This Australian band never had much success stateside. But I fondly recall owning an import copy of Calenture on vinyl back in the late ’80s. I’m not sure how I first encountered The Triffids since in those pre-internet days it was much harder to find out about obscure Australian bands (a little history lesson for you kids). It probably had something to do with reviews that compared the band to some other favorite Aussie bands of the day like The Go-Betweens and The Church, not to mention other like-minded contemporaries like The Waterboys as well as early influence, The Velvet Underground. At any rate, this deluxe re-issue of what is widely considered the band’s masterpiece serves as an effective belated introduction to a band that time nearly forgot.
The word Calenture refers to a form of tropical fever suffered by sailors, and various forms of delirium underpin many of the tracks here. A woman hides from her dark visions in the guitar-driven “Kelly’s Blues.” And on one of the album’s best tracks (which graced a mix tape or two of mine back in the day), a man thinks he sees a departed lover but it’s just “A Trick of the Light.”
Singer David McComb’s voice brings a wide-eyed passion to every song. It’s a voice in which you can hear echoes of folks like Nick Cave, Ian Curtis and Ian McCulloch. The music too is passionate with strings and tympanis on the impressive “Bury Me Deep in Love” and woodwinds and Irish pipes adding color elsewhere. The production by Gil Norton (who went on to produce Counting Crows, The Pixies, Foo Fighters and Del Amitri) is expansive and occasionally suffers from ’80s reverb disease. Fortunately, many of the songs still hold up.
In addition to the tracks from the original album, this two-disc re-issue tacks on all the B-sides from the album’s singles and an entire disc of alternate versions drawn from rehearsal and studio recordings.
I’d say if you’ve got an unlimited budget for 80s band re-issues, first you’ve got to pick up Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout. After that, you could do a whole lot worse than Calenture. It’s a nice package that gives you a glimpse into the creative process of an unfairly forgotten band. And it saves me from having to look for that import vinyl copy I had twenty years ago.
The Triffids: www.thetriffids.com