In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “One of the most seminal Australian albums of the 90s.”
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Regurgitator’s Unit might be one of the most seminal Australian albums of the 90s. That might seem like I’m getting a little carried away when it comes to a slight, half hour record of what could easily (and lazily) be dismissed as pop pastiche. But it was a stand out, major moment during an era of major moments for alternative, Australian rock. Regurgitator had become festival headlining, local favourites thanks to a series of increasingly alt-radio popular EPs, and their first full length record, Tu-Plang. They could have churned out another set of punky, hip hop infused, experimental rock, and everyone would have been happy. Instead, they took what was a heavily maligned, easy target genre, and went further than just embracing it. They became it, while still sounding totally true to themselves, with Unit.
Unloading with both barrels by opening with the Ben Ely penned I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff, it’s a concern common to every band who’s ever had to release a sophomore album after a well received debut. But here, Regurgitator didn’t just slightly stray from their expected path. They did a complete 180 from the sounds of the Tu-Plang, and announced it loud and proud with the 80s synth of Old Stuff working as both a declaration of their declaration to do whatever they wanted, and a s middle finger to anyone who wasn’t on board with it.
Everyday Formula might be more in the vein of typical 90s alt rock, but its metal riffing was still brought into the retro Unit vibe courtesy of its brilliant Tron inspired music video. Hearing it, knowing that video exists, the artificial pop vibe is still clearly there, beneath the crunching guitars.
I remember hearing an interview with Ely and guitarist Quan Yeomans right before this album came out, and they were worried that ! (The Song Formerly Known As) might be seen as more of a piss take of Prince than a tribute. But hearing it now, after the countless listens over the last (almost) two decades, the love and awe for its inspiration is too obvious for it to ever sound disrespectful. This is pure adoration.
A song about video games from the birth of the arcade, that sounds like the soundtrack to a video game from the birth of the arcade, Black Bugs is Ben Ely at his most Ben Ely. Punk simplicity, pop perfect melody and ear wormily infectious. Yeomans then gets back in front of the mic for the darkly, demented twist on the Beatles that is World of Sleaze. A sound that works just as well later on Unit closer, Just Another Beautiful Story.
But it’s not all slick perfection. I Piss Alone is the kind of punk rock assault that dares you to just listen to, let alone like it. It’s a dare I’ve taken hundreds of times over the years and never regretted. It’s also a title challenged later by Ely’s gloriously chaotic, primitively lo fi and perfectly out of tune1234. With its hard core, electro rap aesthetic, I Will Lick Your Asshole might seem like something more at home on Tu-Plang, but even with its hard core, electro rap aesthetic, it still sounds like a hard core, electro rapper from the mid 90s travelled back in time to have his music produced in the early 80s.
As the third and final act of Unit begins, it produces it’s two most idiosyncratic songs, that also work as a perfect representation of the record at the same time. Modern Life is pure Ely guitar driven pop/punk, while Yeomans’ Polyester Girl is possibly the most 80s moment on a record full of 80s moments.
Sure, I’ve dedicated way too many words to why I love every single song on this record, but why do I think Unit might be one of the most seminal Australian albums of the 90s? It’s so important, because it showed that the band could totally reinvent themselves, not because they wanted to chase chart success and album (or “unit”, if you will) sales, but because they were real artists looking for real growth. And the really surprising part is, Unit actually did result in chart success and album sales. All of that, plus in 2016, it’s still just holds up as a brilliant album from top to bottom.