Go on, keep your Rihannas, your Good Charlottes, your reality show spinoff band ‘X’, I’ll keep wearing the ratty SFK – that’s what we ‘in the know’ call them – T-Shirt that I think I got free with Beautiful Sharks the decade before last. The one with the familiar Paul Dempsey sketch that you can’t even see anymore because it is so faded. The one my wife threatens to turf every year but knows better…
This is because SFK don’t follow fads or trends, they are a guitar, bass, drums trio with minimal fruit, no frills production and exceedingly strong songwriting. Their first album is as current now as it was in 1997, and you could essentially drag a random song from any SFK album and insert it on another without it sounding out of place. In fact such is the consistent quality of Paul Dempsey’s songwriting you could easily do the same with most single b sides, as they are generally of such a standard that would make the finest work of the current fad band of the month most envious.
This is why we SFK fans take comfort in paying for our pre-orders as soon as they available, why we sell out shows for a local-ish band we’ve all seen several times before, why we buy the singles, the rarities releases, the best ofs containing tracks we already have…
Something for Kate are reliable – and I mean that in a better way than it probably sounds. And I guess reliability and consistency justifies our smugness. We know the next album will be good. We know they won’t phone in the tour. We know that if we play SFK in the car and the passenger curls their nose and says ‘Oh this morose prick’, that they just don’t get it. Then we silently pity them and flick the volume up a notch, knowing they probably won’t be permitted in our car again.
(On a random side-note SFK were also responsible for the most unexpectedly arousing moment of this year. At a recent outdoors ‘team building’ function for work we were urged to dress warm, so I had my SFK jumper on (similar vintage to the shirt but a little more hardy). It’s a simple grey hoodie with the band name and some foreign writing on it. No frills.
We were walking through a paddock as a group from one task to the next, strung out at the back end of a long day when one I was asked to turn around and stand still, three Asian women (Japanese and Korean) stood behind me, they had noticed the logo and were curious. I didn’t realise this yet. As I stood still as ordered all three girls in unison cooed out the foreign (I think they said it was Japanese) translation of the writing, in their little pixie choir voices.
It took a second to twig that this trio of co-workers weren’t serenading me but simply reading a jumper blurb. Despite the consensus opinion that the phrase meant little more than gibberish it was a strange moment indeed and still extremely vivid months later.)
But enough of random moments, on to the discography of a band that has been around for so long that I can’t believe they are only up to album #6.
Might as well be a completist. The pre-Stephanie Ashworth iteration is a little rawer and unpolished, as you would expect from a band finding its groove, but there are definitely moments here that hint at things to come. The longer Q & A with Dean Martin also has ‘One quarter of one hour’, and you’ll never guess how long that track runs for.
I don’t think that this would be the catalyst for someone to track down the SFK discography, but it is still a good listen.
This was released back in the era when I still listened to the radio, essentially JJJ and nothing else. My eyebrow raised like I was The Rock when I first heard ‘Prick’, I was impressed with the power of the song and the rawness of Dempsey’s voice. I put a little mental check mark next to this curiously named combo with a reminder to see what they came up with next.
That would be ‘Roll Credit’, a poppy little lilting track that was practically the polar opposite of the rapid fire ‘Prick’, but even better. That was enough for me, I went out and bought the album…
And everything they have released since.
‘Elsewhere’ is everything SFK have achieved since but slightly less focussed. A little rockier and a little louder but already with the deep lyrics and serious tone. The quieter more introspective moments that have become the SFK mainstay are here, but seem a little surprising amid the louder songs.
And everyone knows ‘Captain (million miles an hour)’ and how good it really is. Really.
The album that probably sits among the ‘casual’ SFK listener’s collections (fair-weather bandwagon jumpers!). Deservedly so. Beautiful Sharks is power pop perfection, all killer, no filler, with a dozen tracks so uniformly excellent that you could ask 12 different fans their fave and possibly get a dozen differing responses.
