The small town of Dunedin plays host to a myriad of wonderful groups since the late 1970s, and the Clean seems to sit right at the top of that ladder. In fact, they've released a new record this year, and the Bats have done similarly. Strangely, too - the Verlaines have released a new album via a new independent label, Dunedin Music.
Once upon a time, the Verlaines released an album called Over the Moon through New Zealand's Sony branch. And at last count, about five people own this 1998 CD, and I know one of them. It was quite an interesting record - it kind of crossed the delicateness of 1991's Ready to Fly and the overcooked guitars of Way Out Where. You could feel the glue of tobacco paper seep into the microphone from Graeme Downes's lips during Writing On The Wall when he says, "don't say it's over."
Then the giant wait for Potboiler, released on the Flying Nun label nine years later. I have only played it once. Not feeling terribly game to play it again, it kind of left me stone cold. The ghastly cover doesn't help matters - but then again, Way Out Where has a rather shocking cover as well. Bob Dylan's 1981 LP Shot Of Love looks like Roy Lichtenstein's vomit but it's one cracker of a record. Judge, cover, et cetera.
On a recent trip to Christchurch, I walked into an independent record store to find the just released Verlaines album, Corporate Moronic. This worked out pretty famously as I had not planned to take any music along with me to listen to in the rent-a-car for the return trip to Dunedin. I played this album almost non-stop between both cities, pausing for small periods to listen to some classic AM rock on an FM station.
Every rock band I've grown up with in school have disappointed me in one way or another. Sonic Youth really lost the plot after Experimental, Jet-Set, Trash and No Star. Dinosaur Jr really into the ether after Where You Been? There's countless more examples to lay out, and the Verlaines sadly fall under this disappointment umbrella. I hope for each new Verlaines album to sound better than Bird Dog, and they never do. In hindsight, I guess it's that good after all.
After the departure of Robbie Yeats in 1989/90, and Jane Dodd in 1988, the Verlaines have lost a terrible amount of their poetry and zeal for complex arrangements. Some might just put it down to progress. The Velvets got more and more conventional as the years rolled on, so I guess this isn't anything too scandalous.
But in the case of the Verlaines, and Graeme Downes in particular - the band's leader, musical director, composer, lyricist, vocalist and occasional oboe player, it is as if the band of 2009 have forgotten what made them so beautiful - those countless references to cigarette smoking and pub-drinking is one major loss. And I don't think it's a good loss, either. Downes still finds room for doomed love songs, so not all is removed from the lyrical topics of yore.
Corporate Moronic completely removes itself from the Flying Nun era of 1982-1990, and all that's left is Graeme's voice. Thankfully, it's still in good form. So in today's terms it's Verlaines by name and not by nature.
Perhaps Graeme's moved on, and I haven't? He's already written Slow Sad Love Song, Just Mum, and Baud to Tears once - so why am I wanting another song along these similar lines? Selfishness more than likely.
In modern rock terms, I'd much rather listen to this album than the latest Kings Of Leon offering - so as much as this all seems like a giant whine, I should be grateful that the Verlaines exist at all.