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Doomsday Ballet (Farmer & The Owl)

Each time one of those snuff junkies on Sky News, the op-ed pages of the News Ltd papers, the various arms of the 2GB/3AW talk radio stations, the particularly egregious apologist Bettina Arndt, or that faux bogan PM, talk about how they are standing up for the “ordinary Australian”, the “quiet Australians”, the working class, the regular bloke etc etc, you’d be entitled to gag, if not throw up a little in your mouth.

Without having to check their postcodes, their bank balance or their social circle, I think it’s safe to say not only do they not talk for anyone but themselves or their sponsors, but they know shit about what might be coursing through the mind, guts and heart of working class anybody, or any so-called regular blokes.

(They’d know about as much as a middle-class music critic, even if he does live in the suburbs, knows about it, to be fair.)

Alex Cameron, who fashions most of the words sung by Bad//Dreems’ looming frontman Ben Marwe, doesn’t claim to be a spokesman - would argue vehemently with you if you said he was – for the people, especially the men, he hears and sees and knows.

Which in fact makes him a far better observer and reflector of those thoughts: one not so much without judgment as without pretence. And, not surprisingly, makes him a more nuanced and insightful conveyor of them through the characters – flawed, not easily explained, often enough not very likeable, but always real – in the songs he plays with Marwe, fellow guitarist, Ali Wells, and drummer Miles Wilson.

Those characters are trying to make sense of relationships and white privilege, living in changing cities and swerving away from police truncheons, reacting to American hegemony and identity politics, and recognising why putting The Triffids on the radio instead of the ramblings of your boss could be the choice of sanity over aggravation.

So these blokes can spit out a line like “I don’t need you, Piss Christ” or “punch in, punch out, get in, get out, I’m a lowlife”, and you can hear the disdain, if not outright anger. Or admit “Making my way down, thought I had it figured out/But the city keeps on changing and everything is re-arranged,” and the sigh of confusion is clear.

But there’ll also be someone like the narrator of Northern, who “spent two weeks on the run, bought some crystal, had some fun/Just like we used to do” and finds himself, briefly, at least until he’s asked to leave because he’ll complicate their new life, “down south, to my mother’s boyfriend’s house/Came down for three days on the couch/Just like she used to do”, and the grit is practically in your teeth.

And yeah, their views are sometimes objectionable and blunt, with no attempt to defend them in the song. Because that’s not the point. As Randy Newman has spent five decades explaining, it’s a story, it’s a type, it’s a view, and a listener can be assumed to have enough awareness to recognise and observe, or cast judgment themselves.

What will confuse some people more is that Bad//Dreems have continued expanding their musical remit as much as their emotional one, delivered by Marwe’s growing flexibility for subtle moves.

They still can barrel through/over you with a slyly swinging bit of force like Piss Christ, or spin you around the room with a herky jerky, Dr Feelgood-in-Fitzroy moment such as Double Dreaming. And Salad feels like exactly the smack in the face thing that would accompany a declaration of “I asked for chaos and I only got boredom”.

But nuance abounds there, and in the solid-form ballad, Sally’s Place, and the sad-eyed Paul Kelly & The Coloured Girls/Messengers tones of Harry’s Station and Northern, where neither macho-ness nor trendiness get a look in; or the grey-sky country blues of Gallows and Cannonball, the latter’s mournfully vibrating bass more telling than anything else.

Speaking of Kelly, Sonny is the kind of pop song people who claimed they didn’t like pop (but couldn’t help a singalong with their mates when the guitars and beer were flowing) loved to bits when they took Gossip home. It hooks.

The result is an album which feels part of a lineage of Australian music and Australian frank storytelling. Done well. And there’s always room for one of those, especially as an antidote to the snuff junkies who don’t speak for me, or you.

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