Triffids - Beautiful Waste and Other Songs

The Triffids along with Nick Cave and the Go-Betweens formed part of an “unholy trinity”, who helped to transform attitudes to Antipodean rock music during the course of the 1980s. The group, whose tireless output and substantial critical acclaim throughout the decade was never fully replicated by their commercial success; began recording demo tapes in their home city of Perth, Australia as early as 1978. However, it was not until August 1984 when the band decided to travel to London, armed with only a small amount of savings and five return plane tickets; that the bands international career began in earnest. The band led by songwriter and enigmatic front-man David McComb had given themselves three months to make inroads in the UK, the band were soon gaining a reputation as a formidable and unpredictable live act and quickly became darlings of the UK music press; appearing on NME’s first front cover of 1985 accompanied with the prediction that the year would represent “The year of the Triffids”.

Released as part of Domino records series commemorating the 25th anniversary of The Triffids first U.K releases, ‘Beautiful Waste and other songs’ is a collection chronicling the bands “Mini-Masterpieces” recorded during the early years (1983-1985) of their career in the UK. All of which makes for a highly interesting introduction to one of the great lost acts of the eighties. This collection showcases The Triffids early work as confident, imaginative and laudable. Listening to the first seven tracks (originally released in 1984 on the ‘Raining Pleasure’ mini-album), it is easy to see why the band were quickly feted by journalists of the day. McComb’s lyrical prowess is in evidence throughout and the songs themselves are cleverly constructed with touches of edginess and angst. Much of the material found on this collection is from an assortment of E.P’s and mini-album releases and is therefore perhaps representative of a band who were gradually finding their feet in the studio. The tracks contained on ‘Raining Pleasure’ represent something of a musical haberdashery featuring nods to a host of musicians. Whilst it is clear that contemporary luminaries such as Echo and The Bunnymen, considerably influenced elements of The Triffids punkier moments (‘Embedded’ and ‘Property is Condemned’ are brilliantly aggressive moments which showcase the band at their most belligerent); the band were influenced by a diverse array of artists and evidence of the bands love of sixties soul, Dylan and even touches of jazz can be heard in their early material.

The band were also renowned appreciators of country music and this influence was indulged to a considerable degree on their 1984 collection ‘Lawson Square Infirmary’, which saw The Triffids collaborate with Sydney based songwriter James Paterson. The tracks contained on this E.P, showcased a subtler side to McComb’s songwriting and although ‘Lawson Square Infirmary’ was mostly conceived as something of a throwaway side-project, it contained material of such quality that it was worthy of comparisons with sixties singer-songwriters such as Dylan and Gram Parsons. It was also the first Triffids release to feature the delicate pedal-steel touches of ‘Evil’ Graham Lee, who was soon to become an integral part of the increasingly disparate sound adopted by the band later in their career.

Seemingly energised by incessant touring and numerous festival appearances, the summer of 1985 saw the band collaborate with producer Gil Norton on what represents the most fully focussed and invigorated material contained on this collection (taken from the ‘Field of Glass’ E.P). The influence of the Bunnymen once again looms large, this is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that Norton had worked with the Bunnymen prior to producing The Triffids and that the groups had also toured together extensively through the course of the previous year. McComb’s vocal tones now sound fully realised and it is almost as if he has been possessed by the ghost of Jim Morrison when compared to the more reserved vocals adopted on to their earlier material. Indeed, it is almost as if the band increasingly comfortable in the recording studio; were now playing with an unprecedented intensity reflective of their reputation as a dynamite live act. It was around this time that the band and Norton collaborated on the album ‘Born Sandy Devotional’, which at the time was described by McComb himself in unequivocal terms as “unquestionably the best thing we’ve ever done” and contained the band’s biggest cross-over hit in the shape of the yearning ballad ‘Wide Open Road’.

This brief taste of charting success was unfortunately as good as it got in commercial terms for the band. Despite further collaborations with Norton and equally esteemed producer Stephen Street, further commercial success eluded the band and following the release of 1989’s sprawling opus ‘The Black Swan’ decided to split up. Following McComb’s untimely death in 1999, interest in The Triffid’s work has been resurrected due to Domino’s decision to re-release the bands considerable back catalogue and the campaigning of Graham Lee to ensure that his friend and band-mates legacy as one of the greatest songwriters Australia has produced is recognised. This collection represents a fine introduction to a band that sadly slipped beneath the radar.