A horrible hack

Dark Blue

Red White And Dark Blue

Year Released: 2016
Format: LP
Label: Adagio830
 
Reviewed by Alex Hannan on Aug 16, 2017
DARK BLUE's hallmark on this collection is a studied juxtaposition of machismo and expressiveness - it's played out relentlessly in the musical style, much of which consists of pub-rock and oi!-rooted tunes decked out with blurry, swooning guitar textures and poised baritone vocals. "Vicious romance" opens the album with a textbook example. Other tracks adopt a VELVETS / MARY CHAIN narcotic repetition with extensive guitar noise and feedback. It works well as an album considering that it's a collection of three singles with a couple of extra tracks, primarily a Euro release, which filled the gap between the band's first and second albums.

A nose through guitarist / vocalist John Sharkey III's band family tree sets out certain patterns that influence what they're doing now. He's a former member of CLOCKCLEANER and 9 SHOCKS TERROR, who both earned something of a rep for provocation. The latter band's love for firecrackers and other shock tactics evolved into the former's slot supporting NEGATIVE APPROACH, playing a looong, skin crawlingly obnoxious sludge version of "Tied down" to the point of causing audience unrest. DARK BLUE sees him musically mellowed a great deal but still trying to fuck with the listener here and there. The insert's handwritten scrawl and the "USA" badging on the vinyl labels troll the intended German recipients: the insert begins "Well lookie here... Third highest GDP in the world, 2014 World Cup winners and now this; your very own Dark Blue singles collection." And of course, to ram it home, the collection is called "Red, White and Dark Blue."

After "Vicious romance" the rest of the first side follows an almost too slow tempo, almost too much repetition, but it works for them - the effect is immersive but with a hint of antagonism, an edge of tension making you wish you could speed up the tempo a little. "Delco runts" plods in a way that many of the late seventies oi and punk bands do from the viewpoint of a generation that has absorbed waves of faster and faster hardcore since. The insert tracklisting differs from the record after these two. Notions of love and contempt fight it out in the slow swirl of "Just another night with the boys," as Sharkey drawls unenthusiastically "Don't worry, my baby, you're in my mind every day (just not today)." The JOY DIVISION-flecked cover of John Cale's "Hungry for Love", with its minimal-effort romance lyric, fits right in next to it, promising "If you're hungry, hungry for love / See me, come see me 'bout love."

Side B has a re-recording of "Dear Iris" from DARK BLUE's debut album - another lugubriously lofty pop tune - nestling between the two slightly less interesting tracks from their debut single. A-side "Subterranean Man" channels an almost gothy STOOGES energy as Sharkey attacks the words "death in the city" with the most connection you'll find on the album, and then the original flip "Skinhead wedding in Canberra" opens an odd-couple pairing of skinhead-referencing tunes, the first an almost novelty ditty entreating "Skinhead, skinhead, say your vows" and the 4 SKINS cover, "Chaos", resembling a callback to the NEGATIVE APPROACH stunt. Shimmery, wistful, almost dream pop, it straitjackets the blunt lyrics of "chaos, chaos, don't give a toss" in sensitivity and invites a collective "what the fuck is this shit?" from fans of the original song. Here the two flavours don't really mix, as the line "people that we don't beat up we're gonna fucking shoot" nestles autumnally cradled in reverb.

So it's a lush but prickly collection with a distinctive stylistic mix, and some layers of irony to be sifted through. By dialling back the obnoxiousness they've reached an interesting combination of flavour, poison in a pretty pill. There's a certain sense that the band think they're cleverer than their audience, but in a time when post-punk in general is often co-opted to produce slick, empty anthems it's good to see some depth and complexity injected into the mix.


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