Code Word (Super Secret Records)
Want proof that a prophet – or at least a quality pop musician – often has no honour in his country? I present you Richard Davies.
It’s likely most Australian music fans - if pressed and told, no you can’t answer “the actor who was in Offspring and (oh yes!) Saddleclub” - would guess Richard Davies is that excellent physicist and writer who has a minor planet named after him. Or possibly that bloke who played Uncle Monty in Withnail & I. Or at a pinch, the combative god-botherers-bothering biologist.
Which is a shame for the Australian singer/songwriter Richard Davies (who has lived in the USA for some 20 years now) but also for people who would enjoy a fine record or two that draws on both pop classicism and a kind of wide-eyed trippiness that used to be the preserve of bands from New Zealand’s South Island.
Whether as a solo artist (may I recommend the album Telegraph?), in a short-lived offshoot band with Eric Matthews, Cardinal (try the self-titled album), a one-off experiment with Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard (Jar Of Jam/Ton Of Bricks) or his long-running, on-and-off band of many lineups, The Moles, Davies has made the sort of albums which set off quiet reverberations of pleasure.
Too quiet? Obviously, says 97 per cent of the potential audience. And Code Word isn’t going to turn that around either. But for those who stumble across it, it will be one of those oddball collections that keep offering prizes.
Take the opening two tracks which are almost a mirror image. Moon In The Daytime, is both Teenage Fanclub pretty (in melody and semi-acoustic guitar) and wry (as he sings of “getting off that thing that’s heading to Saturn’s ring/To get away from you” or, failing that, “I’ll move to Alice Springs/Or Reykjavik”) that warps in its last minute into feedback, rolling forwards drums and fairground noises.
Delicate on the other hand opens with a Dr Feelgood jumped rhythm and swinging electric guitar that has Davies choppy-singing and everything barrelling along, until a slurred tempo ends abruptly for an acoustic guitar and bass, arpeggios and swaying rhythm playout. What was that??
And if you think that was a whiplash, wait til you get to Richard Davies 6.0 which is art rock, menacing leers and lecturing teacher, that segues into the beatnik free poetry-meets-jazz title track that practically grows a goatee and polo neck jumper during its three minutes and forty seconds.
Better get used to the changes of direction is the best advice. Jangly psych such as Queen Anne, spacey folkpop Riptide and wibbly wobbly After May draw a direct connection to Robyn Hitchcock as much as The Chills, but then Davies will stamp about in satin and spangles in the glamrock-y No Overdubs and cover Slade’s Gudbuy T’Jane, that swaps it all for double denim bad hair and brass punctuations, to close the album on a cider high.
Davies is just as comfortable hitting the autobahn in his Leyland bomb for the metronomic groove-worker Cheaper To Keep Her and the speeding soundscape of the ultra brief Ancestors, as he is bouncing around the clatter-and-strut of What If? and hanging around a North London band room with his “brothers” Ray and Dave in 1967 for Prison Girls.
So that’s Richard Davies. Not a physics professor. Not someone who’ll convince you god doesn’t exist. But a pop writer worth getting to know.