Strangely enough for mine the lead off single ‘Electricity’ is perhaps the most mainstream of the bunch, with a circular recurring guitar riff that might seem aggravating to the wrong ears, though I am always partial to the lyric “Beautiful like breaking glass, not yet broken”.
‘Astronaut’ is another live anthem for a group that seems capable of banging one out in a lunch hour, ‘Whatever you want’ similarly provokes an impromptu singalong whenever it plays in my car and I love the 2 second ‘forward/back’ guitar grate in ‘Slowdance’ (I’m no guitar player, that’s how I would describe it).
By Echolalia it was official, you were either an SFK devotee or you just weren’t being sensible. The lean mean three odd minute singles were plentiful (‘Say something’, ‘Twenty years’) and the ‘filler’ better than anything played by photogenic American teens regardless of their Q ratings.
Echolalia was a distinctly more acoustic sounding low key affair, and also maintained the streak of having at least one heartfelt ballad (‘You only hide…’) for drunken adult males wearing ironed T-Shirts to sing along with in dank pubs.
While the album is as consistent as anything SFK have constructed it suffers just a little by not having the one standout track to take away. ‘Monsters’ is a great song but they have done better, ‘You Only Hide…’ is also great until put alongside ‘The Astronaut’.
Still, hard to worry too much if consistent excellence is the primary ‘flaw’.
By the time The Official Fiction was released in 2003 the formula for any SFK album was very much entrenched. Lead off with a catchy but ultimately non-threatening single – in this case ‘Déjà vu’, make sure there is the mid-tempo ballad (‘Song for a Sleepwalker’) the tender ballad (‘Light at the end of the tunnel’) and more than a few quality tracks to fill out proceedings.
Gone are the days of angry lead guitar like ‘Prick’ or even ‘Electricity’, which for mine leaves this particular album just a little interchangeable. While I like all the poppy ‘Max Planck’ /‘Reverse Soundtrack’ /‘Moving Right Along’ moments you could remove any one of them and I wouldn’t notice. When your ‘heaviest’ moment is ‘Souvenir’ it is fair to say that edgy is not a word used to describe your album.
Uniformity aside The Official Fiction is another album full of goodness and as always zero FF moments. While listening to the album on iTunes I also managed to justify upgrades to 4*s for a few of the songs, most notably ‘Asleep at the Wheel’.
(I might preface this last bit by stating that there was a time when I loved Billy Joel…) The Official Fiction reminds me of a guitar pop version of the Piano Man when he was in his prime. Song after song of consistent excellence crammed in between decent singles, it was hard to pick a highlight on these albums and even harder to pick a lowlight. (I know Bill’s reputation has dimmed over the years but the man was a tunesmith.)
This is really meant to be a compliment, no ‘backhanders’ here.
Which brings us to ‘Desert Lights’, an album that I am ashamed to say I haven’t listened to enough. But in the same breath I would also mention I don’t know how many times ‘enough’ is – but for Beautiful Sharks it is over 100 spins easy.
‘California’ tries to harken back to rockier times with moderate success, ‘This is the life for me’ is the mid-tempo moment, ‘Washed out to sea’ the tender closer, and in between ‘Statues’ and ‘One Fool’s History Pt 1’ are there to savour.
At this stage Something For Kate had become a little like LeBron James, so consistently freakishly good that the danger is that we can take them for granted. LeBron endured several seasons of ‘experts’ downplaying his 30/12/12 triple doubles and questioning his true legacy. While Desert Lights might not have the signature tomahawk dunk that demands inclusion on the SFK Top 10 Plays of the Career it is nonetheless an extremely solid, extremely high quality album from go to whoa.
And to back that up I just realised that every song on the album is a worthwhile inclusion on my iPod, the ultimate screening mechanism in my arsenal.
Now on to the new stuff.
