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Rowland S. Howard
Pop Crimes

Rowland S. Howard’s first album in 10 years is well worth the wait, writes TREVOR BLOCK.

And so, with some discreet fanfare, the new Rowland S. Howard album is finally here. It’s been all of 10 years since his last album, Teenage Snuff Film, and while he certainly hasn’t been idle since, it’s good to have something substantial to back up his recent live performances. In case you were wondering, yes, it’s well worth the wait.

With Mick Harvey (drums) and JP Shilo (bass/violin) backing his own guitar and vocals, Howard creates a series of intimate, stripped-down scenes. The overall effect is not of sparseness, more of a lack of unnecessary ornamentation. Nothing here is superfluous, and the album comes across as an exercise in mature restraint. Every line, every note seems to be precisely what’s needed to move the song along, with no time or energy wasted on needless detail. Having said that, there seems to be a switch built into these songs that Howard hits when the mood takes him. It’s usually around the chorus, where a few accented chords or maybe a key or tempo change lifts the song from the simple to the ornamental. This effect is most noticeable on second track ‘Shut Me Down’. With a touch of echo and some ringing guitar leading into the chorus (“I’m standing in a suit/As ragged as my nerves”) the mood changes from ’60s spy movie theme to something altogether richer, almost reminiscent of classic girl-group pop.

Howard doesn’t mince words either, as the dense imagery of the title track attests (“I guess that I won’t see you tomorrow”/On this, our planet of perpetual sorrows”). There’s no dumbing down here, and the effect is anything but po-faced. Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood may be part of the inspiration behind ‘(I Know A Girl Called) Jonny’ (a duet with HTRK’s Jonnine Standish), but it’s hard to imagine Sinatra singing about putting her fingers in Hazlewood’s mouth.

“Every line, every note seems to be precisely what’s needed to move the song along, with no time or energy wasted on needless detail.”

In keeping with its biblical origins (“Blessed art thou among women”), ‘Ave Maria’ is an aching love song, albeit one about love found, recognised and subsequently lost. Incidentally, ‘Wayward Man’ gives some pointers to the sort of behaviour that would cause any woman to walk out: “I do all my best thinking/Unconscious on the floor.”

There are two covers included here. Howard’s take on Talk Talk’s ‘Life’s What You Make It’ is an amazing bass-heavy monster that fits in with the tone of the album perfectly. In addition to being an excellent track in its own right, it does what a good cover version should: it shows the original in a new light and stamps a degree of personal ownership on the song. Also included here is ‘Nothin’, a strangely bitter and sardonic lament originally recorded by hard-living singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

The album closes with the storming ‘The Golden Age Of Bloodshed’, which is full of graveyard wit and includes an updated list of bad omens to watch for: Catholic girls with Uzis, saints surrounded by chemical halos and “a harsh new brand of aftershave, that gives you that thousand yard stare”. As always, salvation is possible through the love of a woman.

It’s worth mentioning that Pop Crimes comes beautifully packaged, on CD and vinyl, with excellent photos by Kes Band’s Karl Scullin, among others, and a wardrobe credit for Howard to boot.

I have been listening to this man for 30 years now. And despite the 10-year gap between albums, this collection is not a return to form. He’s never lost it.

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Pop Crimes is out now through Liberation Records.

  -   Published on Friday, October 16 2009 by Trevor Block.
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Your Comments

JunkiePhil  said about 4 years ago:

Vinyl out now?


SpringRain  said about 4 years ago:

i think i read it's out on monday. can't wait to hear it....


kuroneko  said about 4 years ago:

Same here. Can't wait to get my mitts on a copy of this album.


juice_terry  said about 4 years ago:

Wasn't shut you down on Snuff Film as well?


SpringRain  said about 4 years ago:

best place to get it in sydney (vinyl)? will repressed have it?


SpringRain  said about 4 years ago:

Wasn't shut you down on Snuff Film as well?

yeah an old recording came as a bonus track on a re-issue didn't it?


shaun  said about 4 years ago:

Repressed will probably have it. If nic.rulz is working ask him what he thinks of RSH :)


SpringRain  said about 4 years ago:

do i have to say 'hey are you nic.rulz?' that would be embarrassing


Ben  said about 4 years ago:

it's out!

such good news


juice_terry  said about 4 years ago:

Shut you down my original vinyl of Snuff.

10 years and all im in for are new songs and some covers!


LaxCharisma  said about 4 years ago:

Oh boy....can't wait to get this.


anonymous  said about 4 years ago:

3/5 in the smh today.


juice_terry  said about 4 years ago:

I'll stop wingeing now but I ment to write:

5 new songs and 2 covers


SpringRain  said about 4 years ago:

but 'life is what you make it' was amazing at atp. can't wait to hear it again


LaxCharisma  said about 4 years ago:

IS it just me or do the b/w posters for the Sydney (and I guess everywhere else) shows make Rowland look a hell of a lot like Johnny Thunders.


Ash-showoff  said about 4 years ago:

Yes!


JunkiePhil  said about 4 years ago:

They have it on LP at missing LINK.
$30 with a CD copy and a poster.
YES!


