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Various Artists | Tales From The Australian Underground: Singles 1976-1989 (Feel Presents)
The appetite for reappraising Australia's relatively recent music history shows no sign of abating: this excellent compilation follows similar sets released in 2002; respectively Shock Records' 2-CD fifty-track 'Do The Pop!' set and Ravens' single-disc, 'Born Out Of Time', both of which collectively and comprehensively covered the very best of Australia's almost unrivalled garage-rock output from the late '70s to the late '80s.  For anyone remotely interested in Australian music of that era both are essential purchases.
'Tales From The Australian Underground' approaches the period from a wider perspective, both chronologically; covering a longer period than either of its illustrious predecessors, and more daringly, also stylistically.  Although there is some overlap, barely a handful of the tracks are available on either of the other aforementioned albums.  By broadening the selection criteria beyond the better known garage and guitar output on 'Do The Pop!' and 'Born Out Of Time', 'Tales From The Australian Underground' makes for a far more eclectic collection and perhaps suffers a little because of it.  In fairness though I doubt few such disparately collated compilations could provide an entirely satisfactory listening experience from start to finish.  In any case that's really only a minor criticism for this is a lovingly compiled artefact that actually comes strongly recommended.  Comprehensively annotated, the album's thirty-six-page booklet provides riveting details on all forty-five tracks featured as well as on the wider underground scene as it developed from its DIY origins following debut releases by Radio Birdman and The Saints, bands both still held in huge regard and as good if not better than many of the more revered punk bands that crawled out of The Roxy or CBGBs circa 1976, and whose output has subsequently influenced huge numbers of bands worldwide ever since.  
Adrenaline-inducing bursts of garage rock, snotty punk bile, odd-ball experimentalism, sublime pop and indecipherable noise, this collection has it all.  Admittedly as alluded to previously it is highly unlikely all tracks will suit everyone but there is plenty here to more than justify the necessary investment.  'Tales From The Australian Underground' is sonic archaeology and genuine treasure-trove to boot.  Featuring classic material by Radio Birdman, The Saints, Fun Things, The Birthday Party, Sunnyboys, The Triffids, The Eastern Dark, Someloves and The New Christs alongside lesser known gems by acts such as Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast, Venom P. Stinger (precursors to The Dirty Three) and Ups & Downs, make for an entertaining and educational two and a half hours of anyone's time.  Like a good reference book you could find yourself dipping into this for years to come.  Apparently more than a thousand singles were considered during the five years it took compiler, Tim Pitman, to complete the project.  So, Tim, how about Volume Two?

Geraint Jones
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003

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