Ooh La La Bastard - La Bastard (Beast Records)
Reviewers still have a hard life, don’t they? All those free CDs and free gigs and backstage perks. Not this little black duck. The free CDs arrive and, as this ain’t the day job, they bank up a tad. Because I review music because I love it, if La Bastard were merely playing soft-core mimicry to a “classic” period, with that mushy, vacant intent, you wouldn’t be reading this.
I’ve listened to “Ooh La La Bastard” (“surf-rock party animals from Melbourne, Australia!” the back cover announces) several times now. Loved it more, each time. The front cover is a rather brilliant modern pastiche of ‘50s LP artwork which makes everyone look peculiar, French, and spectacularly jaded. Lluis Fuzzhound must be some sort of genius at large. Let’s just say La Bastard live a full life, and lay it down on the disc.
Each song here is distinctive, while retaining the core inspirational styles - you’ll spot those - and, crucially, with the exception of one song, your dancing shoes will wear out.
That exception is the opening song which really lays down what La Bastard are: retro-stylists with power and intelligence. Yes, I said “retro-stylists”. Awful term, I agree. But, you know, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. And La Bastard swing hard, soft, and sharp.
The second song, “Get Up Get Out” could equally have begun or ended this album; either way, it’s up second and within seconds your feet are doing what they’re s’posed to with a quality rock’n’roll band. They keep this up for the rest of the record - and your attention is dragged back and forth from the excellent structuring of their songs, to the guitar licks of Ben Murphy.
Murphy is a man who has so many styles up his leather jacket that you know you’re in the presence of someone who knows how to grab your attention, keep it, wow you, let you go like a trout on a line, then reel you back in and then the song continues. Murphy does this over and over, and while I enjoy guitarists, I don’t usually like to see them dominate a set or record - because they can’t really maintain your attention for great lengths of time. But Murphy keeps you interested throughout with a rare pace and elegance; without Julia Watt and Dick Straight (ahem, it says here…) keeping a lockstep rhythm we’d be a little lost. I’d argue Anna Lienhop’s vocals and Ben’s guitar are indebted to their “backers” here.
The fourth track, the instrumental “Timorese Ninja”, is a modest juggernaut; sure you’ll spot the influences (yadda yadda yadda) but it’s immaterial. What’s increasingly impressive as “Ooh La La Bastard” unfolds is that we’re dealing with a seriously talented bunch of musicians here and you get increasingly excited, wanting to hear what comes next. For example, Watt’s cymbals are carefully, precisely chosen, for example, and when she uses them, they matter.
The fifth track, "In Deep" does another about face and, not for the first time, we’re focussing on Anna’s vocals, a sort of reluctant-little-lost-girl thing … yes, I know far too many people use a similar style these days, and that it’s usually excessively irritating … when it’s done right (say, Anita Lane, who pioneered the more modern use of the style) it can be disturbing; or it can simply seem natural. As it does here. The girl-group 6ts innocence comes through strongly here; take "Cold Rainy Night", where the man ups and leaves her devastated on a wet street.
And that’s where I’ll leave you. There are more songs, all mighty damn fine, but if you like the 5ts early 6ts pop rock upheaval, ‘Ooh La La Bastard’ is not only for you, it’s essential. More interestingly, this is the sort of thing we really need to hear more often: a style mastered and re-applied to the real world.
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