Smashed On a Knee - Powder Monkeys (Freeform Patterns)
Long overdue, this re-issue of an Aussie stone classic from 1993 gets the Rolls Royce treatment it deserves. Re-mastered, wrapped up in a generous set of liner notes and supplemented with two alternate live cuts and a rarely heard studio track, "Smashed On A Knee" shows why the late, great Powder Monkeys were worth the fuss.
They were never going to be big although they deserved to be. Powder Monkeys were too troublesome for their own good. Singer-bassist Tim Hemensley's passing via an O.D. put to one side, this band was too damned hard, smart and loud for all but the most discerning tastes. Really, they never stood a chance in the commercial world of percentages and advances and safe, slick music with images to match. They rarely rehearsed, and struggled to find their sonic sweet spot in the studio but, fuck me, they were great, live. I caught them all too rarely but it was easily apparent that they were The Real Thing, dangerous and edgy with mind-boggling presence and songs.
Hemensley may have been a little bugger but he dominated any room that had a stage to be stepped onto and plenty that didn't. It was hard to reconcile THAT voice with its owner. The other constant, guitarist John Nolan, was and probably is a prickly character, whose tone and fretwork inspire shock and awe to this day. This band could not have existed without either of them. Defiant? Always. Kinetic energy that could not be denied.
You can work out the influences yourself or die trying. Notable antecedents like GOD (Hemensley), Bored! (Hemensley and Nolan) apart, Powder Monkeys were where Sabbath, Buffalo and the Coloured Balls met the Stooges and Black Flag. They were as heavy as fuck with a Motorhead vibe, but more powerful for mine and lyrically several streets ahead.
"Smashed On a Knee" is a lost gem. It's Powder Monkeys as a five-piece, with harmonica player Jed Sayers and second guitarist Adyn Hibberd (most of whose recorded tracks were wiped) before they were pushed out. Mixed muddily before being somewhat rescued by Mike Mariconda, it benefits massively from Mikey Young's 2013 sonic polishing. Nolan's guitar sounds even more urgent, Hemensley's tightly double-tracked vocals more confronting. Timmy Jack Ray's powerfully manic drums are thrown into more relief. This is the best you'll ever hear "Smashed", but even before the makeover, the performances and songs carried it.
The centrepiece for mine, "I Stand Bare" is a brutal trip to the confessional in which Hemensley takes his heart off his sleeve and has it tattooed on his bare skin. The scuttling, momentous bassline sweeps the song along but it's Hemensley's vocal that grabs you by the throat. "Another Night In Hell" (there are two versions to pick from here) starts with a sample of movie dialogue before taking itself to the point of teetering on the edge of a point somewhere between life and death. It's some trip and the come down from this one is a killer.
"Yin Yang" was a single, I recall, and sounds thunderous. "Valediction" has a bass-line so thick you could sink in it but the pay-off is Nolan's inspired guitar work. The same goes for the takes of "Atomic Resolution." The Sam & Dave cover for Lemon zine single, "I Thank You", is battered within an inch of its life. It's a bonus you need even if you own the original album and 7" and Nolan's contribution to the liner notes tells you all you need to know about the recording process.
David Laing (the label guy), Dave Lang (the fan and friend), Mike Mariconda (the recording re-mixer and mate) and Deniz Tek (the Birdman) all make priceless contributions to the accompanying booklet which, incidentally, needed to be printed on fireproof paper because the disc is a scorcher.
This is The re-issue of this or any other year. Got it? Don't question it, buy it.
Tags: powder monkeys, smashed on a knee, john, nolan, tim, hemmesley
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