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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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geneclark70  said about 2 months 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 about 2 months ago:

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


QuallOfDuty  said about 2 months 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 about 2 months ago:

Give em* a call


tigers  said about 2 months ago:

1 or 2 left at Title Brunswick


nexus  said about 2 months ago:

Well I'm one of those who got on a back up list of a pre order with no guarantees so I headed to Grenville and got one last week, and sure enough I did get the pre order. I have to pick it up still but anyone didn't get one and still interested? I'm waiting to hear back from a friend who gets first dibs. Of course I am not flipping this for anything but what I paid for and you'd have to come get it (inner city) and pay in cash.


HEB  said about 2 months ago:

Fat Possum vinyl for less than AUD$35? (including delivery to you)
eBay
Juno website


nexus  said about 1 month ago:

Well i got my pre order - it's the red vinyl. If anyone wants it - it's the same price i paid $35, PM me


nic.rulz  said about 1 month ago:

Heads up Repressed Records will be getting the Fat Possum edition of Pop Crimes, I'd say somewhere between the $25 - $30 mark. Probably closer to $25. It won't be here for a couple of weeks as we're waiting for the Lydia Lunch & Rowland S Howard - Shotgun Wedding LP to be re-issued. Plus there's a bunch of other releases out that week that'll ship: Crime, Peter Jefferies, Pallbearer, Connections, Heldon, Bridgitte Fontaine etc.


mirkheim  said about 1 month ago:

from Rowland's wikipedia page:

Howard's second solo album, Pop Crimes, was released in October 2009 to acclaim from the > musician Robert Forester.

Gee, I'm glad Forester liked it


blacklight  said about 1 month ago:

So when is Rowland's novel finally gonna get published?

I've been trying to help make this happen for a while. Hopefully it will emerge from Genevieve's drawer before 2050.



shiroineko  said about 1 month ago:

So when is Rowland's novel finally gonna get published?
I've been trying to help make this happen for a while. Hopefully it will emerge from Genevieve's drawer before 2050.

Have you had a read of it? What's it like?


__v  said about 1 month ago:

djbollocks  said about 1 month ago:

Victor Brasilia  said about 1 month ago:

$180? Fuck me.


mule  said about 1 month ago:

it'll be worth 500 almost instantly after purchase


registradus  said about 1 month ago:

fuck. want.


tigers  said about 1 month ago:

Does anyone know if the version of Some Velvet Morning with Lydia Lunch was included on any soundtracks or compilations in the 90s? I seem to recall hearing it on some kind of mix thing... unless I'm recalling a mix tape someone gave me.


HEB  said about 1 month ago:

tigers asked

Does anyone know if the version of Some Velvet Morning with Lydia Lunch was included on any soundtracks or compilations in the 90s?

Yes
It was included on Lydia Lunch's own 1998 soundtrack/compilation Widowspeak {which is still available via Amazon US}
(...and also on the various CD reissues of Honeymoon In Red)


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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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