“Nothing about The Lives of Others sounds remote. It feels like they are all together in a room, inspired, excited.”
In all those hundreds of thousands of words written about You Am I, it could be these that haven’t been said often enough. Tim Rogers is one of the best songwriting lyricists this country has produced.
Of course, he and his band are many other things too: a collision of power and pop, darkness and light; four friends who have stuck together through high times and low; the creators of some of the greatest Australian rock albums ever.
You Am I would never have needed to play another note for their reputation to be assured. Hi Fi Way, Hourly, Daily and #4 Record are definitive albums of the ’90s and there have been plenty of great songs across their albums since.
Some would say the strike rate for rock’n’roll bands competing with the shadow of their early hit-making years is not that good, that the greatness is more often found at the shows, not on record.
And You Am I aren’t having a bar of that, because song for song The Lives of Others matches anything they have ever done.
For a start, there are those lyrics, with a bunch of Rogers songs that defy rock’n’roll conventions and cliches and go into places where few seem to go. These go deep but without being heavy. There is a lot of joy here – matched by the spirit of the music – and wisdom too.
At first glance The Waterboy is a tip of the hat to the music of Mike Scott of The Waterboys and his song about Elvis Presley, I Can See Elvis.
But it goes broader than that, into the source of inspiration itself, the unknown places and spaces songwriters go searching, searching. “Ventricle, aorta, muscle and blood,” Rogers sings, “breaking my heart in four places.” Somewhere in there resides the reason for doing it, the meaning we’re all looking for. And the feeling that just because there are great songs in the past doesn’t mean there can’t be more to come.
It’s not just a song about Mike Scott but about looking for ghosts, clearing the decks, starting again.
When Rogers wrote it, on a trip to the New South Wales south coast where the band started rehearsing when he wasn’t long out of high school, he didn’t even know if there would be another You Am I album.
Lane felt the emotional punch in its words and melody as Rogers played it to him. Lane knew this just had to be a You Am I song. And so the door to The Lives of Others was open.
The obstacles they overcame in its making all contribute to its strength. During Covid lockdown, Lane and Rogers were in Melbourne, bassist Andy Kent in Sydney, drummer Russell Hopkinson in Sydney then Perth. Rogers recorded parts with Lane in Lane’s Melbourne studio, then sent them on to the others, who recorded parts and sent them back. Lane and Rogers kept building on that.
Covid might have taken away some of the face-to-face element of making a record but gave them closer control of the process, as well as the time and distance to keep building, sculpting, editing, making sure this was the best record they could make.
When people hear the album they often say the same thing. Nothing about it sounds remote, it feels like they are all together in a room, inspired, excited.
Lane, the ultra-fan who lived out the dream by joining his favourite band, has for years honed his recording, production and songwriting skills through his solo albums. That knowledge became as integral to The Lives of Others as Rogers’ words and melodies and the raw power of Hopkinson and Kent.
The Third Level has the kind of punch-the-air chorus you might have heard on Hi Fi Way, and a story by a narrator with a fear of heights climbing the Eiffel Tower: “So much to fear, so much to love.”
Rosedale Redux rocks as hard as anything on the band’s 1993 debut Sound as Ever while sensitively telling a story of friendship through the years.
Manliness reflects on a big topic with the kind of poetic nuances you can’t find in a tweet, accompanied by soaring ’60s-flavoured harmonies and an orchestra of guitars. Reader’s Comments mixes delicious wordplay (“Opinions making minions of us all”) with a sonic palette somewhere between The Who Sell Out and The Move. Lookalikes has some fun with familiar faces in unexpected places, and is no doubt the only rock song to namecheck Moondog, Mackenzie Phillips and George Orwell in its verses.
To top it off, Lane contributes two of his finest songs; the crunchy, Cheap Trick-ish We All Went Deaf Overnight and the soaring, sublime I’m My Whole World Tonight. Sure, 2020 conspired to keep us apart, the song acknowledges. But in our heads, in the world of the imagination and inspiration, we’re free to soar.
Together. Alone. Doesn’t matter when you have heart, soul and tunes to match.
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