Bluebottle Kiss - Doubt Seeds
Review by Andy Cole
If there’s anything more disheartening in the modern world than the continued injury woes of the St Kilda Football Club, it’s the continued lack of recognition afforded to Sydney rock quartet, Bluebottle Kiss. Doubt Seeds, their sixth album in thirteen years, might well shake out any misgivings in the minds of the populace about the brilliance of this band. Nearly 80 minutes and a disc change later, this unashamedly ambitious recording had me stunned; it’s more direct and more musically and lyrically fascinating than its predecessors, and given the high standard of Bluebottle Kiss’ impressive discography, that’s saying something.
A few months prior to the release of Doubt Seeds, US country-rockers Richmond Fontaine defeated Bluebottle Kiss in a points decision at the Northcote Social Club. The gig seemed to indicate that after some line-up instability in recent years, Bluebottle Kiss was suffering. How wrong that impression was. Doubt Seeds sees front-man Jamie Hutchings and his cohorts at their artistic peak, and as a creative document it rivals the output of the legendary Australian and overseas acts the band drew inspiration from in the album’s gestation.
The liner notes to Doubt Seeds go some way to explaining the bold ideas behind the album. Broadly speaking, Bluebottle Kiss were attempting to distil the mood of a series of major influences, from the inflammable garage rock of The Stooges and Radio Birdman, to the erratic New York underground sound of Sonic Youth, to the warped brooding of Tom Waits, to the free jazz of John Coltrane, without forgetting to make a few more local pit stops – the dream pop genius of The Church, and the pub rock splendour of the former band of the Member for Kingsford Smith. As Nonzero label boss Nick Carr points out in his album book introduction, making this eclectic mix of sources work together is a big task; pulling it off without being pretentious or vapid is an altogether greater endeavour.
The opening salvo, Your Mirror Is A Vulture, is enough to convince the listener that the band is up to the job. The guitar work is enough to bring a tear the eye of Ron Asheton. Hutchings’ vocals retain their emotive depth but are raspier than previously, a style that reappears throughout the album. Nova Scotia keeps up the Stooges homage by ripping the opening held vocal trick from TV Eye, but doing it sufficiently splendidly to entrance Iggy’s copyright lawyers and keep them at bay. Halfway through side one, Scrub The Mist has Hutchings counselling a wayward friend to ditch the dark past and think to the future, before the song is engulfed by a warm piano tune played by his sister and frequent collaborator Sophie, and pedal steel touches from Dave Orwell (Golden Rough, Love Me).
Slight Return is a rocker straight out of Bluebottle Kiss’ 1999 classic Patient; the lost soul on the highway narrative ably paired with a Kenworth-sized effort by Hutchings and Ben Grounds on guitar, as the Sonic Youth sound floats to the surface. The 2005 EP-anchor A Little Bit Of Light finds a welcome home towards the tail end of side one, which closes with Little Disappearer, about trouble, train drivers, pregnancy and secrets and all earthy sounding by virtue of some deft musicianship and primitive recording equipment.
Side two’s The Judas Hands brings to mind the narrative lyrical style of no less than Bob Dylan and rollicks along with call-and-response vocals and more brass dabbling. White Rider is a fairly straightforward rock tune in the mid-1990s alternative format, but doesn’t seem ill-placed or trite around its more sonically interesting cousins. Then Bluebottle Kiss return to their oceanic origins with Harold Holt, using the imagery of the former Liberal Prime Minister dipping his toes into Bass Straight and disappearing off the face of the planet (or was it the CIA, or the Reds?) as a metaphor for a foundering relationship. Ross Dickie’s bass, Sophie Hutchings’ electric piano and some vocal looping gives this song a feel very different to anything the band has done before - it wouldn’t be too out of place on an Air album.
The Women Are An Army is the album’s highlight. Starting with a Neil Young-inspired slow moving guitar warble, the song features a non-yokel banjo line, some sweet choir singing and a chuckle-raising Hutchings lyric about a Casanova and the fading resistance of navy wives.
The breathy wordless singing on Miranda, set to a cacophony of Jared Harrison’s percussion and more horn flourishes, is spine-tinglingly emotive and all too brief. Finally, 30 minutes after most bands have given up the ghost, Bluebottle Kiss round things out with Silent, Golden, a slow sing-along set to a meandering piano line that seems to move in and out of time but wouldn’t sound right any other way.
Doubt Seeds’ wide collection of references to various points in popular music history would have led to an unseemly, disjointed patchwork of an album had the task been entrusted to a less able and impassioned rock outfit. But this album is far more than just a rendering of old influences into an agreeable amalgam – Doubt Seeds sees one of the greatest Australian rock bands of the last 15 years at their most original and at the height of their powers.