Ah, the mind 90s. An amazing time for Australian music. Possibly the best era ever. Or maybe that’s just the rose coloured view of someone who was at their new music consumption peak at that time. In fact, I’d say at least 50% of the music I still listen to today was released between 1995 and 2000. Not something to be proud of, just a fact. But for all my obsession with the Australian alternative scene of the time, with bands like Regurgitator, Spiderbait and Custard, I always resented the rise of You Am I.
Before I heard any of their music, I was put off by the op-shop suits, flared trousers and obvious put on swagger of front man, Tim Rogers. Because they were from Brisbane, The Gurge and Custard were the local Queensland boys making it big. Even though they were a Melbourne band, Spiderbait’s tiny town origins gave them a bratty, punky edge. But You Am I always just seemed so ‘Melbourne’ in all the worst, pretentiously ‘cool’ ways.
But as the years went on, I’d see a snippet of them at a festival as I was wondering past their stage on the way to see another band, catch a solo set by Rogers, hear him collaborate with Tex Perkins, or find myself singing along to one of their hits I’d hated so much when it was released. I don’t know why, but more and more, I’ve found myself increasingly impressed with Rogers as a song writer, guitarist and one of the few remaining genuine article rock dogs Australia still has.
With that in mind, I decided the best place to start with their catalogue was the closest thing they ever had to a commercial breakthrough, 1996’s Hourly Daily.
For a band who made their name with big, loud, explosive live shows, the opening, title track of Hourly Daily is surprisingly restrained, just Rogers’ vocals, an acoustic guitar, some light strings and a piano. He has an impressive rock growl, but vocals have never been his strong suit. Yet this song proves Rogers can bring a surprisingly earnest and raw emotion to something a little quieter.
Next up are Good Mornin’, Mr Milk and Soldiers, three hits from back in the day that epitomise my evolving distain to appreciation of the band as a whole. All three were songs I swore I hated as a teenager, but all three are great rockers that sum up everything I like about You Am I now. Simple, three piece rock, the odd harmony, and catchy choruses. And if you can resist joining in on the “woo woos” in Mr Milk, you must really hate life.
Tuesday is a song I hated in ’96, and I really don’t like hearing it again today. But my reasons have changed. 18 years ago, it was the awkward, stilted first section that put me off. Now, it’s the faux Beatles sound they attempt but really don’t attain.
If We Can’t Get it Together has the kind of country twang combined with heart broken lyrics that made Wilco get noticed five years later. It’s followed by Flag Fall $1,80, one of the most upbeat, cheerful and fun songs I’ve ever heard the band play. They’re good in isolation, but the juxtaposition of these two songs and their conflicting tones make them both sound even better.
That kind of black and white contrast works well again when the out of key rocked vocals of Wally Raffles leads directly into the very un rock n’ roll strings and melancholia of Heavy Comfort.
With Baby Clothes, You Am I kicks out a proper 70s jam, complete with hand claps and horn section. But it’s also around this stage when the album starts to wear a little thin. At 15 tracks, Hourly Daily is long. And when perfectly acceptable, but B-side level, songs like Someone Else’s Home or Please Don’t Ask Me Smile pop up, the length of the album really becomes apparent. And that general unnecessary feel continues right through til album closer, Who Takes Who Home? None of them are bad songs, just inessential when what comes before hits all the same notes, only better.
I should also note that You Am I is more than just Tim Rogers. In the days of Hourly Daily, when they were a three piece, they didn’t just rely on lopping guitar part over guitar part over guitar part to fill out the sound. Andy Kent does a great job on bass and backing vocal harmonies to not just support Rogers, but build on it. His bass lines rarely just follow the guitar progressions, they have their own little melodies.
And Rusty Hopkinson’s drumming is exactly what you want in this kind of rock. Always tight, always driving, flashy when it needs to be, almost lost in the background when required.
Finally giving them the chance they more than deserved all those years ago makes me realise I was mostly wrong about You Am I and Hourly Daily. But at the same time, it’s not gonna find its way into regular rotation when I’m listening to music. The singles, like Good Mornin’ and Mr Milk, are still great, but I’ve known that for a while now. The deep album cuts are better than I ever would have given them credit for in 1996, but still not the kind of mind blowers to make completely flip for the band today.