Sun, 05 Feb 2023

TOP TUNES: King Stingray in good company with 'Queen Bitch' Bowie

Independent Australia
21 Jan 2023, 16:52 GMT+10

IA's new music review by David Kowalski dishes up some bold flavours, with Triple J's Hottest 100 hot tip King Stingray and David Bowie's 'Queen Bitch' putting some sizzle on the menu. 'Let's Go'!'

VARIOUS PEOPLE have been attributed as saying, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

It sounds like something Noel Gallagher would have said. Or Elvis Costello. Or Frank Zappa. But it most likely belongs to American actor and musician Martin Mull. Whoever said it, it's one of those statements that is both funny and misguided all at once.

Does it mean that music has such little value that it doesn't merit analysis of any kind? Or does it mean that listening to music is such a profoundly beautiful experience that mere words never do it justice?

Yet, how else can the curious music fan get a glimpse into what a new record sounds like before hearing it without the existence of some form of writing?

A recommendation of a new artist from a trusted friend (or a critic you trust) is worth more than one from a YouTube taste-prediction algorithm. Writing about music cannot hope to accurately articulate all those aspects, but it can help generate enough excitement in readers in order to splash down their hard-earned on a new piece of vinyl or digital stream.

So, what have I been listening to lately?

FLOAT LIKE A SURF-ROCKER, STING LIKE A KING!

Arnhem Land surf-rockers King Stingray picked up an (ARIA) Breakthrough Artist award recently - and well deserved. The band is made up of musicians from the Yolgnu nation and balanda (non-Indigenous) and is definitely something to get excited about.

'Let's Go' is the latest single from King Stingray's debut self-titled album. Tune! Partly sung in Language, this track is the sound of summer on vinyl. The whole album is great too.

FLYING OFF ON A 'TANTRUM'

The Newcastle NSW music scene is bursting at the seams with talent in 2022. I seemingly discover a new band to get excited about every week. Osprey is a four-piece fronted by Jasmine McLean, whose vocals elevate this riff-rocker to powerful heights. The band walks a tightrope between the pop-punk of Paramore and the low-end crunch of The Superjesus. Its latest single 'Tantrum' sounds incredible in the car - up loud!

BOWIE WAS KING... AND QUEEN

They say death is a great career move and the estate of David Bowie, in the years since his untimely passing, has kept a steady flow of archival releases and reissues available to fans.

The latest one, Divine Symmetry, is a 4CD/2 Blu-ray set of material from around the time of Hunky Dory, released circa 1971-early 1972 - the time between Bowie shedding his hippie/folkie persona and transitioning to glam rock alter-ego Ziggy Stardust.

The box contains rough live sets, BBC sessions, songwriting demos and sketches of works in progress, and alternate mixes of tracks that made it onto the final album. One wonders how much of this material would actually see the light of day if the man himself was still alive. Surely, this is mainly for the ultra-fan and the completist, but for my money, Bowie said it all with that original 1971 LP.

This week, I went back to that original album of lushly orchestrated acoustic material. Towards the end of side two comes a song starting with sprightly acoustic chords before Mick Ronson lets rip and hits you upside the head with a guitar roar as heavy as a freight train. 'Queen Bitch' is the track and it is basically a prototype for what was to come about six months later with Bowie's brilliant The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

TUNSTALL'S 'IF ONLY' A THING OF BEAUTY

Scottish-born LA-based songstress KT Tunstall has that certain je ne sais quoi that makes her music special. I revisited some of her work recently and it still sounds as fresh as the day it was released.

I'm a sucker for a soaring melody line and KT's vocal gymnastics on 'If Only' are things of beauty. The verses are slightly off-kilter, but that only makes the chorus all the more intense. Her most well-known song is 'Suddenly I See' from her debut album Eye To The Telescope. This one comes from her equally excellent sophomore album Drastic Fantastic.

I'M EMPTY AND ACHING (IN 'AMERICA') AND I DON'T KNOW WHY

A friend of mine told me that when he used to teach a writing class at college, he used 'America' by Simon & Garfunkel as an example of writing that broke the mould of what was expected in pop songwriting because, he said, "none of the lyrics rhyme".

Wait. What?

I started running through the lyrics in my head. Sure enough, he was spot on. I have listened to that song a million times - firstly on my dad's vinyl LPs as a small child and now I have my own copy of Bookends - and it has never occurred to me that this was the case. It was stunning to me, as a fan of Paul Simon's writing, because I know he is meticulous with his craft, right down to the way he phrases each and every word.

'America' is a song that is very much of its time, calling on the state of the nation on behalf of those left behind in a rapidly changing world. The hippy summer of love of '67 came and went by the time this track was released - sometime in 1968 - with peace and love rapidly being replaced by bitterness and aggression. Tensions were flaring - between races, teenagers and their parents, anti-war protesters and police, and across different sides of politics.

World-weary, 'America' is a song where the protagonist is trying to make sense of things and work out where they fit into this place that no longer resembles what it was. I still get goosebumps listening to the line: "I'm empty and aching and I don't know why."

Until next time...

David Kowalski is a writer, musician, educator, sound engineer and podcaster. His podcasts 'The Sound and the Fury Podcast' and 'Audio Cumulus' can be heard exclusively here. You can follow David on Twitter @sound_fury_pod.

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