Thursday, August 20, 2015

Classic Album Review: Blam Blam Blam - The Complete Blam Blam Blam (1992)

There’s been a lot of discussion on my Facebook feed recently about the “lost” Silver Scroll award of 1981. For whatever reason, New Zealand’s premier annual songwriting gong wasn’t awarded that particular year, with APRA seeking to rectify the anomaly at this year’s upcoming awards (next month). The 2015 ceremony also doubles as APRA’s 50th birthday bash so it presents an ideal opportunity to announce a belated winner.

Among the five songs shortlisted/nominated a month or so ago - and a clear first pick by my own reckoning - was Blam Blam Blam’s ‘No Depression in New Zealand’, which I think shades the alternatives offered by Split Enz, The Clean, The Swingers, and the Screaming Mee Mees. As a result of the heightened publicity and in response to those Facebook threads, I found myself returning once again to the music of Blam Blam Blam, and recalled an album review I wrote for another site some time ago (below) …

(And yes, I guess it is a little disingenuous to call a compilation album a “classic album” but it’s not the first time everythingsgonegreen has thumbed its pointy nose in the face of custom and it won’t be the last):

The Auckland-based three-piece Blam Blam Blam consisted of Don McGlashan (drums/other/vocals), Tim Mahon (bass/vocals), and Mark Bell (guitar/vocals) … and The Complete Blam Blam Blam is essentially everything of note the band released between 1981 and 1984. 19 tracks featuring the Blams’ sole genuine album release Luxury Length virtually in its entirety, its non-album singles, the relatively rare self-titled EP debut release, and a brief taste of the band live during its “reunion” tour shows of 1984.

I saw the Blams live in 1981 when it had a support slot on a New Zealand-wide Split Enz tour and it’s fair to say I was blown away by the vibrancy and originality of a young band whose only “previous” at that stage was a solitary track on a local post-punk compilation release (‘Motivation’, which appears here).

Later that year came the chart-crashing (well, the NZ Charts) anti-establishment anthem ‘There is No Depression in New Zealand’. An ironic and original slice of Kiwi Rock with a punky and subversive edge …

"There is no depression in New Zealand, there are no sheep on our farms, we have no dole queues, we have no drug addicts, we have no rebellion, we have no valium, valium, valium" ... etc.

It was ironic in the sense that those words more or less aped the level of denial being sold to more conservative sections of New Zealand society by a government with its head in the sand. It came out at a time when the country was split right down the middle during the Springbok tour debacle of 1981, and a time when the presence of riot police - the infamous “Red Squad” - was an increasingly regular feature on our streets. It was a genuine winter of discontent for all those living in NZ at the time, brought about by the government’s decision to accommodate a rugby tour which shook and stirred the collective conscience of all those opposed to the South African government’s appalling apartheid policy. Hence there was widespread violence on the streets as the protest movement collided head-on (literally) with establishment forces and its henchmen. The Blams, alongside many other bands with a left of centre appeal - such as tour-mates The Newmatics - in many respects provided a natural musical backdrop to all of the mayhem unfolding.
‘No Depression’ was a short-lived Top 20 hit but its fractious riff and sardonic lyrics became embedded deep within the nation’s collective psyche for years to come. The single’s B-side, the ska-tinged ‘Got To Be Guilty’, was equally politically motivated, telling the lurid tale of a local high profile early Seventies murder case, of police planting evidence, a wrongful conviction, an attempted cover-up, and an eventual, if controversial, pardon for the convicted man …

"He’s gotta be guilty, there’s no point in changing the subject, we didn’t get where we are today, by being soft on an obvious reject … he’s gotta be guilty, he called the policeman a liar, he costs this country money, and there’s no smoke without fire" ... etc.
The lead single off the subsequent Luxury Length album, ‘Don’t Fight It Marsha (it’s bigger than both of us)’, also peaked inside the Top 20. Written by the band’s lead vocalist and drummer, the multi-instrumentalist Don McGlashan, ‘Marsha’ was a somewhat different and more accessible take on the band, and to some extent perfect crossover fare, a drum machine-driven lament of lost love and the failure to fully let go. A true Kiwi Rock classic, whatever yer poison.

There generally wasn’t a bad track on the Luxury Length album, and the same applies to The Complete Blam Blam Blam, with a rejection of bland conformity being an obvious theme on tracks like ‘Battleship Grey’, ‘Like My Job’, and ‘Businessmen’. Other highlights include ‘Learning To Like Ourselves Again’, ‘Call For Help’, ‘The Bystanders’ and the menacing closer ‘Last Post’. Oh, and look out too for a raucous cover of the theme from ‘Dr Who’ (the B-side on ‘Marsha’).

Originating out of the nascent late Seventies Auckland punk scene - most notably via bands such as The Plague and Whizz Kids - Blam Blam Blam saw its flame flicker brightly but all too briefly, with the band suffering a premature demise when bassist Mahon was badly injured in a road accident. Throughout 1981 and 1982 however the Blams were fairly prolific on the NZ recording and touring circuit, and briefly reformed to tour again in 1984, and again, somewhat unbelievably, for a one-off series of shows in 2003.

The highly talented McGlashan meanwhile went on to greater things, commercially at least, with his late Eighties/Nineties pop rebirth as frontman for fringe indie contenders The Mutton Birds. Naturally, they too enjoyed a large Kiwi fanbase.

If you can’t get hold of Luxury Length (you’ll be lucky), keep a beady eye out for this release … The Complete Blam Blam Blam certainly provides for a concise overview of one of NZ’s truly great lost bands.

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