Tunes From the Singing Tower

(Where carillons ring out on the seaside.)

Tell me, where are your black eyes? The capitalist world is still collapsing.

This summer, I listened to Hunters & Collectors’ 1982 self-titled debut album more than any other record. It’s seemingly matched the weather (it’s felt about as hot as the Outback this year) and my increasingly fraught mental state culminating with a minor emotional collapse about three weeks ago. I’m not sure how I came across it, but I think I was reading about a band whose sound was compared to the earlier and less accessible post-punk output of Hunters & Collectors. “Earlier, less accessible, post-punk?” That was enough to intrigue me and send me into All Music Guide, where I read that their first few records were harsher affairs that had little in common with later outings where they became Australia’s most beloved “pub-rock” band.

They started out as a dozen-plus collective in Melbourne and would often invite members of the audience to join them on stage to bash away during their performances. Their self-titled record seems to have a lot in common with the likes of A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo, and to a lesser extent Shriekback and The Birthday Party. There’s a pretty heavy rhythmic emphasis and a definite focus on the basslines, not to neglect to mention the occasional spot of brass performed by Horns of Contempt (greatest name ever!). It’s also very doomy, too; one review claimed that it sounded like a man losing his mind in the Outback. I think the man in question might be Julian Cope! Mark Seymour sounds a bit like him at points (particularly when he’s hollering away), and when combined with the love of brass and how “Alligator Engine” sounds like the halfway point between The Teardrop Explodes and Shriekback… Well, I’m convinced anyhow. As for the lyrics, some of them are Birthday Party-esque sketches of characters (see “Junket Head” and “Boo Boo Kiss”), others are seemingly random and cobbled together; I think I once described “Talking to a Stranger” as being filled to the brim with Dadaist non-sequiturs. Even so, it’s still one of the most fraught-sounding songs I have had the pleasure of hearing. The video’s classic, too, as you’ll see below. It was directed by Richard Lowenstein and famously attracted the attention of INXS, who used him in a number of their videos, most notably “Need You Tonight/Mediate” and its Bob Dylan pastiche during the latter ditty.

Anyway, here’s some mp3s. Be prepared for something rather intense and unsettling, if not occasionally harrowing. What’s the occasion? Aside from their debut album being in heavy rotation on my CD player, it’s been exactly 25 years to the day since the video for “Lumps of Lead” was filmed/set, as you’ll see below (and in my comment on Youtube).

“Talking to a Stranger”
(Note: the opening line of this song is the opening line to the Baudelaire poem “L’Albatross”.)

“Skin of Our Teeth”
(This one’s got quite the build-up!)

“Run Run Run”
(Skronky intro, cathartic finale.)

“World of Stone”
(The title track from their debut 1981 EP, which has since been appended to CD issues of their self-titled album.)

(Also from the same EP, and more playful-sounding than anything above.)

“Betty’s Worry or The Slab”
(From their 1984 album The Jaws of Life. It’s hailed in Oz as the best native song about drinking/masturbating/performing oral sex on a girl.)


“Talking to a Stranger”

“Lumps of Lead” (off the 1982 EP Payload)

“Judas Sheep” (from their second LP, 1983’s The Fireman’s Curse)

And sadly, the video for “Betty’s Worry or The Slab” has gone missing from Youtube. Bastards!

Buy the reissues of their self-titled, The Fireman’s Curse, and The Jaws of Life. I would have linked to importCDs (where I scored my copy of the self-titled for about $14 including S&H), but they don’t seem to be carrying it anymore. These are only available on Australian import, but the links above feature them at reasonable prices.


17 September 2007 Posted by | Hunters & Collectors, Music | Leave a comment