Gutful (Ivy League)
There’s no one who sounds more Aussie bloke, of the sort you’d probably avoid in any bar/traffic light/Bunnings aisle, than Ben Marwe. He’s got a drawl you could catch flies in, a rough voice you could sand the side of your house with and seems to contain – sometimes only just contain – a deep well of anger.
Add to this that he and his guitar come at you with the added muscle of Alex Cameron on guitar, James Bartold on bass and Miles Wilson on drums in a configuration which says “punk meets pub rock and they’ve sunk a few schoonerburgers and a nasty Chiko roll”, and you may already be walking out of the room without wanting to turn your back on him.
As with Smith St Band’s Wil Wagner, Marwe is smarter than most of us, feels a hell of a lot more than any bloke is meant to admit to, and is prepared to show it. It’s just that these “feels” may be shown through hard, fast and unvarnished songs given a spray but not the full gloss in production by none-more-Aussie producer Mark Opitz.
(Amusing note #1: Opitz helped define late ‘70s/early ‘80s Australian rock and here nods to those roots often, as in the album’s closing track, A Million Times Alone, a late night observing the world over a slowly drained beer song that is part Don Walker and part Paul Kelly, the sound pure early ‘80s, maybe even Kelly’s Coloured Girls, with discursive saxophone the secondary storyteller.)
What’s more Marwe is prepared to say it to exactly the kind of boofs you thought Marwe was at the beginning. And he does it in language that doesn’t fart arse around but has none of the patronising tone which might emanate from, well, certain soft middle class journalists who would get seven shades of tripe beaten out of them, and deserve it.
He says in Nice Guy that “people say I’m a real nice guy, but what they don’t know is I’m chock-full of violence/What they don’t know is I’m full of it” and the song hovers between confessional and pointed commentary.
Marwe’s cleverness is in playing both sides of the street, setting up understanding of the inchoate rage that bubbles up in those who don’t always know the right thing to say or the right way to say it – and know they’re judged for it – but never letting these men off the hook for violence both verbal and physical that springs from these feelings.
Likewise in the title track, as he catalogues a list of things which have narked him right up he hits both the soft targets (trendy sounds, Trump, empty remnants of neo-liberalism) and the harder ones (racist jokes, coward’s punch, empty remnants of neo-nationalism).
He says that it’s his “pagan rage that gets me through the night” and there are times when you would believe him. (Amusing note #2: the song which contains that line is one of the two slow, gentle songs on Gutful.)
But while you’d never call him a pure softy, Marwe – again, like Wagner – puts his heart out there as well as his chin. It’s not just rage which fires him but, tenderness, the comfort of shared emotions and, yes, love.
There’s tunes on Gutful to back up the energy and the punch. Proper pop tunes at times too. It’s not an album of one or even two dimensions, no matter what your first thoughts are when the first assaulting sounds hit you.
If I ran in Marwe and friends in the Bunnings aisle I’d probably still run, but for fear of looking stupid this time.