Share MAGNETIC ISLAND - Gentle Ben & His Sensitive Side (Spooky Records/Beast Records)
Less a review and more a notice that this mighty album is out on LP through French label Beast, if you haven't wrapped your eases around the latest release from Gentle Ben And His Sensitive Side you probably need to consider removing yourself from the gene pool, pronto. This is masterfully twisted music that you shouldn't be without.
You can easily become a vinyl snob these days with so much stuff making its way onto big black platters, but this does sound stunning on LP. Gentle Ben sounds all that more menacing, the sparse arrangements a little more alive and the rocky parts more in your face. You also cop an additional track, the pensive "Bird In a Bottle", that bleeds the usual Sensitive Side pathos and pain. All up, this is worth the extra outlay, I reckon, so hit up your local import store or go to the label direct.
"OK, I'm back," Ben Corbett announces before opener "Regret It" kicks in and you better take note. Has it been six years since the last album? The genius of Gentle Ben & His Sensitive Side is in their ability to tell stories through the masks of their characters. These are stark, engaging and raw yarns that are spun with a croon that smacks of exposed nerve ends, all firmly built on hooks and incisive playing.
That term "genius" in the par above is deliberate. There aren't any Australian bands playing music that sounds remotely like this. Ben Corbett adopts the persona of emotionally- stunted or confused characters like Lou Reed used to - before he swapped deviance and drugs for coffee and tai chi. There are songs about a miner and his spouse (the folk-ish "NInety Grand"), surreal kings of the schoolyard with lip tattoos ("The Story of the Swan") and someone else's battered girlfriend ("That Guy Is a Lie") that tell enough to drag you in but still leave you wondering. These songs are soap opera vignettes and unlike the vile "Neighbours" or pathetic postcard "Home And Away", they'll convince you that there are real consequences. Brooding suburban back-block menace abounds.
Musically, GB & HSS head down a different path with a new wave skew to the arrangements. The rockier songs kick in a late '70s way with subtle keys and percussive accents adding colouring. Dylan McCormack's guitar lines are empathetic rather than over-bearing. The same could said for the rest of the players, whose number includes a fifth wheel in Dave McCormack (Polaroids, Titanics, Custard) on most tracks.
The oddity on an album that never sticks to the straighter and narrower is "Blur The Lines", a metronomic pulse of a song that eases "Magnetic Island" out the door like cigarette butts being swept out of the tray under a pub bar. It doesn't fit what's gone before but such perversity is a strength. There's not a crap song on the album and they all subtly go in different directions while still hanging together as a whole.
It's fitting that the sole cover is a spirited re-working of the Go-Betweens' "Was There Anything I Could Do" because (a.) the Go-Bees were fellow Queenslanders and (b.) they were as complicated crew of walking enigmas as you could have found in the '80s and early '90s. GB & HSS stake the same ground. Peerlessly and with panache. – The Barman
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THE SOBER LIGHT OF DAY - Gentle Ben and His Sensitive Side (Spooky Records)
Into the half light and smokey haze of a darkened and wet street emerges a gaunt and disturbed figure. He's all crumpled lounge suit, glaring red eyes and disheveled hair. He carries a broken gin bottle in his hand. There's a smell of what might be cheap whiskey on his breath and maybe a substance-affected sway in his step. His sweat is profuse and foul smelling. No real way of telling what reduced him to this state, but there's no mistaking the murderous intent as he stumbles up, waves the jagged glass in your face. There's a chill down your spine as it stops a centimetre short of your face. He asks: "Have you heard my album on Triple Jay?"
Welcome to the world of Gentle Ben and His Sensitive Side...
Gentle Ben is aka Ben Corbett, one half of the singing brotherly frontline of Brisbane's revved up, testosterone-a-billy Six Ft Hick. The Hick are right in your face, a flat-out and fucked up death machine on the road to who knows where. When Brother Ben yields to His Sensitive Side, on the other hand, the destination board on the front of the bus clearly reads Hell. He's just taking a different and less obvious route.
These songs are alternatively reflective ("Filling in the Ditch"), dark and dispossessed ("Song of Drowning Man"), melodramatic ("Help Me Make It Down the Street" and the ripper single, "The Dogs of Valparaiso") and just overflowing with utterly black humour. Musically, it's mid-tempo rock and roll laced with a Latin feel and swampy, spaghetti western tinges.
It's a fair bet Spencer P. Jones might dip his stetson to their cover of his "Execution Day".
This is a band tempered by a previous album ("The Beginning of the End") and lots of live work. They're all great players. But let's give it up, folks, for guitarist Dylan McCormick (also of The Polaroids) who understates his hand in the right places and adds the essential light and shade. And of course you have Gentle Ben who makes the most of the spaces his band delivers and delivers a stellar vocal performance.
A Great Moment in Lyrics: "Grab a pick and shovel and meet me at dawn/Tell that real estate agent to get off that lawn" (from "Filling in the Ditch"). There are plenty others if you're willing to take time to dig.
The most interesting music is by bands that ignore expectations and defy pigeonholing. That's what Gentle Ben and His Sensitive Side do, switchblade in one hand and six-string in the other. More power to them. One of the most intriguing Aussie albums of 2005. – The Barman
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