Dave Graney Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Where I Hide

[Liberation; 2011]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: jazzy grooves, lounge crooner, philly soul, rock ‘n’ roll
Others: Barry Adamson, Serge Gainsbourg, Gary Wilson

Dave Graney’s schtick weighs a ton. Or so he’d have us believe, and there’s nothing here to make us doubt it. Graney (along with his schtick, and longtime partner and collaborator Clare Moore) occupies an interesting place in territory that he shares with the circle of Australians and other misfits that coalesced around an expatriate Nick Cave, taking in musicians from Rowland S. Howard and Einstürzende Neubauten to The Go-Betweens, The Scientists, Laughing Clowns, and Crime and the City Solution. After a sizable stint as the post-punk Moodists, Graney and Moore, having returned to Australia, went through numerous eponymous incarnations, the best known being Dave Graney ‘n’ the Coral Snakes. A (reinterpreted) retrospective is therefore not before time. Graney describes Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Where I Hide, a collection of classic tracks re-recorded in a rawer, rockier vein, as his third debut, and the tension inherent in that phrase — between a sound on the one hand historically and spatially grounded in dust, empty beer cans, and the faded, tacky glitz of a rural pub stage; and on the other refracted through a wryly pomo sensibility alive to contradiction — is evident and delightful throughout.

Perhaps the distinguishing feature of Graney’s music in comparison to the aforementioned groups is a distinct, if relative, lack of darkness and alienated angst. Graney, rather (particularly in the post-Moodist period), has created a niche that is absolutely unique. Free from any trace of the confessional, he creates vignettes that range from absurdist to deeply moving — often both — mingling wry social observation with a humor that perfectly threatens to stray, but never finally crosses the line, into novelty. One aspect of Graney’s distinctness — and distinction — is the very persona-ness of his persona (beginning with costume; from safari suits to Tom of Finland leathers, deadly serious camp is a trademark). Unlike so many other front men, Graney isn’t performing faux-transgressively as the typical dysfunctional rock star, drug-addled, sexually voracious, yet constantly heartbroken — but rather transgresses that same transgression through the obviously conscious adoption of a kitsch that is tongue-in-cheek, but wherein the illusion nonetheless remains firmly unbroken. It’s an act that is postmodern but never pretentious, both distancing and deeply endearing, especially when combined with his obvious lyrical smarts.

But in foregrounding Graney’s deconstruction of the rock star role — a move that functions all the better given his status as a semi-canonical figure, a working rocker, acclaimed in Australia, but without the celebrity factor of a Nick Cave or The Go-Betweens — I don’t want to imply that he has no truck with its discourse. Indeed, the epic title track (and opener) here, one of his career highlights, tells the tale of a human Purloined Letter who realizes that hiding in full view, pretending to think that he’s invisible, is the perfect disguise. Neither does rock priapism escape Graney’s voyeuristic gaze, which ranges scurrilously across subjects from the overtly Freudian phallicisms of “Apollo 69” to the shambolic, nebbishy Sheriff of Hell, “Sitting on the boardwalk, hat over his eyes/ Boots up on the rail, hand down his pants.” (On this note, I was personally saddened by the absence of another favorite, “The Confessions of Serge Gainsbourg”; the title says it all.)

Speaking of favorites, how do the re-recorded versions measure up to the beloved originals? There is a rawness here that is invigorating, but that sometimes leaves one missing the gentler touches of tracks like the tender original “Night of the Wolverine (I).” However, this is compensated by the coherence of the album as a piece, the sense of playful care and sheer guts that’s usually only captured live. (The album was apparently recorded over a few days, with one or two takes for each track, and it shows, in the best possible way.) In terms of selection, every fan will have their gripes — personally, I would’ve happily taken “You Wanna Be Loved” or “Showbusiness” over “Feelin’ Kinda Sporty” — but this is the nature of the beast, an appropriate cliché here. The album thus supersedes 1999’s out-of-print compilation The Baddest to provide an excellent introduction for the uninitiated (and is accompanied by a simultaneously-released biography, 1001 Australian Nights).

The finale, and only new track, “We Don’t Belong To Anybody,” is a groovy kicker, taking the listener on a personal tour through Graney’s extensive back-catalog of bands and releases while simultaneously emphasizing the autonomy proclaimed in its moniker — there’s that referentiality (/reverentiality) thing again! The creation of such a shimmering self-tribute — one that maintains the tension between the finality of the canon and an open-ended roughness about the edges — provides an impeccable summary of the Graney experience. As the man himself puts it, “We’re a sweet ride.”

Links: Dave Graney - Liberation

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