floatinglifeIf you're at The Bar I'm sure you know who Stew "Leadfinger" Cunningham is. A real legend of the Australian underground leading or taking part in such fantastic bands as The Proton Energy Pills, Brother Brick, Asteroid B-612, Challenger 7, Yes Men.

After 20 years of giving us screeching riffs and extraordinary songs, Leadfinger has finally decided to make his first solo album. It's titled "The Floating Life" and it has just been released via Spain but available around the world through Bang! Records. Wrapped in a luxurious 'digipack' "The Floating Life" is an intimate, private and personal album.

Beginning with the beautiful cover photo, capturing the quiet after the storm of the endless Australian landscape, one senses the local ambiance of this album, recorded in perfect isolation in his home studio, located in the most southern suburbs of Sydney.

For those used to the bludgeoning riffs that were characteristic of Leadfinger (with Brother Brick & Asteroid B-612) or the solo fragments of power pop from Challenger 7 they may be surprised by this album - as I, myself, was pleasantly surprised.

"The Floating Life" is a sincerely inspired record and pulls back the veil revealing the intimate side of the best Australian songwriter of the past 10 years.

Many moods co-habit the threads of this album: as in the first song "I Went Looking" - an acoustic guitar solo - and the more personal, and the splendid "Edge of Suburbia" which is delicate and intimate, having an aroma of Blues. A celebration of solitude, as a place located in the soul: "I got lost in suburbia/Hanging out on the edge of the world/They can't find me in suburbia/I'm at the end of the world.." sings Leadfinger.

In "Thin Lizzy" Stew returns to the six-tring electric power chords to give us the gift of another fragment of his winning power-pop, this time dedicated to one of the idols of his youth: Phil Lynott.

With "The Sydney Way?", Leadfinger gives a bit of gas to a song tied up with a piece of quivering guitar. "Bicycle Man" is a very fun acoustic piece which prepares the ground for the title track "The Floating Life"- inspired by the work of the Australian poet John Forbes. Even this seems a potent declaration, deep from the soul: "I wanted to survive, I wanted to get high/I wanted to invite...".

"The Philadelphia Ruse" opens a skylight, with a splendid guitar phrase, but it is the last track "The Music Had the Last Say" which gives us one of the most inspirational moments on the album. An intense song, in its use of delicate electric-acoustic, dedicated to a friend (and adventure companion from The Yes-Men), Sean Greenway, who prematurely passed away in 2001.

Another precious thread on an intimate and splendid album. - Roberto Calabro


They said we wouldn't like it - and they wuz wrong...

The trumpet might get blown the most about the louder and wilder stuff, but Kuepper, Dylan and Young (or Ed, Bob and Neil to me) have a special place on the shelves of the I-94 Bar. Leadfinger (aka Stew Cunningham, fearsomely talented and loud rock and roll guitarist in his other guises) draws inspiration from the same places - and a few more - to spin up a beguiling, often stunning debut solo album.

There's a raw and stark ambience to this album, a reflection of the place it was written and recorded. Helensburgh's a semi-rural town on Sydney's southern fringes and home to Leadfinger. It's a former coal-mining town on a coastal escarpment, charming in its own way and surorunded by sometimes stark outcrops. Walk out the back door of half the houses and you could be in the middle of some of archetypal Australian bushland, yet still within 20 minutes of civilisation.

Recovering from extended writer's block and (mostly) armed only with a steel-stringed guitar and his own voice, Leadfinger made the most of his surroundings and gradually worked this album from the ground up. Reflections on being on the fringes of the mainstream mortgage belt ("Fringe of Suburbia", "Back in the 'Burgh") blend with a paen to a teenage hero ("Thin Lizzy"). Not many albums talk about urban street poets (John Forbes) and characters from American literature ("Boo Radley") within a few breaths of each other.

Production is basic and homespun (the family dog features in one track and is rumoured to be lining up for a cut of royalties) and this suits the mood perfectly. Here's an album to spin on a winter's afternoon on a back vernandah to take the edge off a looming sunset or see in the night. The songs are great, sometimes quirky, but always with a presence and ambience that's of a place of its own making.

"The Floating Life" will demand close attention. It swerves off the beaten track in its moments of delicacy ("The Music Had The Last Say") and introspection. Never forced ("So In a Hurry") it sometimes veers into full-band raunch ("Thin Lizzy") but that isn't the character of the whole.

Open your ears and prepare for an interesting ride. - The Barman