In the 90s, indie, guitar rock dominated Australia’s youth radio station, Triple J. From what I can tell, the Js were similar to what Americans mean when the talk about college radio. It was a time when music festivals were also dominated by guitars, with anything dance, hip hop or electronica put on some niche, out of the way stage. In those years, I must have seen Brisbane’s slacker rock kings Custard at least two dozen times. In a boom time for Aussie alternative music, they were a stand out. Then, around the turn of the millennium, it all turned to shit and they dissolved.
In the years since, front man Dave McCormack has fronted several other bands and popped up as a solo artist. But he’s always remained ‘Dave from Custard’. And over those years, their four or five records in my possession have remained on steady rotation in my life. So when Custard’s first album in 16 years was announced, I was excited. When a small tour to support it was also announced, I was even more excited. I caught their live show, and it was one of those rare occasions when the new songs were just as entertaining as the classics. Which is why I dove head first, with high hopes, into Come Back, All is Forgiven.
Never scared of quieter moments or embracing the odd country music affectation, the opening pair of the sombre Orchids in Water and the western ramble of We Are the Parents Our Parents Warned Us About are exactly what you want from a band returning from a long hiatus. Plenty of familiar sounds, themes and quirks, with obvious signs of growing, changing and evolving during their time off.
Form it’s awkwardly a Capella intro that could be a throw away novelty in the hands of anyone else, If You Would Like To turns into the kind of twee punk rock that only a band like Custard and a singer like McCormack can pull off. When it rolls into 1990s (including a shout out to my home town Toowoomba!), I realise how endearing Dave’s breaking voice has always been. Not quite reaching a note has always worked for him. And that’s only increasingly true with the more weathered tone he’s rocking these days.
Maybe it’s my own Queensland origins and familiarity with so many of the landmarks of their world, but I’ve always loved the surface level, literal writing in Custard’s lyrics. When Come Back, All id Forgiven presents a song about the mundanity of domestic bliss and watching The Voice, it makes a song like Queensland University seem all the more true and genuine. Like Dave gently croons in Factual, “I write songs based on my life. The funny thing is, they’re based on my real life… I change things sometimes, but mostly, it’s real.”
Look, I am fully aware of the rose coloured glasses through which I looked at this record and this band. Custard had too much of an impact on my formative live music years for me to ever be totally subjective. But I do know for a fact that I loved seeing these new songs performed live, and that they lost none of their appeal hearing them on Come Back, All is Forgiven. Dave McCormack still has a knack for a turn of phrase, and Custard still know how to write indie rock with killer pop hooks.