We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We can’t help it. We all think we know best. Mark Seymour has a new album, UNDERTOW. Eleven songs and what I call the Australian coastal sound, a four-piece-matter-of-fact-guitar band, like Richard Clapton meets Jackson Brown at a car park above a beach with breaking surf. When The Kings Of Leon turn fifty this is what they might sound like.
Mark is an athlete; he looks bummed some days, like when he hasn’t run a sub-four-minute mile. His career is built upon constant gigging. He reminds me of Joe Strummer in that he makes things happen by strength of will. Seymour sings some deep shit. UNDERTOW begins with Castlemaine with the singer asking the listener, “Good people please indulge me, and a story I must tell. For I’m fresh back from the famine, I’ve seen the rings of hell.” Mark Seymour has always been a folk singer. He sings this tale of the depression era with more credibility than most.
No faux Irish accents, instead walls of harmonies and chiming guitars. Listeners love indulging their singers, it’s the next best thing to being their Facebook friend. The opening couplet to Sometimes I wonder if I know too much about you: “Was that your car in the driveway of the half house down the end of the road?” The album is imbued with some fine cinematic lines. Little Bridges is an uplifting lament about families and looking for god, redemption or finding some path in life that you find bearable. Much of the album features a secular Elvis In Memphis CCR groove.
The musicianship and balance is the best of his career. Speaking of which, Sylvia is as good as Running On Empty. The chorus does a double-leap with banks of graceful sweeping harmonies. “Ride on, no expectation, Ride on, no destination, she won’t be back, Sylvia’s in black”. I was momentarily worried that Sylvia might be in a sack, but Mark’s a lover not a fighter. The Legend of the snowmen is a folk-rocker that declares better the devil you know than the rest of the fiends out there. Eldorado is a rocker with a conscience. Mark is monitoring his paranoia levels, worrying about casinos, cops, refugees and the whole never-ending space and time conspiracy thing.
Cry In The Rain has a classic set of chords with Mark at his sermonizing best. As usual, there will be differing opinions on this song. People either love or hate this aspect of Marks’ sound. Another way of explaining it is by saying that the AFL will be all over this song; Andrew Demetrio will be making notes in his gold-plated iPad. Classrooms and Kitchens is all snares played with brushes and fine guitar picking. It’s a ditty about living in the country, featuring a scrumptious guitar solo. It could be a song for his mother? It could also not be. The Red Lady’s Gone is a stock country rocker about a boy and his car.
It’s like Lee Kernighan but with sincerity. Mark Seymour is a petrol-head. One More Ride is a country weepie for when bars are closed or closing. I’d like to hear Jerry Lee Lewis singing this. One more ride, chance, or root? Only Mark knows. The Patsy closes UNDERTOW. It appears to be a song about what happens when you use focus groups to make your decisions.
Mark could be kicking back, collapsed on the couch acting gaga. Unless I am much mistaken, he’s not. Music is his “thing”, despite the fact that means starting the whole sordid business over yet again. If Mark didn’t want to be here, he’d be somewhere else. He has a kaleidoscope of experiences to draw upon. UNDERTOW is arguably his finest album.