BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2009 The Puddle: The Shakespeare Monkey (Fishrider/Yellow Eye)

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The Puddle: One Romantic Gesture
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2009 The Puddle: The Shakespeare Monkey (Fishrider/Yellow Eye)

Dunedin's The Puddle should have been bigger (and perhaps better) than they were during New Zealand's vibrant indie-rock scene in the Eighties and early Nineties.

But they were sometimes "indisposed" during the heyday of their famous label Flying Nun -- although they still managed to release a couple of interesting and almost excellent albums (and probably a single or two, who knew?) on Nun which went straight past just about everyone.

By the mid-Nineties, when the world was moving on from indie-Nun-rock, they fell into some weird netherland ("Sorry? 'The Puddle', did you say?") and maybe even pulled up the stumps. Who knew?

But late in 2007 The Puddle played a blinder of show at the Kings Arms in Auckland which was attended by only those with a decent memory, and long-held affection for their alt.pop and the wayward -- if irritatingly unfulfilled -- gifts of their singer-songwriter George D Henderson.

Henderson has an alarmingly direct and fascinating way with a lyric which, I believe, is unequalled in New Zealand music: the opening couplet on this surreptitiously exceptional album goes like this: "Well I would've gone to art school, if it wasn't so much hassle. I'd have strangled all the meaning out of every last Picasso".

Top that Mr Dobbyn. Or Mr David Byrne.

But the Puddle are no art school drop-outs (or even an art school band) because -- kick me if I'm wrong -- the rocking follow-up to that opener is grounded in a garageband/Velvet Underground/Television-framed nod to Iron Butterfly's trip-rock Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida.

And later the ragged Shivver is a 5am post-powder shake on the Byrds' So You Wanna Be A Rock'n'Roll Star before branching off into a stuttering and unsettling guitar part.

There's a great band here too by-the-by -- which includes his brother Ian of the Dark Beaks -- and free-range lyrics which roam from nods to the esoteric philosopher/writer Colin Wilson to aural references to the Chills, and sublime Kinks-pop.

This is an album which keeps attention at every turn: there is astonishing, simple beauty here (the post-Chills ballad Solace with its lovely Sixties guitar solo references); the eerie-but-nice Trauma Bear, the power-pop of No Good . . .

And I dare any adult to look away when confronted with intelligent lyrics like these, delivered over a melancholy and memorable melody . . .

"Will you be my last companion, with me to the end? I can't promise everything will work out right. I don't know just how good I am, when I get tired hurting everybody that I love. I need to settle on a heart that's good and strong. I could be like Keats and Chatterton. Dead romantic, lying on a bed of my old songs . . . this could be your one romantic song . . . this'll be my one romantic gesture, I could be your one romantic jester . . ."

Lyrics don't come more meaningful or imbued with human weakness and need than that. 

Hmmm, love hurts: "There so much beauty in this world for everyone, so I expect . . . ." he sings on the seductive Solace. But wait, there's more . . . of course.

Henderson makes emotions seem like open-heart surgery. In a good way and to a great tune.

There is (almost) as much bitterness as beauty here (High on the Hog which has the tensile strength of the Gang of Four)  . . . but Jeez, George: All that, and Iron Butterfly too?

You had me at "I would have gone to art school . . ."


There is a background article on the Puddle at nzmusic.com and another here.

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Bongo - Nov 27, 2009

fyi: I was just chatting to a friend of Hamish Kilgour's from Columbus Ohio on Hamish's Facebook page about GDH/The Puddle (after Hamish posted http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtEGVFBxbgU
with the comment that "ole george can still pull the white rabbits outa the hat") and sent him this link/review. He immediately bought The Shakespeare Monkey on Amazon.
Kia ora.

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