Won’t Give Up - Charlie Marshall and The Body Electric (Red Ted Entertainment)
It seems every Australian city had its underground "punch-above-its-weight" scene in the ‘90s. Hell, all of Charlie Marshall’s Melbourne band members here had serious form. That said, just because there’s a track record doesn’t mean there’s always gonna be magic. There might be concrete. Or salad instead.
In Marshall’s case, it’s magic. If you recall Harem Scarem in the ‘80s, well alright. But this ain’t that, and now ain’t then. If you’re a Nick Cave or Kim Salmon completist, you’ll snaffle this anyway (the presence of Warren Ellis and Jim White of The Dirty Three should send warning bells, and surely Brian Henry Hooper needs no introduction.) Same applies if you’re investigating Hugo Race ditto (Bryan Colechin of The True Spirit) and Darren Seltmann of The Avalanches.
So. Marshall has recorded much in the interim, but tonight we’re spinning his first two discs on his own; the 1994 EP, and the “I Don’t Want It” LP, plus four tracks from his first recording session in 1992. While I’m tempted to listen to 1992 first, just for chronology’s sake, I don’t, for your sake since it’s the EP and LP this release leads with, the reasoning being that they’re what we want anyway.
If you’ve not encountered Marshall before, the first thing you need to know is that he gets inside his songs, and you follow him as if you’ve been twatted from behind with the loaded eelskin. If Marshall is not a Velvet Underground fan, he’s a fan of people who are. There’s a striking dynamic to his voice, to his guitar.
The backing for the first EP is strong’n’solid and oozes flair and panache; the Ellis, White and Hooper combo gives Marshall a platform for his guitar to weep and soar. I might add that the man’s voice is evocative and his delivery passionate; this first EP is a neglected delight… this CD’s title track is a gem, and “Weightless” is an assured, slamming creature of the night.
By the time “Yearning Burning Circus” rolls around, whispering like a bad man’s secrets, I’m beginning to wonder why the likes of Paul Kelly are so revered but not Charlie Marshall. Live, this band would have captured imaginations every time they played. Curiously, I find myself thinking about Rowland S. Howard during “Sing Me A Song”; of course, it’s nothing like where Rowland was coming from (certainly not at that time, either), but Charlie has a similarly delicate, poised touch. Also, Marshall has a literary bent (you don’t call your band The Body Electric without having a twisted youth when it comes to lit).
The “I Don’t Want It” LP came two years or so later and opens in seamless fashion with “Fall”. Again, I ponder the immutables of popular taste - or the lack of it. By now Marshall’s clear, ‘70s-pop voice sounds stronger, more controlled, with greater range. “Ease the Pain”, for example, is right up there with Peter Holsapple or Robyn Hitchcock; Marshall’s guitar rides the thermals like a gull on a wing.
The LP, by the by, finds White and Ellis off DirtyThree-ing, and Hooper lost in the belly of the Beasts. Darren Seltmann picks up the sticks, Bryan Colechin is a lock-tight bassist while Matt Heydon’s keyboards liven up proceedings considerably. The LP’s title track is a little cracker, consistently elbowing you in the ribs whether you like it or not. By now the ladies are dancing in a dignified waltz and so are you, from there to the end, “Ring those Bells”.
The first recording session is a little lopsided but you can hear the jewellery hiding on the felt beneath the lid, in particular “Weightless”. The two unreleased tracks, “Five Times” and “Lowdown Loser’s Game”, are also damn fine, and one begins to wonder just how many more songs the man has hiding in his trunk.
Realistically, that’s all you need to know. This reissue package (the cool, desirable artwork comes with a pleasing booklet) serves as a timely reminder of what we can discover when we sally forth into a venue which hosts live music.
Check out Marshall’s other music and the man himself when he comes to your town.