the bravado and self-defence, Taylor really just wants to be loved. It also captures the Sniffers at their peak musically. They’re a rhythm and boogie machine, Gus Romer’s bass laying down the tracks for drummer Bryce Wilson and guitarist Dec Martens to run on. By the end of the song, Martens pushes the band into pure white noise. As another live wire once said, stick this in your fusebox.
First published in the Guardian, 11 September 2021