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Record Reviews

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.

+

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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LaxCharisma  said about 4 years ago:

No...OK. I'll do it now.


LaxCharisma  said about 4 years ago:

Awesome. More praise for Rowland. More! More! MORE!


labrish  said about 3 years ago:

Just figured out the bassline to Pop Crimes. Today, I am a genius.


LaxCharisma  said about 3 years ago:

There is a 7'' of Golden Age Of Bloodshed (coloured red vinyl) available for pre-order from JB-HiFi...

Unreleased B-Side.


angelicIV  said about 3 years ago:

someone linked rowland s howard with sea peoples on that site lastfm and that's prolly a bit of an honour. thanks whoever did that. lots of genius in melbourne. these guys are the reason art rock and melbourne are the one word. they were and still are the whole inspiration of being in music in melbs cos when we were kids in the 80s melbourne music was really intellectual...and still can be. i was like oh man these guys are all sooooo smart.


pfinger18  said about 3 years ago:

There's a lovely photo of Rowland in Photofile. And an awsesome photo of Iggy Pop Crowd-walking.


Morris Iemma  said about 3 years ago:

LaxCharisma said about 1 month ago:
There is a 7'' of Golden Age Of Bloodshed (coloured red vinyl) available for pre-order from JB-HiFi...
Unreleased B-Side.

OYG! I support this motion.


anonymous  said about 3 years ago:

There's a documentary on Rowland in the works, its just got funding from the Melbourne International Film Festival. (according to the age today)


anonymous  said about 3 years ago:

FESTIVAL BACKS FIVE NEW FILM PROJECTS

THE Melbourne International Film Festival has backed another five projects through its premiere film fund.
...
Richard Lowenstein, Lynne-Marie Milburn and Andrew de Groot are behind AutoLuminescent: Rowland S. Howard, a feature documentary about the late Birthday Party guitarist and songwriter.


spaceman1  said about 3 years ago:

i still need to buy pop crimes. i've been listening to teenage snuff film lately nearly every day lately. silver chain and autoluminescent, in particular. what a sad loss.


Milton Burlap  said about 3 years ago:

can't wait for the doco!!
(but i'll ignore the aforementioned youtubes, thanks).


Texaco  said about 3 years ago:

One of the greatest pleasures I've incurred this year has been playing the two solo albums to people, seeing the ''wow'' on their faces, and then hearing they've not downloaded the albums but bought them.


Texaco  said about 3 years ago:

...and I regret not getting a better photo of the gig at OAF on my phone at the time.


Collingwood  said about 3 years ago:

Hello! We are making a documentary about Rowland S. Howard..can you share archival footage that you may have filed/stored/found somewhere? Format is of no consequence!

All footage is welcome: gig's, interviews, recorded TV spots etc. Send me an email: maya@ghsotfilm.net

thanks and best,
m.


Actionralf  said about 3 years ago:

you spelled the email wrong...


happysnakes  said about 9 months ago:

Starting at $500? Really?

http://cgi.ebay.com.au/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=251349390501

Thoughts, anyone?



Kenickie  said about 9 months ago:

Should of bought this for a hundo when he died.


steveholt  said about 9 months ago:

Ridiculous really. It will eventually be re-issued.

Amazing record and worth every cent mind you.


happysnakes  said about 9 months ago:

yes agreed, it's all a bit silly.


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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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