Wednesday, February 25, 2009

X - X-Aspirations CD (Aztec)
It's early days yet, but I doubt you'll hear many reissues in 2009 which better this. You might not hear any. This long-time-coming reissue of X's debut platter from 1980 is an absolutely essential item for anyone reading this. I don't say that about too many records I discuss here - I'm all too aware of the fact that the bulk of what I review requires a, shall I say, "acquired taste" - but X-Aspirations is a rare record which crosses many boundaries in its fandom. Thank the lord the good people at Aztec have done such a fine job in its remastering and presentation, giving it the lush treatment it deserves (they've also done the same for a few other Australian classics by Died Pretty, Lobby Loyde/Coloured Balls, Buffalo, Tamam Shud, etc... so much so I'd have to rate it as one of the world's finest reissue imprints currently happening). But anyway!...
A little history... my older brother used to go see X a lot back in the mid '80s when he was about 15-16; he'd sneak into pubs w/ a fake ID and the band quite obviously made a huge impact on him. He knelt at the altar of this and their 1985 follow-up, At Home With You. I grew up w/ them in the house and dug 'em a whole lot, but I was into a slightly different thing. So, I guess you could say that X-Aspirations is sketched into my brain, whether I wanted it or not. I managed to grab secondhand vinyl copies of their first two LPs about 10 years back, pull 'em out for the yearly spin and nod my head in agreement: a-fucking-mazing records, no doubt about it. And now I'll appreciate their debut a whole lot more, since my old age has made me a lazy coot w/ vinyl-spinning (a two-year-old daughter trawling the house constantly looking for items to destroy doesn't help) and I can thrash this in the car and truly appreciate its wares on long road trips. I've done exactly that the last 2 weeks.
Back in the mid '80s, when I first heard this, it made perfect sense in the grand scheme of things. Nearly 25 years later, I'm finding it difficult to slot it into any convenient musical hole. It doesn't appear to fit. Back then, you could file X next to Feedtime or Grong Grong or King Snake Roost or Venom P. Stinger or Cosmic Psychos - all bands heavily indebted to X, mind you - or whoever was currently hot in the noise-ridden Aussie underground, and you could see where it was coming from and where it was leading. It wasn't quite punk, but nor was it hard rock or garage or noise or "post-punk". It was definitely distinctly Australian, but it was no run-of-the-mill yob-rock for the masses. The band known as X, throughout their nascent period as demonstrated here, had tapped into something quite unique. Maximum Rock 'n' Roll once compared 'em to Gang Of Four, and whilst I balked at such a remark when I read it 15 years back, I now see their point. From an outsider's perspective, this does, at least superficially, sound like angular post-punk, all funky bass and scratchy guitars w/ shouted, often simplistic lyrics. I'd even dumb it down to a two-line blurb and say they resemble Bon-era AC/DC playing GOF's Entertainment on a purely sonic level, but it doesn't capture the magic of the album. X were a strange combination of the young and old: bassist Ian Rilen had been playing regularly in bands since the early '70s (most notably in Rose Tattoo, of course; he wrote their first big hit, "Bad Boy For Love", a song whose royalty statements apparently helped keep a roof over his head until his death a few years back), drummer Steve Cafiero had been beating the skins playing in various garage/beat groups since the '60s, whilst the young Steve Lucas, who possessed an awesome, tortured wail back in the day, was the neophyte and strictly a newcomer on the guitar, his amateurism on the instrument lending it an almost free-jazz bent (whether he wanted it to or not!). Throw the three of them together and you have an amazingly jagged and propulsive trio, all punk energy, rock 'n' roll bravado and a minimalist attack which wouldn't've seemed too out of place in ol' blighty ca. 1979.
Every single song here nails it: "Suck Suck", "Present", "Police" (a great anti-cop anthem), "Good On Ya Baby", "Dipstick", "Revolution" (when you hear Lucas yelp out the line "Rock 'n' roll may be no solution, but that's what I wanna hear!" you'll just about lose yer shit, believe me), "I Don't Wanna Go Out", et al. For anyone who's been paying attention to the better music emanating from this land the last 30 years these rank as almost folk tunes - everyone knows 'em, right? - but for newcomers I can only envy the excitement of hearing this for the very first time. It's simply that good. It's one of the top 5 greatest Australian rock albums ever put to tape, and it all came together with the magnificent Lobby Loyde (can't recommend those Aztec reissues of his albums enough) at the controls on one afternoon in 1979 in a mere 3 1/2-hour recording session. Yep, it's "rock" but not like any other rock you've heard before. In this rare instance, simplistic labels won't do it any justice whatsoever. You'll just have to hear it for yourself.

8 comments:

Mr. Goldblog said...

Any news of the FEEDTIME boxset? I'm actually starting to think BILLY was their best album.

The kids need to rediscover those blokes, the American Underground gave them the highest salutations, yet the Melbourne hipsters have no idea of their existence.

Karl said...

My all-time favourite Australian album Dave & I rate it over any other anyone cares to name. My stories mirrors your brother's I reckon back around the time of the second album. Mid to late 80s I saw them a lot & I never saw a dud show. Right up until a couple of years ago they continued to deliver, & as much as I hate the idea of a Rilen-less X doing the rounds, I'll still give them a go. Though I can't imagine being able to replace THAT bass playing. F*cking majestic band. In a perfect world X would be in the ARIA (or whatever the fuck our 'Hall of Fame' is called) & this record would be held up alongside (or above) the likes of '(I'm) Stranded', 'Radios Appear' etc.

Dave said...

Hmmm... the long-running saga of the Feedtime box. I had Rich S. from Aarght!/Dropkick over for dinner last Saturday; apparently the masters have gone back to Bruce G. in Sydney as it took Rich too long (or something like that; he's had other concerns, believe me). There's another label interested in it, but that's all I can say right now. Def' a great band, though I can understand the young "hipsters" of today not being into them, since their records have all been outta print forever and impossible to find. Same goes for X, I suppose, until recently. No excuse now!
Here's hoping the reissue of "X-Aspirations" finally puts it in the same league as "(I'm) Stranded", "Junkyard", etc.

Michael said...

"Rock n roll may be no solution, but that's what I wanna hear!"

RJSAM said...

A great record to be sure. But i think something needs to be said about the band currently playing under the X name. I used to see X a lot from as far back as 1980 in Sydney and in the late 80's in Melbourne. They were unpredictable but more often than not great. When they were great they were brilliant they were not always brilliant, but they were never ever boring . Then I saw them for the first time since 1987 last week , it was NOTHING like X. It was more like an X tribute band or "X the musical" at best and a complete travesty at worst. I was bored ! S.Lucas is just a caricature and while the bass player has the facial expressions and low slung bass poses down pat, he has not a single clue how to get that sound, power or level of creativity that Rilen's bass playing had even at it's worst. He is just a boring rock pig and should stick to his Keith Richards / Johnny Thunders pastiche solo crap. Kathy Green was the best on ground in an aging team way past it's best . Hang up the boots Steve , Embarrassing !

Dave said...

Uh... yeah, no disagreements here! Friends of mine saw them support the Saints recently and said it was pretty terrible. I really do think it's time for them to hang up the X name for good.

Anonymous said...

VERY strong live. Nice

Anonymous said...

USED to be great.