The Triffids

Australian Melodrama

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Initially inspired by punk (more its arty New York variant than its rowdier British cousin), the Triffids mixed psychedelia, blues, folk and country to emerge as one of Australia's most distinctive '80s indie exports. Released five years after the band's demise, Australian Melodrama is the first comprehensive career overview. This long-overdue, chronologically sequenced collection does an excellent job of tracing the band's evolution, underscoring the range and depth of David McComb's songwriting. The group's first phase is well represented by the thumping, bluesy "Hell of a Summer," the haunted psychedelic swirl of "Red Pony" and the vaguely eerie "Raining Pleasure." However, McComb delivered his most memorable set of songs on 1986's Born Sandy Devotional and numbers like "The Seabirds" and "Wide Open Road" rank among his finest achievements. They dramatize his ability to combine sweeping panoramic vision with minimalist nuance, as well as his knack for interweaving natural landscapes and the human psyche in often elliptical but gripping narratives. A move to the major label Island produced Calenture. Rather than get lost amid the record's bigger-budget sound, McComb's songs thrived, something that's documented here by the anthemic "Bury Me Deep in Love" and the wry, sea shanty-style "Jerdacuttup Man." With their final studio album, The Black Swan, the Triffids surprised fans by exploring an array of new musical territories, integrating elements of funk, jazz, hip-hop, electro-pop, tango and even opera. While the hybrid of pop and rap on "Falling over You" was a modestly successful experiment, more traditional forms remained the band's strong suit, as the sublime ballad "New Year's Greetings" shows. Australian Melodrama is a worthy epitaph for the band, but also a somewhat ironic coda: it's difficult to grasp how a group with so many good songs never attained broader renown, not to mention significant commercial success.

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