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Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Triffids, "Calenture"

The Triffids
White/Hot (1987)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

It's rare for me to describe anything that "sounds like the '80s" as being good (I was also created during the '80s, and Lord knows I suck). The Triffids' "Calenture" sounds like the '80s. But somehow, I didn't get sick listening to it. The band was obviously tapping into the styles that were the rage in pop, but the group managed to shuffle things up enough among tracks so that the sound never gets tiresome.

As a singer, David McComb has the consummate '80s voice (a statement that will get me in trouble with the limited number of Triffids fans perusing the internet). Just to cause more trouble, I'll call him a more subtle version of Jim Kerr of Simple Minds (you know, "Don't You (Forget About Me)"). McComb's tone works, especially for more poetic tracks like single "Bury Me Deep In Love." Songs like this allow McComb to use his vocal style for what it's best at: walking the fine line between joy and depression.

Tracks like "Hometown Farewell Kiss" exemplify the typical content of a Triffids song. Here, McComb sings about his birthplace going up in smoke. But if you based emotions on what you heard versus what he said, you'd guess the song sounded pretty darn happy. Two different songs refer to eyes being stitched shut: "Blinder by The Hour" and "Jerdacuttup Man." It's never quite clear whether the tales McComb weaves are supposed to make you smile or weep. The protagonist of "Bury Me" dies, but ends up buried deep in love. There's an aura of heartbreak and joy around almost everything on "Calenture."

The instrumentation is where the "alternative" aspect of the band's style comes in. As I mentioned before, there tends to be an '80s vibe. Is there a synthesizer? You bet, opening "Trick of The Light." Is there a Seinfeld-esque jazz bass? You bet, popping up on "Kelly's Blues." But on the other hand, bolder, more differential instrumentation comes in later. "Blinder" is driven by a piano, and orchestral strings fill in for a regular rhythm section. "Jerdacuttup" is notable for a blend of old-school harmonica and new-school electric chirps, ending with a bluesy solo on the former.

If you hate the soundtracks to John Hughes movies, you probably won't find much to enjoy on "Calenture." But there's a reason why The Triffids are in this book and one-time superstars like Simple Minds aren't. McComb's lyrics are fun to follow, and the band juggles its instruments to keep the sound fresh.

INTERESTING FACT: If you've learned anything from this blog, it's probably what the meanings behind band names are. A "triffid" is a giant, man-eating plant thing from the 1951 John Wyndham sci-fi novel "The Day of the Triffids." Or there's this trailer for the 1962 film version (I recommend just fast-forwarding to the last 20 seconds):

A Trick Of The Light by The Triffids on Grooveshark

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