The Triffids - Born Sandy Devotional
As many others have pointed out, this is not an album which is going to seize you the moment you hear it. Part of the reason for that lies in the fact that, as Australians with a desire to write songs which are relevant to them, there is a gap of understanding between their antipodean sensibilities and my British comprehension. Entirely my problem I accept, but anyone non-Australian may fall into the trap of writing this album off before giving it a chance to impress.
The other reason for this delayed appreciation effect is the songs themselves. Lyrically, this is not instantly accessible. There are no catchy rhythms or memorable rhymes to stick in the head. The lyrics have a quality all of their own, relying heavily on imagery and metaphor to convey the message. The lyrics are also shorn of cliché - never do they deliver the image, the rhyme or the words you expect them to, and this constantly throws the listener off-balance. Anyone who lacks patience will quickly tire of this, but patience has its rewards, and repeat listens will allow the listener to discover the depth and complexity of the lyrics.
The combination of those two factors produces some memorable moments. The suicide on "Tarrilup Bridge" is turned into an affirmation of life. The "Chicken Killer" becomes a macabre figure of fun before you realise what the chicken killer actually is. "Wide Open Road" is about as Australian - rural, outback Australian - as you can get, drawing a picture which those who live on these crowded isles can never hope to imagine independently. Many of the tracks deal with personal loss and desolation, and bring in the imagery of the relative emptiness of the Australian landscape to emphasise its effects. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on "Tender Is the Night (The Long Fidelity)" where two lovers sing about staying inside together instead of going out drinking, only for you to realise that this is impossible as they are in different time zones, hence the reason why they go out a lot - alone.
The music only serves to add to the atmosphere. The first thing you notice is that percussion is used, an almost classical way, as instrumentation in itself and not just to provide rhythm. Evil Graham Lee and the pedal steel guitar add texture and instrumental emotion to the package. At times the music becomes sparse and sharp, such as on "Life of Crime", where each syllable of the lyrics is accentuated by a separate pulse of music. Yet the music never overpowers. At times, it seems to stand on the edge of taking off into some long, quite inappropriate instrumental piece, but it never does. The music is there to frame the lyrics and put them into context, not to overshadow them. To do that does not mark limitations in the players, but rather accentuates their abilities.
In have the extended version of the album, once which adds a further nine tracks. Almost all of these are incomplete - missing whole instrumental sections. In the case of the first three, it is just guitar and voice, with the fourth providing even less guitar. These are the weakest tracks in the sense that you are left feeling as incomplete as the tracks - how you would love to hear what they would have sounded like, fully formed. One of the tracks here is the title track, for some reason dropped from the final vinyl. Their inclusion serves to show how the songs were constructed - lyric up, rather than trying to wrap words around or force them into already fully formed musical structures. This album is going to baffle some people. In these days where musical immediacy is seen as all important all too often, peeling back the layers of Born Sandy Devotional will seem to some too much like hard work, especially when the reward is a comprehension of often bleak and unforgiving lyrical images. Yet it was a product of its time, when this sort of folk-influenced, lyrically vivid music was at its peak. The Waterboys may have thrown themselves off the cliff with their career; the Triffids were simply swallowed up by the incoming tide.
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on 2011-05-19 CharlesMartel Said:
A vastly overlooked album from a vastly overlooked band. The Triffids deserved better for their clever, intelligent lyrics and musical diversity. "Born Sandy Devotional" was undoubtedly their best album.