The Last Polaroid (Silver Stamp)
I must confess to being a Charles Jenkins fan. Would listen to him in any form he chose.
It’s not bias so much as something like the way I will watch Roger Federer or Johnathon Thurston in anything: there’s something about mastery of the form and technique overlaid with a class that is just pure pleasure which works for me.
(And I say this knowing that I will therefore forgive him pronouncing the letter z as zee, so he can rhyme it with tree, when I might damn a lesser talent for this cultural misdemeanour.)
With Jenkins it can be as simple as a little jag, a small shift in a melody that is familiar for anyone who has heard a Jenkins song before. As in the title track where he sings - deceptively casually - an offering, a wish, a hope, that in that shift goes from wistful desire to optimism and takes you with it.
Or maybe a refusal to make an expected shift, as in the Hollies-like Walking On Air which moves within its constraints almost defiantly, until you concede this really is as good as it need ever be, just in time for a middle 8 to briefly punch a small hole in that air.
That little bit extra can come in a throwaway line that feels like an easy add-on at first, then a wry description as you hear the song again and then, finally, a sharp summary in a few words.
Take for example in the catalogue of minor bastardry which is Everyone Loves Me (“I’m a thief, I’m a liar/ I throw friendships on the fire”) where Jenkins tosses in, in the voice of his unlikeable/unreliable protagonist “I ain’t ever put a comb through my hair”.
Or maybe No Electronic Devices where a faded sunshine of a melody is as unashamed of its look over the shoulder to the past as Jenkins, who admits that “I show my age, all through the day/The rewinding of the cassette, the 90 minute TDK.”
Then there are times where you might find yourself carried on the sheer cleverness wrapped inside a “a song so pure [he] might have been channelling something …opened up another channel to the human heart”. For this I present Barkly Square, which mixes the spirit of pre-war standard A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, with heart melting in modern Melbourne and a tune New Yorker Paul Simon would beg to borrow.
Though if you need more evidence I’d point you towards High Above The River which has a bit of glam vamp, a smudge of power pop sweetness and then piano that is both honk and tonk. And yet never feels anything but straight and true.
Charles Jenkins and his band of gentlemen, the Zhivagos, won’t be playing at this year’s footy grand finals – though Yea Tho Grief would be both a timely lesson and a great song for a swaying singalong in the terraces.
You won’t find them being implored to join the Splendour In The Grass lineup at the last minute – though the beaming-and-parping Cartwheels would sound fabulous waking up the slumbering in their tents.
But where there’s a need for class, for quality pop music, they are available.