Sometime in the mid 90s, I remember it being huge news that Radio Birdman were reuniting and headlining the Big Day Out. That meant nothing to me, but Triple J and its older listeners got very excited. While that went completely over my 14 or 15 year old head then, the reaction from the people I thought were the cool, alternative, rock taste makers, was too big to ignore. So I picked through a few of the more well known Radio Birdman singles and liked them.
Ever since, they’ve been filed away in the back of my brain as an important band in Aussie rock history. But now, Aussie Week 2 has given me the boot in the ass neeed to give that importance enough respect to actually listen to Radio Birdman and Radios Appear.
By pure virtue of their tempo, I would call What Gives? and Non Stop Girls punk rock. But this isn’t the sloppy, raging punk rock of the Sex Pistols. Or the monotone, 1-2-3-4 punk rock of The Ramones. Or the passionate revolution punk rock of the Clash. This is more in the jangly guitar vein of their Australian contemporaries from the north, The Saints.
Until Do the Pop goes ahead and contradicts what I just said by being a song so Ramones-esuqe, even The Ramones might be tricked into thinking they recorded it, just with a different singer. But then the chorus and shredding guitar solo reveal the rockier sound that Radio Birdman seemed to have at the core of their sound. And it’s more than enough to differentiate themselves from the other 70s punk rockers.
With an almost jazz feel to its piano and wandering bass line, Man With Golden Helmet soon turns into the kind of song that could be on the soundtrack to a 70s rock musical written by Pete Townsend. Then, Descent into the Maelstrom makes me conciously realise that there’s been a slight whiff of surf guitar licks under the surface of much of this album before this. Maelstrom just wears it a little more proudly on its sleave. A pride that will be even more evident in a few tracks when Radios Appear gets to the one and only Radio Birdman tracks I’ve known and loved for years.
And after the three minutes of punk / rock perfection that is New Race (a song it turns out had also already heard before), it’s time for the one and only Radio Birdman track I’ve known and loved for years. A tribute to the TV show Hawaii 5-0 and its main character, Detective Steve McGarrett (complete with a guitar solo emulating the show’s famous theme tune). I can’t think of a single song where there’s a bigger gap between the slightness of subject matter, and the awesome result. Maybe Guttermouth’s Chicken Box comes close.
Slow Anglo Girl Desire down a little, and you’d have a 60s, Easybeats style hit on your hands. It’s a throwback to a simpler time of rock n roll, and that little bit of added Radio Birdman edge suits the style perfectly. All of the previous sounds are perfectly melded as Hand of Law is the best of the punk, the rock, the surf and the pop, all in one song.
Listening to Radios Appear makes it very obvious why Triple J and its older listeners got very excited about Radio Birdman’s reunion back in the mid 90s. Like the afore mentioned Saints, it’s a sign of how ahead of its time the Australian scene was in the 70s. These guys were making music just as progressive as anything happening on the other side of the world that gets all the credit for the punk rock taste making of the 70s.