Sunnyboys notch 40 not out

sunnyboys 40 small40 - Sunnyboys (Rocket)

New Sunnyboys studio recordings: They were long rumoured, but what they constituted and whether they’d see the light of day remained well-kept secrets. Now they’re here, they prove to have been worth the wait. 

There’s no need to recount the rise, fall and reincarnation of the Sunnyboys here. Let’s make the point that their second career is on a vastly different trajectory to their first. The pressure of being a major label money-maker on an endless treadmill is gone. Jeremy Oxley's health is good but he still needs to manage himself. It’s a measured gait for these Sunnies in 2019 - at least until they walk onto a stage - as befits four gentlemen of, ahem, enduring existence. 

Just like riugby league, the “40” record - a mini-LP, really, as it’s eight tracks long - is a game of two halves. Side one comprises the four songs released on the band’s self-titled “yellow” seven-inch EP on New Year’s Eve in 1980. The original vinyl version sold out in a couple of weeks, to be re-pressed in a re-mixed 12” version soon after, but this is the first time that the original mixes have made it to CD.

If you’ve never heard these nascent recordings then you need to. They’re the first songs the teenage Jeremy Oxley presented to the embryonic band when he hit Sydney from Kingscliff all those years ago, and they convey the rawness and restlessness that was a trademark of his and their work, even at that stage. They include the earliest version of “Alone With You” and all remain in the live set today.

So to the new recordings, which were committed to tape in a break from touring in Brisbane in 2018, fleshed out with some overdubs in '19 and mixed by Konstantine Kersting, All are "old" Jeremy Oxley songs. No new compositions. Perhaps Jeremy’s most recent solo recording being best typified as “country” was a factor in that. Bands with a legacy can easily set themselves up for a fall though overreach. It happens to the best of them. There’s probably an element of fanbase expectation management here, too. Dip a collective toe in the water and see how it goes.

Regardless,"40" hasn't been put out with visions of global dominance in anybody's head and they’re not backed by big budget marketing hype, either,although it was clever to place a track for a debut play on demographically appropriate Triple M. "40" is for fans although recent converts won't find anything to dislike. OK, boomers?

“Can’t You Stop” is first and this re-worked song from Jeremy’s post-Sunnyboys band, The Fishermen, has trademark self-probing lyrical content and and a vocal that's instantly trecognisable, while sounding suitably weathered. The characteristic Sunnyboys harmonies are intact.  There's (wisely) no attempt to recapture the past with a forced blast of youthful energy. It’s a solid return that subtly underlines the passage of time.    

“Lovers (On Another Planet's Hell”) from “Get Some Fun” also receives a substantial make-over, with a different feel and a less claustrophobic mix. Brass and keys complete its transformation. There’s a measured air as opposed to the nervous tension of the original and a freshness to the recording. “Strange Cohesion” made it to the band’s 1984 “Real Live” farewell release and benefits from its studio treatment. Live keyboard player Alister Spence, brass master Eamon Dilworth and his new sideman Nico Oxley (son of Peter) again contribute to the arrangement. 

The final song, “Way After Five”, was on a criminally ignored 1991 solo release by Jeremy Oxley. It's not as sparse as the original but the melody is intact and it's a distinct contrast to the three tracks that have gone before. Yearning guitar licks, Spence’s artful piano embellishments and a world-weary (and probably road-worn) vocal imparts both dignity and restraint. Here's a man who's seen too many nights that extended "way after five" during a tumultuous stage of his life but he's survived.  

Great shows and great recordings have a habit of leaving you wanting more. So it goes with “40”.

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Tags: richard burgman, jeremy oxley, peter oxley, bil billson, alister spence, sunnyboys 40, rocket

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