Living With You Is Killing Me - HITS (Mere Noise)
Last night, Jim Dickson (of the New Christs et al) feigned fear of my venomous penmanship. As if I’d write a bad word about Jim! The trouble began when the Barman sent me a pile of his old rubbish over to review. It’s not my fault he needed someone to put the boot in. Besides, I just called it as I saw it. Now everyone thinks I’m out to do them in. Here’s a review to prove that you only need fear me if you produce crap. I will give you every chance to prove me wrong and I’ll admit it when you do.
On Friday, I got an e-mail from author Andrew Stafford with the kind of cc list that only promoters usually have access to. Go and see HITS supporting the New Christs, he begged. Their new album, he claimed, is the best rock and roll album to come out of Brisbane since “I’m Stranded.” As Andrew rightly went on to state, that hasn’t actually left them open to much competition. I visited their MySpace page and, well, I wasn’t overly impressed. They reminded me of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and, whilst I quite enjoy the first BRMC album, I already own that. I don’t need another one even if it comes from Brisbane.
Saturday morning and JJ Adams rings me up. Apparently, I must see HITS tonight because they have the best new album to come out of Brisbane since “I’m Stranded”. “Yes,” I tell her. “I already have Andrew’s e-mail.” I go on to describe going onto their site to listen to them and not really being that impressed. I promise, however, that I’ll see them.
By the time I get to the Excelsior, everyone is telling me about how good HITS are since seeing them in Newcastle the night before. It’s been a while since a buzz went round this old town and this one is picking up momentum all of its own. It is not until the HITS come on stage that they make sense. Their songs are constructed around a lot of one chord drones which they chug mercilessly through. I know that doesn’t sound appealing but it is a sound that grows on you. Half a bar in and it had grown on me.
Singer, Evil Dick is a cocktail of Chris Bailey, Steve Harley, Mick Jagger, Alex Harvey and Niagara. He relies on theatrical performance rather than lyrical maturity but it works. Guitarists Tamara and Stacey make a mighty evil noise between giggles whilst Andy and Gregor lay out the Panzer Tank style rhythm. I had fun. Everyone in the room had fun. The band was great. I went and bought myself a copy of the album. What can I say? It actually is the best rock and roll album to come out of Brisbane since the Saint’s did “I’m Stranded.”
I’m giving it four bottles after a couple of listens. I already like it as much as the Dollsquad’s album and the Booby Traps’ last disc. They both got four bottles too, so that’s fair. The thing is, the more that I listen to the HITS' disc, the more I like it. You have to give it a little bit of a chance to hear the songs in the drone. They are certainly there. I am really getting the feeling this could be one of those discs we look back at in ten years time as an all time classic. I’ll keep an extra bottle on ice for them. - Bob Short
The “Quisling Quasimodo from Queensland” was a devastating epithet once bestowed on the late, unlamented Labor politician Mal Colston by one of his own colleagues, Robert Ray. Notoriously corrupt and notoriously indolent, Colston wasted more than his share of space in his 24 years as a federal Senator. But Colston is no more, and Queensland needs a new Quisling Quasimodo. Short, hunched and wild, Richard Hunt fits the bill perfectly, and as a born rock & roll singer, I hope he takes it as the highest compliment.
Hunt – better known on record as Evil Dick – once played guitar in the Aampirellas, for a short time Brisbane’s most likely bunch of rock reprobates with a shot at wider success. Hits have no such pretensions, and as such may just have a better chance. And as it turns out, Evil Dick is a much better singer and frontman than a guitarist. It takes him exactly 17 seconds and two words – “FUCK YEAH!” – for him to establish himself as the best of his kind around. I’m quite sure about that.
For 40-some minutes and 10 great songs, Hunt screams, bawls and howls over the top of what may be the best set of unrelenting rock & roll anthems I’ve heard since AC/DC last had it up. "Living With You is Killing Me" is all about gang choruses and the power of the riff. Behind Hunt, Dick’s squeeze (sorry, can’t help myself) Tamara Bell and Stacey Coleman duke it out like Steve Jones and Joan Jett combined. It’s heaven on a stick.
As the record settles into the groove (and Mere Noise are nuts if they don’t press a vinyl run of this), two things become apparent. First, for those who have seen Hits live, they have captured every ounce of live feel and energy: this is as raw and raunchy an album you’ll hear this year, but it’s also recorded with stripped-to-the-bone clarity. You can hear every tap of Gregor Mulvey’s hi-hat. The band’s real secret weapon is bass player Edward Niznik, whose instinctive melodic runs give these songs genuine pop nous.
Which brings me to the second thing – the quality of songwriting never flags. Any deliberate messiness in the playing can’t hide the hooks, attention to detail and sense of dynamics, tension and release on display. There’s also wit that’s even funnier if you come from Brisbane – the put-down of local long-standing venue Ric’s in opener "Fuck The Needy" (which obliquely quotes X’s Degenerate Boy at the same time) is priceless:
I don’t go to parties
Don’t have lots of fun (no sir!)
I don’t go to Ric’s –
YOU CAN STICK IT UP YOUR BUM
The band segues immediately into the title track. It’s a devastating one-two punch, but the knockout blow comes with the magnificent "Sometimes (You Just Don’t Know Who Your Friends Are)", which has a pace and wrecking-ball swing reminiscent of the Saints’ Messin’ with the Kid. “Sometimes the world spins around without you,” Hunt bellows, backed by unexpectedly sweet harmonies. Well, it ain’t so easy being a young man, y’know.
As you’ll have noticed, the references here are mostly local. This is an album in a distinctive Australian tradition – it nods to the classic 1970s Albert’s sound as much as it does to the Saints (as well as the Pistols and the Dolls). The influence of Ian Rilen, not just in X mode but also early Rose Tattoo and the later Love Addicts, looms especially large. But Hunt’s style, his phrasing and humour, makes him a genuine original. I can’t compare him to anyone. I dare say that in future other Australian singers will be compared to him.
My only quibble is with the sequence. The first side would have been strengthened even further if one-time set opener "Swear I’ll Never Sing a Song Again" was reinstated to its rightful place at the top of the order. Similarly, the ball-tearing Peter and Paul is unfortunately buried at track eight. It’s too good for that. “You think you’re something/but you ain’t nothing/you ain’t nothing at all,” the band roars in unison. It opens side two on my iPod.
But Hits’ grasp of pacing is evident in the album’s last 10 minutes. "The Night Before", a boozy Lee Hazlewood classic, should be tear-stained remorse; in these hands, it achieves a swaggering defiance. Unlike Lee, I don’t get the impression Hunt would change a thing about the bottle and the damage done. And the band outdoes Lee, and itself, with The End – all minor-key hoarse desperation and heartbreak. It’s one of this band’s many strengths that it knows its way around a ballad.
Because the I-94 bar only reviews stuff we happen to like, ratings have a way of becoming a bit distorted. Rolling Rocks are shouted freely – maybe too freely. But I’ll shout HITS one for each of its five members, and ask you to believe me when I tell you it’s an album of rare greatness. - Andrew Stafford