UPS AND DOWNS
The Sky’s In Love With You (independent)
In their first incarnation, in the wake of The Church and among the wave of guitar rock that mixed light psychedelia with high end ‘60s pop so that the early-to-mid ‘80s became a paisley overground, Ups And Downs didn’t quite fit.
That wasn’t because they weren’t wearing the right clothes and haircut or because they didn’t have the jangle in their guitars: they fit the bill comfortably. Nor is it because they didn’t move on when the ‘60s revival moved into more conventional rock and the productions became more attuned to a high-tech decade: Ups And Downs stepped up enough.
What slightly separated them was that while often enough the tunes were buoyant, the guitar lines melodic and the sounds familiar, Greg Atkinson’s voice carried a kind of natural melancholy which coloured all they did.
It made his songs, which weren’t necessarily more complex or cleverer than other writers’, trickier emotionally. That is, even at their peppiest you were never able to settle into a comfortable zone of “life’s good, let’s go out/life’s pissy but hey let’s get pissed anyway” because there was always the sense that all of this was transitory, and only imminent disappointment was a constant.
Not for nothing was one of their best known recordings, Solitary Man, by that great chronicler of existential solemness inside elegant pop, Neil Diamond.
Several comeback tours, several other bands, including the almost-made-it Big Heavy Stuff, a few decades on from those days and one half-release of this record already, Atkinson and his drummer/vocalist brother Darren, original members John Flade and Peter Shaw, and bassplayer Alex Ronayne, make like old.
Actually, that’s not quite true. This doesn’t sound exactly like they did then, but it sure feels rooted in the same sadness at the edge of town tone. And that’s true even before the final track’s string-assisted, wistful-turning-to-sorrowful reprise of the opening song, Some Sleep.
That Some Sleep bookends the album (the opening take more echoey and uncertain, in a less suicidal, Primary-era Cure way than the closing version) is not to negate the more propulsive numbers on The Sky’s In Love With You.
True Love Waste (busy rhythm, acoustic guitar in the breakdown, a gush of backing vocals) and Disco In My Head (that Cure-like bass again, square-on drums and ascending/descending guitar line) follow on the opening’s heels with some haste. And even the searching tone of Fires Amongst Us (mini metronome drums, love mixed with restlessness, light sheets of guitar) has more daydream than slumber in it.
However, that Atkinson melancholic overlay – in a voice which incredibly sounds unchanged by 30 years – remains the tone setter. It takes those songs-on-the-up into less certain territory, and tugs at the edges of Gideon and Brighter so that the restlessness is internal but the ripples go out from there.
A bit like the way the sun and heat of their hometown Brisbane always promised elation but the humidity soaked through, Ups And Downs songs, then and now, are marked by something heavier in the atmosphere.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Ups And Downs – The Sky’s In Love With You here
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Ups And Downs – The Sky’s In Love With You here