Strength Through Frailty
Strange Canadian article from during the Human Frailty era.
Author: Dave Rave, The Nerve.
Date: December 1986.
Original URL: N/A.
Listen up. Captain Beefheart is alive, and making great rock music in Australia under the pretext that life is for those who are alive. He’s ditched the trendy ‘Don Van Vliet’ moniker for the more mundane ‘Mark Seymour’, and he’s ten times fitter and eleven times madder.
Pere Ube didn’t break up for the benefit of good karma; they’re to be found in the beer halls of Oz churning up a strange and bitter brew. The singer is leaner and meaner, but his new band Hunters and Collectors are as brilliant as ever.
(Nope. Bullshit. Forget it.)
All jesting aside, Hunters & Collectors are a very (your word here – anyone can play this game) band from Australia. I really had no justification in exploiting the good names of Pere Ubu or Mr. Beefheart, I just wanted to get your attention with some impressive improbability… because that’s sort of what Hunters & Collectors do. Put it this way – their rock music is certainly a lot more than just telling fibs to a neutral beat.
(Cue: ‘buy new album’ jargon.)
The new album human Human Frailty plays itself the music of madness on the other side of the world. It’s a terrific record, based on the liquidation of an ill-founded relationship between a person (who fluctuates between first person, second person, third person, and person) and singer/lyricist/guitarist Mark Seymour.
As Seymour states on his cunningly succinct press handout, ‘We believe that music has the power to really move people by appealing to the most commonplace aspects of human feeling… Our music is raw and elemental, expressive emotion in its most basic form.’ Indeed, cuts like ‘Everything’s On Fire,’ ‘Dog,’ ‘The Finger,’ shit, all of them are unique because the rock lyric, for once, doesn’t explicitly talk down to you, the rock person.
But you’ve ultimately got to wonder exactly where issues of Human Frailty belong in the crazy world of R&R. According to Seymour, getting away it is “a fairly difficult task. Commercial rock & roll is dull because it can’t deal with the underbelly of experience. We speak on several levels anyway – most people don’t listen to lyrics for a start, so… we’re still considered pretty weird, even though (in Australia) we’re now part of the mainstream.”
Very ironic. Is a mainstream audience equipped to make sense of the shapes Collectors are making? Seymour votes ‘yes.’
“I don’t see that people are as stupid as rock grounds – and the media – make them out to be. Hunters & Collectors were initially perceived as a bunch of weirdos, and then it gradually became apparent to people that there was something humorous about us, even though the music was bleak and serious and heavy and dark…
“By continually doing the bar circuit, people got used to the idea that this was the level which we expressed ourselves on. And everyone’s mentally equipped to deal with us!”
As far back as I can remember, these Hunters & Collectors have been impressed with the vulgarity of their own music. And even as you ingest this ‘but the album’ jargon; according to Seymour’s press handout, the expressed goal of this band is “to show that life is a serious undertaking.” Thousands of bands (hundreds in Toronto alone) have failed this, largely because they automatically assume a ‘miserablist’ stance. But Hunters & Collectors suppress their need to hammer home their wisdom long enough to laugh at themselves and the business they’re in.
One early song from the first album, ‘Towtruck,’ documented some kind of surreal R&R ordeal with hilarious one-liners and non-sequiturs (“somebody stole my bloody wheelchart!!”), and the two albums that followed (The Fireman’s Curse in ’84, The Jaws of Life last year) were equally side splitting if you probed deep enough into the dour mash. “Do you think I’m sweating like this just for fun?” asks Seymour in ‘Betty’s Worry Or The Slab,’ and it’s just a whole bunch of fun.
But the new album is serious business from start to finish. Seymour has fully measured the breadth of his lyrical capabilities, and on Human Frailty he involves us in matters of an intensely personal nature. The question is, who’s listening?
“The people who appreciate it most are about my age (30), and they’ve seen a bit of action, had a few affairs, taken drugs and drank a lot. But the people you’re trying to convince, in my business, are the teenies. Now, the biggest difficulty we have is that we are frightening. I mean, ‘Say Goodbye’ is a rather forlorn song about female domination.”
I thought it was about passive guilt.
“I user to have interminable arguments with my old girlfriend about how culpable the entire males sex was, and our responsibility for all things that were wrong with the world, and how every male should bear the burden of our collective responsibility. Initially I bought the idea, but on a one-to-one basis, I couldn’t help but notice that there were frequently situations where she had power; she controlled me.
“How could feminists argue that men are entirely culpable, when if you bring it down to the basic unit – men and women – there’s a constant interplay of power. And it’s such a big deal! As a result of conducting our relationship in this self-analytical way, we ended up breaking up. So I eventually wrote the lyric about a woman being the dominator, but leaving certain things open to interpretation.”
But generally speaking, this album is more specific than the elusive, slightly insane imagery Seymour conjured up in past songs, such as ‘Judas Sheep,’ ‘Eggheart,’ (a song about “having the soul of a hard-boiled egg”), ‘Blind Snake Sundae,’ and other massive pop hits.
“I used to take a very intellectual approach with what individual words symbolized and the senses the text generated, but putting together words that had opposite dynamic feelings. I used to treat words as this stuff you could just play with. But now I don’t agree with that anymore. I’ve just become more confident with the way in which I can use words. Maybe more sophisticated.”
The next LP will more concerned with the politics of the world and the stuff in it, than the politics of the ‘me’, ‘you’ and ‘us’ game. But really, why bother? The only successfully political record of this generation had, as its key lyric, “Feed the world/Let them know it’s Christmas time.”
“I’m just concerned about… nothing more than describing the world. And life. And being in that world. That’s all!”