At Your Birthday Party
Guadalcanal Diary was one of the premier guitar pop bands of the ’80s, traversing a musical style similar to the Connells and R.E.M. with a bit more rock thrown into the mix. After putting out four records with Elektra, the band disbanded in 1989. In 1995, the four came back together for some studio work and reunion shows, and liked what they heard. Knowing that all four Guadalcanal albums are out of print, the group opted to release At Your Birthday Party , a live “greatest hits” album culled from two shows at Atlanta’s Smith’s Olde Bar. Fortunately, the atrocious cover art doesn’t reflect the great music contained within. This is a band that ten years after retiring — nearly twenty years after forming — still has enough energy and stage presence to captivate an audience. The recording quality is excellent and the music covers all four Guadalcanal albums.
The band tears through flat out rock songs such as “Country Club Gun,” “Say Please,” “I See Moe,” and “Whiskey Talk.” What stands out is the musicianship of the members, especially guitarist Jeff Walls’ frenetic playing, and lead singer Murray Attaway’s lyrical fascination with subjects country and western. Plenty of classic Guadalcanal songs are included on Birthday Party , including “Pretty is as Pretty Does,” “Likes of You,” “Litany,” “Watusi Rodeo,” and the delightfully oddball “Vista.” Aside from some faster pacing and a few verbal asides, there isn’t a great deal of departure on the songs from their recorded versions. Not that this is a bad thing – the songs still hold up well on their own.
There is one new song, “Pau Pau,” written and sung entirely by bassist Rhett Crowe. In typical Guadalcanal Diary fashion, the lyrics run strange, and it could be the first ever song written with the chorus of “Pau Pau, New Guinea.” (It’s actually Papua, New Guinea.)