By Ian McFarlane.
THE SUNSET STRIP – Stone Lazy (LP)
The Sunset Strip was one of the great unheralded bands playing the Melbourne indie scene of the late 1980s / early 1990s. File them alongside the likes of Powder Monkeys, Bored!, Harem Scarem, Tyrnaround, Hoss, The Breadmakers, Holocene… just a bunch of great (yet disparate) bands that impressed live in the pubs but never managed to connect with the wider record buying public. I’m not even going to try and explain / examine why that is so (maybe they just weren’t willing to play the commercial game)… for mine, I just liked them from all angles.
The Sunset Strip peaked with the astonishing 1990 album Move Right In. In 1999 I referred to it as “a minor masterpiece of multi-layered guitar riffs and dark, acid-blues / avant-sludge rock… it remains one of the most underrated independent albums ever issued in Australia”. I still regard it as one of the great ‘underground’ underground LPs of the age. Their 1993 CDEPs Scrape It Out and Nothing Lost, Nothing Gained were also pretty darn good!
Guitarist / singer Warwick Brown was always (still is…) a music fanatic, of Neil Young and Bob Dylan in particular, but also the sounds of The Velvet Underground, Television, The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, MC5, Quicksilver Messenger Service… Not that The Sunset Strip ever sounded exactly like any of those bands, they were just tapping into the same tangible yet, at the same time, mythological allure.
Through a series of unforeseen events (their record company Dog Meat folding; the band breaking up) they never got to issue their next album, Stone Lazy. So fast track to 2015 and Brown and fellow Strip guitarist Andy Turner have assembled the pieces and issued it on vinyl LP. Drawn from a number of sessions, between 1993 and 1995, it doesn’t hang together quite so magnificently as Move Right In but there are plenty of examples of the band’s ferocious garage-sludge-blues to appease fans of, well, garage-sludge-blues.
Opening track ‘The Quiet Earth’ however, is different; it slides in on a wash of gentle feedback and reverse guitar effects – sort of like the start of Jim Hendrix’s ‘Drifting’ or his studio version of ‘Star Spangled Banner’. You’re lulled into a false sense of serenity which is broken rudely by ‘Bored And Stoned’ – the sound of The Sunset Strip in all its noise-nik, rifftastic glory.
‘Sooner Than You Think’ is a real kitchen-sink home recording, with just Brown’s acoustic guitar, wheezing organ and mournful vocals, plus overdubbed slide guitar (from Charlie Owen) draped around a simple structure. Yet musically it’s incredible, with an utterly beguiling melody and it puts one in mind of a more garage-minded Buffalo Springfield crossed with a kind of lachrymose British downer folk vibe. Brown’s untutored, whining vocals though, rarely hit the mark in such a quiet setting… but that’s only nitpicking isn’t it? His vocals work well enough on the louder cuts.
‘Stone Lazy’ breaks the pattern again, and with help from Joel Silbersher (Hoss) on vocals and Tim Hemmensley (Powder Monkeys) on bass this is even more powerful than ‘Bored And Stoned’. ‘Stone Lazy’ was recorded at the same time as ‘Scrape It Out’ and the menacing ‘Mercy Killing’ which are highlights from the 1993 CDEPs, so it proves how untouchable they were at that particular moment in time.
And so, the theme and tempo of the LP proceeds apace with the epic ‘Connection’ taking high honours. The band never really rocks out completely on any of the tougher tracks, they’re all paced at mid-tempo with grinding guitars and melodies unfolding over a loping gait. ‘Connection’ comes on like Neil Young with Crazy Horse’s ‘Down By The River’ (there’s that Young connection [!] again) but it’s got buckets of sonic guitar fireworks and some ghostly wah wah from Turner.