CD REVIEW: DAVE WARNER’S FROM THE SUBURBS – When
17 March, 2017
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
8 ½ /10
Australian society may have changed dramatically since Dave Warner’s Suburban Rock packed full houses every Bicton weekend, but Warner is as insightful and cutting as he continues his relentless study of Australian identity on When, his first album in 25 years, and From The Suburbs’ first in a massive 35 years.
The opening guitar chords and vocals of lead single I’m On Facebook (But Where’s My Friends) take us straight back to his signature sound (thankfully with real, organic drums and his Tesco organ, rather than the drum machine and synths of mid-‘80s Meanwhile In The Suburbs EP), and its power pop riff and clever lyrics the next generation of his biggest hit, Suburban Boy.
Warner has said he didn’t release new music for such a long time because he had nothing important to say. That’s addressed here, skewering the shallow and disturbing world of Facebook and, later, Snapchat with satirical aplomb in two of When’s best tracks.
That track combines Warner’s high-voltage wit with a few well-chosen swear words – recalling his seminal works Old Stock Road, Girls Wank, and the like – and an instantly catchy melody to great effect. It’s the epitome of acerbic satire and, vulgarity aside, a clear indicator why Bob Dylan once rated Warner his favourite Australian songwriter. As for the rude words – heck, it’s a rude subject he’s skewering, so it fits.
Old favourite Wimbledon gets an enjoyable update here (a few listens might be necessary to long-term fans of the original, but this is how Warner says he always heard it in his own head), but it’s the new material that are the real treasures.
Old Guitars is a faded rock star’s emotive lament for glory days, whilst Lonely Sailor is a single guy’s cry out for a partner – ironically both sounding insightful and moving.
Only Warner – the original Perth punk – could translate a Yuppie couple’s desire for kid-as-accessory to alleviate their vacuous boredom, into a sneering punky anthem like We Want A Kid.
With a core band including Atlantics guitar whizz Martin Cilia, long-time foil Tony Durant, and guests including Greedy Smith (Mental As Anything), Kevin Borich, Jim Moginie (Midnight Oil), Mick Thomas & Wally (The Sure Thing, Weddings Parties Anything), and photographer Bleddyn Butcher, musically When is rich with diversity and sounds fantastic, even on the songs Warner wrote forty years ago. Mrs W – Nicole or, in a past life, Yummy – provides excellent backing vocals along with local lads Dick Haynes and Bill Breare.
Warner afficianados will know his penchant for a quirky curve ball or two, and there’s a few here that will take some extra listens to get into fully. His work has often been made to ‘grow on’ the listener, and Women Who Drowned In Her Own Apartment – essentially an ‘80s poem positively bulging with literary witticisms put to music, and Last Night Jim Morrison Came To My Window – a near-muzak dreamscape, will reward persistent listeners.
Up there with the best of his albums, When showcases Australian suburban rock in its many nuances. His characters are sometimes crude, sometimes yearning to be elsewhere, but always Australian, and Warner always views them with the affection and insight of a father, even as he skewers the facile and fake.
Using songs from throughout his career, and contributors and friends from various points in his life, prompted the album title – When, sans question mark. It’s as if he is defying time itself, saying that our culture exists outside of time constraints, and maybe that is true once we reach a certain age.
Warner may be an antique vase in a society that only wants plastic cups, but this important album from a pioneer in exploring the Aussie psyche deserves far more than a cult audience.
Filed Under: CD Reviews
About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE