Thursday, 28 August 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #40: Something for Kate - "Elsewhere for 8 Minutes"

February 1998. I'm in Surfer's Paradise with a couple of mates. The penultimate day of the trip and I'm waiting for the bus to a local theme park. I've had a bad night, with little sleep, after a dodgy feed at a Mongolian barbeque place in Mermaid Beach. Fatigued, and on the verge of throwing up, an unwelcome earworm is slowly consuming my sanity. One short fragment of music and lyrics playing over and over...

" a million miles an hour..."

At that point, I hate that song. The band has a stupid name, the music doesn't make much sense. I just don't get it.

And yet, at that point, I would rather have been sent to build a colony on the planet Pluto* than I would have being on the Corkscrew at Dreamworld. In hindsight, the earworm was wholly appropriate.

Upon returning home, I went and purchased "Elsewhere for 8 Minutes", the first album by Something for Kate on double vinyl. Maybe the earworm was a sign...

Within the sleeve was an album of music that was colourful, tuneful, intense, passionate, literate, poetic, depressing and compelling all at once. With such a limited palette of just one guitar, bass and drums, Paul Dempsey and his bandmates weave intricate musical tapestries that are beguiling and confusing on first listen, but slowly unravel as they are consumed further.

The aforementioned earworm was the album's centrepiece and lead single "Captain (Million Miles an Hour)". After a couple of listens the all-consuming passion of the song is unavoidable. And, if you have musicologist tendencies, the song construction is extremely clever. Where English teachers teach you to write poetry with a meter and with evenly spaced lines, Dempsey dispenses with traditional lyrical form but rather weaves lyrics as he feels they need their emotional directness. To wit, the uneven and un-rhyming couplets in the opening verse:

"...Built an aeroplane,
It was just like the real ones that I saw when I was younger,
But it was too small for me,
To crawl inside the cockpit and fly away...
At a million miles an hour."

The song is pure escapism; a child's mechanism for escaping the ills of his little world, using elements of his environment to inform his more comforting imaginary scenario. The plane a symbol of his desire one day to get the hell out of where he is.

"...and it's just a model,
built with plastic and with glue.
But every day I go down to the airport,
and I'll fly away from you."

The emotion is real. For the listener it is gripping.

Paul spends his time ruminating on Love in many forms: lost love, unrequited love, relationship breakups, turbulence in relationships, all done with earnestness and passion. On stage, he stands up with his guitar, eyes closed, playing complex guitar lines all over the fretboard while these emotionally-wrought, almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics leave his mouth with a dream-like fancy to them. In terms of the great Australian music cannon, it is truly unique.

Paul's lyrics are at once deep, profound and mystifying. He has such a literate way of describing the cracks appearing in a relationship heading for the rocks: "Not much time has passed, but already she likes concrete better than grass". On the other hand, fans have spent hours trying to work out what the hell he is on about. One lyric that has kept fans guessing is from the song "Pinstripes": "You're the last day of April every year...". What? Huh? But it is delivered with such conviction that, whatever it means, Paul is absolutely, dead set certain of its meaning and its placement within the song.

From the darkness of "The Last Minute", the swooping beauty of "Paintbrushes", the joyous melancholy of "Roll Credit", slamming rock of "Working Against Me", the longing sadness of "Strategy" and the intense guitar onslaught of "Prick" this is a truly remarkable record and one that is outstanding in a catalog of outstanding albums, if only because this is the one album where Paul has his whole heart on his sleeve, delivered in purity without cluttered production. The band's playing is tight and complex. To this day I have no idea how Paul plays the guitar part on "Prick" - it is truly a force of nature, only to then sing over the top of such a intricate piece at the same time. It's breathtaking.

Be warned, for most people this will not be a one listen album. It wasn't for me at first. This is worth a good few listens. It is worth the effort.

Take a listen below. The version below is the 2014 20th Anniversary reissue with the original 12 tracks plus all the b-sides taken from each of the singles. Enjoy!

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