Ash-showoff  said about 4 years ago:

Excellent article / interview with Rowland in this week's Inpress...


Ash-showoff  said about 4 years ago:

They have it on LP at missing LINK.
$30 with a CD copy and a poster.

Shit. That's good!


Block  said about 4 years ago:

JunkiePhil said 2 minutes ago:
They have it on LP at missing LINK.
$30 with a CD copy and a poster.

CD copy or a download code, JP?


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monkeyman  said 4 days ago:

Greville Records posted on Facebook that they got a few copies in yesterday, but get in quick.


steveholt  said 3 days ago:

Can't imagine the Fat Possum version is going to be all that hard to get when it is released.


nexus  said 3 days ago:

i just got my copies from greville. BTW greville have quite a few copies of ADalita's first record if anyone didn't get theirs.


chrowens  said 3 days ago:

I wonder what the reaction would be if independent record stores charged $80+ for this... that's a pretty reasonable price considering the flipping on ebay. It's clear the demand is there, if you can't increase the quantity, increase the price.


nexus  said 3 days ago:

It certainly encourages the indie stores to at least squirrel away a few extra copies and wait until its all sold out and then sell them online in a year's time. And I wouldn't blame them for the hassle factor.

I wonder if TSH will get re-released given the way we all have to be pigeons to bread crumbs on it. Of course it will be limited if they do, which as if they didn't do for the first two pressings.


alec m  said 3 days ago:

Ebay scammers, record collectors. What a wank.


Adrian-Ronalds  said 3 days ago:

If you press more than 500 copies at a time it's gonna completley fuck the re-sale value


nic.rulz  said 3 days ago:

Fat Possum are releasing this record in a month or so as stated above. I'd imagine them keeping it in print and afford for a long time like they have done with Townes Van Zandt, Tav Faclo and even T-Rex re-issues. Any stores/individuals hoarding this record to sell on will be disappointed.


turkey_sandwich  said 3 days ago:

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


Tamu  said 3 days ago:

I spoke to liberation early last year about this and they told me they had no intention of reissuing it.

Doesn't make any sense to me... and for less the price it would cost them to do massive runs of Jimmy Barnes albums only to sit there in $10 JB HiFi bins for 3 years or more. (excuse my naivety but that's where I see his albums these days)

I don't even care about the money side of their label though, I just hate that they are enabling the collector scumbags that will sell a second hand album with a price tag to suggest they made it themselves.

Glad that Fat Possum took the stand.


QuallOfDuty  said 3 days ago:

Did anyone else order this through JB? I have a feeling that they are going to tell me they don't have any copies.


nubody  said 3 days ago:

I suspect that what we are dealing with here are crimes pertaining to popular music culture. Very well, these pop crimes and their perpetrators cannot be stopped. One of the pressing issues of our time.


nexus  said 3 days ago:

If you press more than 500 copies at a time it's gonna completley fuck the re-sale value

Who cares though? It's already what the second or third pressing anyway? Fuck the collectors who have no interest but buy for investment.

I don't even care about the money side of their label though, I just hate that they are enabling > the collector scumbags that will sell a second hand album with a price tag to suggest they > > made it themselves.

Exactly. Fine do your limited edition bright orange edition but i'm happy for just a plain ole black vinyl at an affordable price eg no more than $35 so i can play and enjoy.

I wonder if this means TSF wil be out on vinyl on yet another bloody limited pressing (the third pressing given not long after he died they went and did another limited 500 pressing. It screws over the indie stores and the fans. Places like JB will get first priority on numbers. I was talking to the very lovely dude at Greville today about that.


dimestorehood  said 3 days ago:

nexus i reckon you are spot on. as the owner of one of those TSF reissues, the only thing its rarity adds is that it feels somewhat ''special'' to play/own it, with the awareness that it's hard to come by. would never sell it.


steveholt  said 3 days ago:

I'm sure if the indie stores felt so strongly about it you wouldn't see copies being sold around the traps for $400.

Anyone stupid enough buying a $35 record for that amount deserves to be ripped off I reckon.

The way things are with vinyl now there will be re-issue after re-issue in time.


geneclark70  said 3 days ago:

Has anyone compared this new pressing to the original? The new one's supposed to mastered at Pallas in Germany and sound uber schmick, and I don't remember the original vinyl sounding that great tbh.


seahunt  said 2 days ago:

I just bought this at Rockinghorse in Brisbane for $34.95.


QuallOfDuty  said 2 days ago:

There's 2 or 3 copies still available at Greville Records, will probably be gone by the end of the day. Give me a call and they'll put one aside.


QuallOfDuty  said 2 days ago:

Give em* a call


tigers  said 2 days ago:

1 or 2 left at Title Brunswick


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Tracklisting
  • 1.   (I Know A Girl Called) Jonny
  • 2.   Shut Me Down
  • 3.   Life’s What You Make It
  • 4.   Pop Crimes
  • 5.   Nothin’
  • 6.   Wayward Man
  • 7.   Ave Maria
  • 8.   The Golden Age Of Bloodshed
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