Where they’ve come from is academic; it’s where Fast Cars are now that counts. The onetime ‘80s Sydney mod-power-pop band has been a creative duo since reforming in 2015, working on opposite sides of the globe. “LAX” suggests distance only makes the creative muse all that much stronger.
“LAX” is what people used to call a “concept album” - back when single song downloads weren’t the staple currency of the musical economy. I know what you’re thinking: Concept equals Pretentious. Wrong. “LAX” stays well away from that precipice. It’s 12 songs of classy psych pop, alternately dreamy and lush, occasionally funky or wrapped in strings, and framed loosely on the theme of seeking your dreams in a big city.
“LAX” is also a Dropbox record. Dropbox is the cloud app that’s become stock-in-trade for projects like this. With vocalist-guitarist Di Levi based in Bristol, UK, and guitarist-songwriter Fabian Byrne living in Sydney, Australia, the swapping of ideas, sketches, recorded parts and, ultimately, fleshed-out songs, had to occur online.
Brian Henry Hooper being attended to by his angels, his nurses. Carbie Warbie photo.
Four weeks ago Brian Hooper lay in intensive care, surrounded by family and his closest friends. The tumour doctors had found on Hooper’s lung just before Christmas was preventing Hooper from breathing without medical and mechanical assistance. Specialists suggested the even Hooper’s short-term survival was in the realm of miracles.
It wasn’t the first time Brian Henry Hooper had been told to fear the worst. Just over 14 years ago Hooper was told by specialists he may never walk again, after the balcony he was standing on at a gathering in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula collapsed, sending Hooper crashing to the ground, his back mangled from the fall.
Over the next 12 months, Hooper pulled himself back from the edge of permanent paralysis. Hooper’s resilience and psychological strength astounded all around him. In late 2004 Hooper limped back on stage with the Beasts of Bourbon for a gig at the Greyhound Hotel. Towards the end of the set, his battered spine unable to withstand the trauma of standing any longer, Hooper lay on the ground. His bandmates, save for Tony Pola on drums, followed suit, three battle-hardened rockers lying prostrate on the stage in sympathy for their comrade-in-arms.
It’s 14 years since the last Celibate Rifles release, the accomplished studio effort “Beyond Respect”, so this one’s timely. It’s the third live album in the Rifles’ 39-year history and a departure of sorts.
If you expected trademark explosive guitar from the outset (a la “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) adjust your expectations. “Meeting the Mexicans” - the title refers to playing to people in Melbourne - is from a half-electric/half acoustic gig at the Thornbury Theatre in Victoria in mid 2017. The first half is the Cellies mostly unplugged, with the full-blown configuration front-and-centre for the last five tracks only.
The unplugged thing has been going on for a few years on the Celibate Rifles’ infrequent live runs. It’s an idea that links back to the 1996 “On The Quiet” album and mixes things up for fans and band alike. Considering the bulk of their songs were written on acoustic guitars before they were taken anywhere near a studio, it works. Plus, you get to absorb the words in a way that doesn’t happen at a “normal” gig.