It says a lot about my taste that I can’t stop listening to ‘Love and Death’ by The Beasts of Bourbon, the second track off their first album, The Axeman’s Jazz. The album is about to be re-released with their following two albums (Sour Mash and Black Milk), remastered, in a special edition box-set. The song itself sounds like something straight off Blood Red River. God I love The Scientists. My love for The Scientists extends beyond belief – Kim Salmon, in my mind you are IT. I can’t stress my adoration for this man, and this particular brand of timeless garage rock. Give me murky western-influenced swamp and clumsy slide guitars, with Salmon’s yelping and gurgling vocals please. It’s wonderful.
I have this quite fabulous sensory build-up of nostalgia – a self-created mythology that began in childhood – about Aussie rock, stemming waaaaaayyy back when I was a little poppet innocently but voraciously absorbing as much Nick Cave and Tex Perkins as I could get my hands on. There’s this beautiful period existing in my mind, merging elements of the 80s and 90s, which belongs to grainy, over-exposed film clips from bands such as the Bad Seeds (around the Henry’s Dream and Let Love In period) and The Cruel Sea. They introduced these impossibly – oh – undeniably cool characters who were imperfectly, incomprehensibly sexy at the same time. Does any of this make sense?
My attraction to this kind of music was instinctive and bang on the buck. My love for Tex and Nick et al, and underground-ish Aussie rock has only grown over the years. Actually, when it comes to The Beasts of Bourbon in particular, instinct is all I really have to go on. Their music is primordial, exploring the baser elements of human nature through profane, homicidal lyrics and evil aural blues experiments. I’ve seen them live numerous times – if you haven’t then DO if you get the chance. Truly, Tex Perkins IS one subversive, naughty, SEXY man when writhing up on that stage, with his black eyes and filthy mouth (… ahem). His intense confidence makes it difficult for me to actually look at the man – he’s so intimidatingly COOL (and God knows what kind of jabbering mess I’d turn into if I met the man in person – all red faced and stuttering and completely frozen, eyes stuck to the ground reverting back to some awkward, pimply teenager).
The Beasts of Bourbon are one of many Australian bands obviously deserving of more recognition. True, their name rolls off the tongue much easier than others, but they still maintain a somewhat underground following. There are plenty of folk (at my age especially) who know the name, but would struggle to actually think of a tune. It’s part of what I love about this style of garage rock though. Their homicidal take on the blues isn’t for everybody; at times it’s beautifully repulsive with Tex’s disturbed tales of desperation, screamed, gurgled, yelped, sworn at with this vice-addled baritone of a voice. The music is abusive, confrontational but so effing sure of itself. The Beasts of Bourbon, along with other similar ilk, managed to create a style of music unique in sound and sporadic in influence, but completely bloody Australian. It’s the sound of our unbelievable summer heat and humidity, obliteration and self-abuse in dark, dingy dens, cigarette smoke and excess, and unspoken, undercover violence that permeates throughout our lives. Music is often used as an antidote to this kind of desperation – it has the ability to cover the bleak. While The Beasts of Bourbon borrow from the blues and western rock mythology, by embracing these darker elements of our society, a brazen honesty comes out in the music.
The best thing about this re-release isn’t actually the remastering (the three albums do sound great though), or the boxset with the lovely accompanying booklet filled with anecdotes from the band’s original line-up. For new and old fans, this is a collection worth picking up, no doubt. The most striking thing about this release is that it’s a continuation of The Beasts of Bourbon. Like their typically dark explorations – insidious, persistent, terrifying – this is music that isn’t going to go away. It sits, bubbling just below the surface, sometimes unreferenced, but always influential and relevant. Over twenty years on, these three albums are still epically evil, odd, inspiring and wonderfully Australian. Viva La Beasts of Bourbon!