A Version of Now Peter Garrett Sony
As a rocker and as a politician, Peter Garrett has long had a finely tuned understanding of drama and spectacle. His band, Midnight Oil, crafted the very landscape of Australia not just into its stage presence but into the fabric of its songs: think Kosciusko, King of the Mountain, Capricornia, as just a random selection.
So it sits well, then, that the opening tracks on Garrett’s much-anticipated solo debut, A Version of Now, declare theatrically that “I’m rolling back” ( Tall Trees) and then, in the slightly over-obvious I’d Do It Again, that “I didn’t jump I wasn’t pushed / I went of my own accord to do what I could / I got my hands dirty I had a go / To try and even up the score I had to leave the show.” But — and we’ll get to the good stuff in a tick — that’s where this otherwise fine album doesn’t always work. It needed a good editor, someone to just say, “Mate, how about we think of a more elegant way to put this long, wordy thing you’ve tried to cram into a fourbeat bar?” That said, A Version of Now provides a neat musical appendix to Garrett’s memoir, Big Blue Sky, which traced the thread of his music career and the one that followed it, in some ways inevitably, as political activist and then mainstream Labor politician. Musically it’s as assured as anything the Oils did, though perhaps more muted. There is, for instance, something you’d not have gone looking for on an album by Messrs Hirst et al — an actual, fair dinkum love song ( Only One, with the most oddball, minimalist blues harp solo you’ve ever heard, like some teary old Digger on Anzac Day met up with Robert Johnson; in fact, it’s Garrett himself).
There is some absolutely sensational guitar work, both in terms of solid, crunching grooves and wig-out sounds — and there’d want to be, given those duties are performed by his old bandmate Martin Rotsey. Garrett is joined by daughters Emily, May and Grace, sewing in a smooth, almost gospel-feeling backing trio, with May also sitting behind the drum kit on Homecoming. The Jezabels’ keyboardist Heather Shannon, drummer Pete Luscombe and bassist Mark Wilson make up a tight outfit.
Writing credits are mostly Garrett’s, but where they are shared, it’s a nod back to those earlier days as well: Garrett and Oils bassist Bones Hillman on Homecoming and Garrett, Rotsey and fellow Oils guitarist Jim Moginie on Great White Shark. The latter has a classic Oils feel to it and was, in fact, in an early form considered for that band’s set. It also might mark the only time the apex predator of the sea gets a sympathetic mention in the pages of this newspaper — because if there’s one thing we hate around here even more than a hung parliament, it’s man-frigging-eating Noah’s Arks. Take it away, Pete: “The great white shark has got no feeling / He may end up a bargain on a fashion plate … mass extinctions, no restrictions, noose on neck, castration instinct.” Don’t say you weren’t warned.