harem scarem - The I-94 Bar
The Dog Beneath the Skin. Rare and Unreleased - Christopher Marshall (digital release)
Chris Marshall's “The Dog Beneath the Skin” collection serves as a welcome reminder that the blues is a broad tapestry indeed. I repeat what I said above, my record collection does not have much modern blues. I do have some Harem Scarem, however, because they crash along a rough road twining hellish skronk and sweet blues.
There's a killer version of “Figurehead” here, and a fine version of “Dogman” (featuring the late Chris Wilson on harmonica); there's also unreleased performances of “Hard Rain” and “My Town” - the latter a band staple that was co-written with brother Charlie, but never otherwise recorded, with Christopher on lead vocals.
Like his fellow bandmate, the late Chris Wilson, Marshall's voice is quite extraordinary, and you can pretty much pick your own favourite blues-esque vocalist to compare him to.
"Shiny and New" is quite a trip. For a start, there's not so much a wall of sound as a wall of optimism, to the point that, because I've been smiling so much, my face is hurting.
There's a ton of soul, great swathes of bouncing joy, all wrapped up with a powerful sensibility of constant delight at the universe around us. I mean, who on earth apart from Stephen Hawking would conceive of a song about gravity?! And be able to realise it so magnificently? (Oh yeah, that's Hawking out. Couldn't sing worth a damn.)
I found myself wondering if the choice of covers came after the rest of Charlie's original songs had been assembled; "Mercy Mercy Me" - Marvin Gaye; "Move On Up" - Curtis Mayfield; and "God Only Knows" - Brian Wilson and Tony Asher. Because they snuggle effortlessly alongside Charlie Marshall's songs, swinging with style and pizzaz, providing such perfect thematic links. Ontime Harem Scarem frontman Marshall has made these classics his own.
The politics of science are far too complicated for anyone without a wardrobe full of white coats and double degrees to navigate, so Charlie Marshall does it for you on this intriguing album of soul-pop and rock.
Remember the concept album? Being anti-prog rock, your average 1970s punk would have had his or her fingernails wrenched out one-by-one with pliers before listening to that shit. “War Of The Worlds,” my arse! Marshall really has pulled off soemthing special here. He's managed to make a concept record without it sounding pompously affected, full of its own shit or boring.
Wire do enjoy their titles. “Akin to A Bell is a Cup (Until it is Struck)”, “Silver/ Lead” hints at alchemical alteration of roles and realities. What if what we assumed was one thing, wasn’t really that at all…
Being from Melbourne, Charlie Marshall is more direct. He says exactly what he means. “Sublime” is his view of the machinery of the universe and our world - that stuff up out there, and that stuff all around us down here. What if what we assumed was one thing, wasn’t really that at all...
Both “Sublime” and “Silver/ Lead” are magical. Both reach out and touch your heartstrings, both have a confident sensuality about them. Both wield lyrics like conversation: we discuss all manner of things, how we’ve changed our world, what it is, and our place in it. All this without being either preachy or boring; falling into both “Sublime” and “Silver/ Lead” is in like one of those enlightening conversations in a pub without an argument. Although both Sare in many ways rather different, they beat as two hearts. Both belong in your collection.
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.