Wild Mercury Sound

The Triffids, plus a glimpse of Portishead

John Mulvey

Emerging from the REM binge today, we’ve had a go at the excellent debut album from Fuck Buttons, which I’ll write something about soon. And also, from a quixotic stream on a distant computer, I caught some of the Portishead record.

Sounded good, I’m pleased to say, from what I heard. As I think I saw mentioned after the ATP show, there’s at least one track which seems massively influenced by the Silver Apples, and one or two more which – almost certainly a coincidence – wouldn’t sound out of place on Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”; something about the drums, perhaps.

Hopefully we’ll get the stream working, and I’ll listen to it properly next week and report back. Right now, though, I’m indulging myself by dipping into the latest batch of Triffids reissues which have just arrived from Domino. After their deluxe jobs on “Born Sandy Devotional”, “Calenture” and “In The Pines”, this lot features “Treeless Plain”, a comp of “Raining Pleasure” and some other early stuff called “Beautiful Waste And Other Songs”, and the band’s last record from 1989, “The Black Swan”.

As I write, I’m playing the second disc of the "Black Swan" reissue which, as is the way of these things, seems to mainly consist of demo versions. I guess if you know The Triffids you’ll probably, like me, fixate on those great blasted songs of the Australian desert that filled up “Born Sandy Devotional”.

But beyond all that outback mythologizing, The Triffids were also a maverick, romantic and ambitious band whose great glowering ballads – “Hometown Farewell Kiss”, “Wide Open Road”, “This Property Is Condemned” and so on – stand comparison with (and this isn’t just a lazy choice predicated by geography, I promise) Nick Cave.

“The Black Swan” is, in many ways, a bit of a mess, as David McComb struggled to expand the remit of his band with some vague hip-hop beats, electronic textures that sound pretty dated now and various theatrical conceits which contributed to a sprawling, incoherent album – albeit one which I loved when I was doing my finals, irrelevantly enough.

Domino’s new version is, amusingly, even more sprawling and incoherent, since it adds half a dozen more songs to the original, reconstructing McComb’s unfulfilled dream of a double album. A shocking version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” is the one glaring addition. But a bunch of the songs, especially the sticky, torpid, “Too Hot To Move, Too Hot To Think” and the incredibly stirring “New Year’s Greetings”, sound as good as ever.

Those two sound good on this demos disc, too; “Too Hot To Move” is, amazingly, even more wasted and sluggish. Interesting, too, for old fanboys to hear Jill Birt’s “Goodbye Little Boy” in an alternative version fronted by McComb called “Why Don’t You Leave For Good This Time?” At times, on “One Mechanic Town”, there’s that echoing menace that they found on “In The Pines”, recording in a sheep-shearing shed in the precise middle of nowhere. That’s where I like to imagine The Triffids, patronisingly enough, not in a swish studio. But whatever: at worst this is nostalgic or diverting; at best, it still sounds sublime.


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