I feel sorry for the increasingly criticised Delta Goodrem. I really do. I have always had a weird soft spot for her – I immigrated to Australia with my family at the age of 11, moving over from the UK, and she was the first pop star from Down Under I ever really got acquainted with. There was something a little bit alien about her to me: she was distinctly antipodean in a way that I wasn’t yet used to.
In retrospect, I think what I found so alluring about her was her pastiche of Americanness. She, like so many other Aussie superstars, has the whiff of the States about her – as though she was raised by Sesame Street, Michael Jackson and Charmed, which to be honest, she probably was. Her cultural touchstones aren’t her own, and her music, although personal, has been filtered through a lens that she has borrowed rather than inherited.
There’s something maybe a little bit sad about that, but something really touching too. She’s someone who wants stardom – really wants it – and will adopt the guise of a society foreign to her in order to get it. In that way, she belongs to an old crowd of superstar; she is completely uncynical, totally committed to her art. The author Bret Easton Ellis described her as being an Empire musician living in a post-Empire world – she acts as though she exists in a world untouched by the war on terror, and by the chaos and political control that followed 9/11.
Because of all that, I was admittedly a little concerned when I heard that with her new single, ‘Think About You’, she had pivoted to the raunchy – that she had, to borrow the contemporary parlance, “pulled a Miley.” Was Delta really jettisoning her wide-eyed sincerity and going full sex pest?
I needn’t have worried. Sure, ‘Think About You’ might be a song explicitly about masturbation, but it’s a song about masturbation as only Delta Goodrem could write one. It is at once deeply lustful and yet totally sexless – as wryly and shyly erotic as a cheek to cheek nuzzle. Keep on keeping on, Delta. I am rooting for you.
I have been similarly charmed by the new Vance Joy record. I have always been a bit resistant to the man in the past – I always found there was something too arch about him; something a little toothless. But with this record, he has perfectly married his two selves – his penchant for whimsy, and his sturdy, capable musicianship. Nation Of Two has all the lightweight joy that made ‘Riptide’ such a hit, but there is a weird undercurrent of darkness to it too; a clarity wholly lacking from his debut. Also, does it give anyone else a Neutral Milk Hotel vibe?
Let’s keep it Australian, shall we, and move on to the new single by one of the most daring and important acts in this country, Confidence Man. I don’t think there’s any band doing what they’re doing. Every part of their shtick is a joke, and yet also very, very much not a joke – they mean every single word.
‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ is the name of the new single, and it’s so clear-eyed as to resemble a mission statement. It’s funny, and glittery, and coated in a thin layer of sweat, and I love it. All those who consider Confidence Man a gimmick should start listening properly, with their mind wide open.
Significantly less impressive, sadly, is the new Augie March record. I worry that they’re a band that used up all their good ideas far too early in their career – they did the folk-rock thing, the Bruce Springsteen thing, the chipper, upbeat thing… They have passed through each phase available to them as a band of bearded dudes, and now they seem a little trapped. It doesn’t help that they called the thing Bootikins – fucking Bootikins – and that it contains songs with titles like ‘Mepihstopheles Perverted’. It’s always tragic to watch a band lose their way and slip into self parody, but it’s particularly sad when a bad who started out so promisingly do so.
Quickly, cause we’re running out of words, on to the Americans. I caught Car Seat Headrest at Sydney City Limits last weekend (shoutout to anyone else who braved that festival, and the small dust storm it was conducted in the middle of), and it reignited my love for that excellent band. Their new record, Twin Fantasy, isn’t really new – it’s a re-recording of one of lead singer Will Toledo’s famous Bandcamp releases – but my lord is it perfect. It navigates Strokes-esque guitar licks and crushing, Leonard Cohen-indebted lyrics, and it might be one of my favourite things the band have ever released.
Just as impressive is the new Screaming Females record, All At Once. The band have always veered towards the worlds of prog and metal, but with All At Once, they’ve taken the plunge and made a record that feels co-authored by the twin presences of Black Sabbath and Queen. It’s ripe, sticky stuff – all fractured guitar solos and treacly harmonies. The whole record is worth your time, but if you’re a weirdo who reckons they only have three minutes of their busy life to spare, listen to ‘Black Moon’. It’ll change you.
Highlight Of The Fortnight: It’s gotta be Delta and ‘Think About You’.
Dud Of The Fortnight: Bootikins