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coverpic flag Australia - Full Moon 33 - 06/28/99

Tim Rogers & The Twin Set
What Rhymes With Cars And Girls
rooArt

"I'm big out in the sticks!" Tim Rogers asks us some of life's big questions ("What Rhymes With Cars and Girls?") and to take him seriously.

It's not so surprising, when you look at the ever escalating rate of technological change, that the period of time it takes a band or artist to evolve from "next big thing" status to the lofty position of musikal "icon" has shortened dramatically also.

It does not seem that long ago, that Australians were being urged to embrace You Am I - glorious purveyors of three minute pop investigations into urban Oz life - as "a band to look out for", because, said the papers, they were "destined for big things". Etched with incessant hooks and power chords, You Am I released a series of magnificent albums throughout the mid-90s which will long be regarded as some of the finest recordings to emanate from this part of the world. They have achieved, what many would consider, a heady level of success. Yet it seems hardly possible that group leader, Tim Rogers, can already lay claim to that level of acceptance and notoriety from which he can indulge himself in dubious side projects and meander through experimental noodlings well outside the musical domain he has laid claim to - he is surely still paying his dues!! How many years did it take for Neil Young to indulge himself with Trans and those other bizarre Geffen offerings? How many albums were under Paul McCartney's belt before he made Rushes under the moniker The Fireman? David Bowie took at least two decades before he went off the rails with Tin Machine, and U2 had the good grace to wait an appropriate period before unleashing the Passengers project upon the world. So what does Tim Rogers think he is doing - and who does he think he is? From recent evidence - namely his new solo album - he sees himself as some sort of nineties Slim Dusty!

Hard to believe, but it is true, Rogers has released his first 'solo' recording (well actually it is credited to Tim Rogers & The Twin Set), What Rhymes With Cars And Girls - and it is a million miles away from the sound of You Am I. In fact, it would not be too inaccurate a description to call it, at first listening, a purist "country" album. Not "new country" or Jayhawks/Wilco style country pop, more like 'Tamworth tailored, dirt track, great expanse of nothingness' country music, steeped in a late hour front bar singalong sensibility. Quite confronting in the unexpected choice of form, but quite disappointing in its ordinary, predictable sound. Let's face it - the disc is only marginally interesting aurally because Tim Rogers shouldn't sound like this!

The album opens with the sound of a small pub crowd chatting through the opening fiddle intro to Bushell And A Peck - a lazy instrumental which sets the mood for what is to follow. Unfortunately the crowd chat does not abate throughout the track, inadvertently setting up what is the likely listening scenario for many. The music will not distract you enough to tune into the words, which, as always with Rogers' songs, are often witty and engaging - but also marred by an annoying self awareness.

"Let's start again", he suggests at the beginning of You've Been So Good To Me So Far, as he begins strumming his trusty acoustic gee-tar and taking off into a rather pedestrian tune which, nevertheless, does, whilst name checking Joni Mitchell (and forcing comparisons between these two wordsmiths), still raise a very interesting question: "If I've been such a lightweight, why can't I just be blown away from who you are?" He is declaring his hand, trumpeting his self-belief yet also recognizing his status comes from the relatively lightweight world of pop. He is also challenging us all - a la an Emperor's New Clothes pisstake - to knock him for his achievements. Criticise him, he implies, and you criticise yourself - it was you put him on the pedestal in the first place.

Melancholy tunes abound throughout the disc, rich in recurring references to drinking binges and running away from personal disasters. I Left My Heart All Over The Place sees him bemoaning "what a whining sack of shit" he is. The next track warns us away again: "You just don't want to get too close to this guy ..." because he's "... never really been that good with friends." This predilection for self loathing doesn't seem to stop him from having his fair share of trysts and encounters with the ladies of the road. Not that these women would be bragging about being eulogised in Rogers' songs - Arse Kickin' Lady From The Northwest describes the female in question as "[breezing through his] hotel room like an interstate truck in the rain". Hardly a flattering simile! Sadly, this song, which starts off well enough, suffers from too many Americanisms and stateside allusions which detract from its humor.

Happy Anniversary is one of the tracks that does work. A shuffling rhythm track and lines like :"Take me out and get me well shickered/ For all the promises I've never delivered ", don't suggest a great deviation from the common theme, but this song is reminiscent of Paul Westerberg at his most introspective. It would sit right at home on Tim by The Replacements.

What Rhymes ... meanders along until the last two tracks which go some way to redeeming the whole package. Both Hi, We're the Support Band and The Songs They Played As I Drove Away are rich in insight and pathos. "We're the support band - we come cheap", he declares with vitriol in the former, and the words, which anyone who has played live would empathise with, fit the bland tune perfectly in this case. The descriptions of the regional audiences who heckle the support bands, and the appalling conditions of the venues described are both sad and simultaneously incredibly funny. This penultimate tune is itself the perfect support act for the album's headliner: "The Songs They Played As I Drove Away".

Rogers saves the best until last and tries to put the whole album into some sort of context for the, by now, very confused listener. The final track shows his total understanding of the Australian country genre as well as making a pointed criticism of radio in this country and its failure to get behind his work with You Am I. Disguised as a simple song about a man running away from the traumas of a relationship breakdown, the song tracks a troubled, broken hearted retreat by car across the vast empty expanse of outback New South Wales. The journey is made more painful through the accompanying radio soundtrack. The driver has to listen to radio staples such as Cold Chisel & Neil Diamond and endure listeners winning cash prizes, providing a clear counterpoint between his misery and their happiness, as he moves farther and farther away from the source of his troubles. All he wants is to hear something lively, like Rock And Roll Allnite by Kiss, in order to bring him out of his funk but instead is forced to believe that the "radio jockey [is trying to kill him]". Indeed, he still has 270 kilometres to go when he confronts the fact that "that fucker is going to make me pay".

This album will never be regarded as a classic of its form. It does not really hold up against his work with You Am I in any way, and whilst it has its moments of insight and humor, these are too few and far between to lift it out of its overall mediocrity. Rogers has taken this whole project far too seriously. He has made an error of judgement in his choice of style - it is too hackneyed and has been parodied far too frequently to convince anyone of his sincerity. As a result, What Rhymes With... fails on too many levels.

Yet, in its failure, it succeeds in joining the ranks of those inglorious experiments of the other rock icons mentioned earlier - so maybe Tim Rogers will have the last laugh. An album to forget but a defining step towards a hallowed place in the pantheon of rock mythology?

Copyright © 1999 Ken Grady e-mail address

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