In interviews Paul Dempsey constantly tries to distance himself from his dour image, saying he really is a pretty funny guy – before returning to Twitter to make dry and considered 140 character political observations…
Consider ‘Leave your soul to science’ as Something for Kate’s (always polite) F.U. to whatever image they have nurtured into being since Elsewhere for 8 minutes. 12 songs of purposeful misdirection that show the influence of three decades in music. An album so deliberately lacking in uniformity, consistency and predictability that it is almost if Something for Kate are rebelling against themselves.
Re-inventing the wheel is often unnecessary and fraught with danger. But trying to make a new improved wheel is an admirable aim. If it works.
From the opening track Star-Crossed Citizens the album delights in attempting to mess with expectations, as the mid tempo toe tapper erupts into a repetitive explosion reminiscent of Politik (from Coldplay’s best album).
Several tracks from the album employ the same teasing technique, just when you think a song is logically going here, it ends up there. The brooding Fireball at the end of everything plods along melodically before a fuzzed out guitar mini-freakout ends the song, leaving only one lingering note to hang in the air for a few seconds.
‘The Kids will get the Money’ and ‘Sooner or Later You’re gonna have to do something about me’ are both typically excellent SFK song titles and atypical SFK album tracks, both sound more like remixes destined for single B-Sides than tracks # 4 and 5.
Elsewhere ‘Private Rain’ takes the teasing drum loop from (the?) Sweet’s ‘Fox on the Run’ and overlays it with a vocal not out of place on an 80s hair band album. As if to further the comparison Dempsey even throws in a passionate ‘Yeah!’ at the end of one line.
But don’t be afraid kids, this is still a Something for Kate album. ‘Eureka’ and ‘Miracle Cure’ are destined to be sung at top volume by tipsy office workers venturing to their annual gig, ‘Deep Sea Divers’ is as strong and confident as anything the band have released – and benefits from a rare female co-vocal, and ‘Begin’ is a low key and haunting closer to proceedings.
The centrepiece of the album is lead single ‘Survival Expert’, featuring a brace Dempsey’s best lines crammed into 3 and some minutes. With no obvious chorus, instead the track gradually builds momentum all the way to the crescendo – before eschewing the crowd pleasing rawk and fireworks finale in favour of pulling the handbrake and ending on a melodic whisper. Like Dempsey’s finest solo moment ‘Out the Airlock’ it’s incredible and clever pop music.
Finally Leave your soul to science has perhaps the strongest lyrics since… well I may have overstepped there, Dempsey’s lyrics are always bloody good. But these are bloody good too. And they also sound like they’re all about something, even when that something is not immediately evident, these just aren’t a bunch of lines strung together to rhyme and sound nifty to form Track # 3.
Leave your soul to science is a little harder to instantly immerse yourself in, (for a start I had to wait a week beyond the release date to get my copy in the mail but I digress…) and requires a few more listens to allow the tunes to seep into the subconscious. It is definitely more of a creeper than Desert Lights, probably more of a keeper too.
Some 6 years after Desert Lights, here is an album lacking in internal expectation and free from concern about external expectations. A band comfortable enough in their skin and position in the ‘scene’ to ignore the expected and do whatever the hell they want.
An album that finds Something for Kate no longer crafting but creating.
Thankfully the difference in quality is negligible even when compared against their (historical) finest moments.
Something for Kate have been a part of my musical landscape for a decade and a half. They are one of only a few Australian bands to have seen off the rise of the faux-punk, Girl Power, reality show contestant and watered down hip-hop movements that proved the death of many excellent Australian artists and emerged the other side stronger for the experience.
If you’ve scanned even a sentence or two from the couple thousand words above you probably realise that I am hardly an impartial judge of their works. If it wasn’t so late at night I might churn another thousand words extolling ‘Phantom Limbs’ (a collection of B-Sides, covers and remixes), or ‘Live at the Corner’ (a live album spanning their discography to that point).
But it’s late and I think I’ve said enough. I now eagerly await the WA leg of the album launch tour (which went well), and hopefully more albums to come for as long as they can be bothered putting them out.