Zippa Deedoo What Is/Was That/This?


Artist/s: Dave Graney and the Mistly: Dave Graney (guitar/vocals), Clare Moore (drums/vocals/vibes), Stu Thomas (bass), Stuart Perera (guitar), Robin Casander (keys)
Category: Contemporary, Rock
Label: Cockaigne
Reviewed by

“You can dip in almost anywhere into the vast Graney catalogue and find something deeper and more satisfying than the pop fizz of the day.”

There’s more than one way to deliver a song, as anyone who has ever escaped the laptop to play with a band in the garage/loungeroom/rehearsal space discovers.

The one we finally get to hear often goes through various guises: instrumentation, rhythms, melodies, tempos, arrangements all fluid. Who’s to say which way is right?  In the digital age when a release doesn’t have to fit on a vinyl package, there is more space to show the varieties.

That’s what’s going on here as suggested by that title and Graney himself, who describes the album as eight songs performed 13 ways.

Dave Graney, drummer Clare Moore in the background.

It is the latest work from one of Australia’s longest-lasting and most prolific musical collaborations between Graney and drummer Clare Moore. That’s 33 albums and still rising, stretching back to the nervy, post-punk rock of The Moodists in the ’80s through Graney & the Coral Snakes in the ’90s (check out the splendid The Mercury Years box set on streaming if you can’t find it anywhere else) and more lately with the Mistly.

Some albums are more song-focused (solo album Fearful Wiggins is recommended). This one is all about stretching out, mostly with the band.

When a reviewer looks down at his pad after a few weeks immersed in the music and sees hesitant notes (Zappa, Grateful Dead, Amon Duul, Keef vs Mick, George Benson), you can be certain this is a big canvas to explore.

These are signposts, not comparisons. Graney has been immersed in rock’n’roll culture all his life and absorbed flavours from all the good stuff. If you want to be a great writer, be a great reader. If you want to make great music, be a good listener too.

Graney long ago found his voice, one-eyebrow raised, a twinkle in the eye. When he stepped back from the youthful energy of The Moodists he opened up the room for that voice and it is right at the centre here.

The form of the opener, Baby I Wish I Was a Better Pop Star, refers to Graney and the Coral Snakes at their best. This was an artist whose relationship with the machinations of the music biz was somewhere between uneasy acquaintance and ironic embrace. Here his character looks back on a missed shot at the title (“I wish I could have been a better pop star/I could have been dead by now”), as the band’s shimmering setting suggests the woozy effects of contact with the hard-to-grasp pop beast.

The song recurs later in a Darkly Blues version, all instruments played by Dave and Clare, more late-night slow jam, all the better to savour lines like “When it was my time to shine I wasn’t shining/I should have stayed on message.” Dave’s still here. The pop stars, mostly, don’t shine for long.

Song of Life is lightly funky, with silky guitar lines (hence the note about George Benson). It is followed by Ultrakeef, which moves from taut guitar riffs (and cowbell, it should be noted) into a chunky groove and a lengthy lyrical list of f— you’s and hello’s (“Hello Bentley, hello guns and knives”). It is both extrapolation on the power of rock’n’roll myth and a reminder of how little of it we have these days.

Gloria Grahame also dives into the world of showbiz myth. Gloria Grahame appeared in Hollywood films including It’s a Beautiful Life and The Big Heat, and I can imagine the Mistly set up on a soundstage before the screen improvising their own alternative soundtrack.

Your Masters is another glistening pop-rock gem. Originally written for a 1998 album in response to John Howard’s rise to PM, it remains undated in today’s febrile political environment. Graney concludes, “You know they’ll never let you in.”

The eight-minute Is That What You Did? moves in the direction of the epic, ever-changing space jams of the Dead, a band which, like Graney, knew there was no perfect version and that what’s important is the search for it. That’s part of what Graney reveals with this album and the alternative versions: the record is the record, the songs keep moving on and on.

You can dip in almost anywhere into the vast Graney catalogue and find something deeper and more satisfying than the pop fizz of the day. But if you are starting out, this album and attending a Graney gig on an extensive Australian tour in the next few months is an excellent place to begin.


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