Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Auckland's Unsung label, on which this album appeared, had previously released adventurous, category-defying and often very interesting left-field albums by Big Sideways and Avant Garage, and the 3 Voices album.
The first two of those were loose ensembles which included musicians from classical, jazz, blues and rock backgrounds (and futures).
3 Voices was saxophonist David Bowater (formerly of Schtung), singer/guitarist/bassist Rob Sinclair and others and was re-released five years ago.
But even on the inclusive but short-lived Unsung, Miltown Stowaways were a band apart, a pop band of the loosest sense in that post-punk period.
As Colin Hogg noted in an Auckland Star review at the time, “Which isn't to say this is a pop album. It doesn't always have a lot to with catchy choruses. More with catchy rhythms”.
Yes, this was post-punk dance-funk which is enjoyable if not especially distinguished over the long haul.
There's a bit of Unsung's rhythmic and shouty improv on Walk the Line (“a pain in the ear” wrote Hogg) but mostly betrays many of the members origins in the ska-punk band the Newmatics.
In the line-up here are former Newmatics Brent (Syd) Pasley, saxophonist Kelly Rogers and trumpeter Grant Hughson, the latter going on to play with Netherworld Dancing Toys, Peking Man, Rick Bryant's Jive Bombers and Midge Marsden but is these days more of an avant-composer/performer.
Here is Benny Staples (also ex-Newmatics) who had a lengthy career at home and abroad with the Woodentops, Lava Lava and solo work as well as music for the 1990 Commonwealth Games and DJing.
Bassist Mark Dansey and singer/sound person Mike Neilson rounded out the core line-up, but guests included Wayne Laird from the Unsung roster (marimba), trombonist Chris Watts, keyboard player Ray Jordan and singer Fiona Anderson. It was a stacked deck and too often that's what the songs sound like: energy and personnel almost tripping over themselves.
Before The . . . is disaffected shouting-cum-primitive rap over a catchy enough rhythm and not the strongest way to open an album (Strong and True later on sung by Anderson and with classy bass from Dansey behind the tight horns is more measured and more enticing).
The marimba adds an exotic element to the enjoyable Stare Them Down (which has a catchy chorus) but aside from when Anderson steps up (as she does again to take the lead on Tin Cup) this has shortcomings in the vocal department which are undistinguished.
Acid Rain is interesting, very Newmatics, Penknife Glides and Blam Blam Blam/Respect in its own way.
It was a socio-political time of course so some of these are message songs to a dance beat.
The Gang of Six (plus guests)?
The more considered and less frenetic Looking Glass with Roger's sax to the fore is a welcome and interesting shift in direction.
Pulled off the shelf at random for The Album Considered pages, Tension Melee is an album as odd and unfocused as its cover and Dansey's collage on the insert sheet.
Hadn't heard in decades and figure it might be some time before I pull it out again.
If I ever do.
Not on Spotify of course, but the clips of two album tracks below are on YouTube.
Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here.