Glenn Richards
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Glenn Richards

Margate, Queensland, Australia

Margate, Queensland, Australia
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It was only a matter of time before Glenn Richards released an album with his name inscribed on a record cover. As one of the country’s finest songwriters, it was both expected and greatly anticipated. With Augie March taking a well-earned break, it proved the opportune time – Richards’ debut solo album, Glimjack, is lyrically brilliant and musically diverse.

Written in the three months leading up to recording sessions at a Fairfield warehouse, Glimjack captures poignantly the instinctive rapport between Richards and his four-piece entourage – brother/guitarist Chris (Dust), guitarist/keyboardist Dan Luscombe (The Drones, The Blackeyed Susans), bassist Ben Bourke (Ned Collette & Wirewalker) and drummer Mike Noga (The Drones). Evidently, Richards has a great deal to say – and Glimjack proves a moving affirmation.

The stark subject matter underlying country-infused rocker Torpor And Spleen wouldn’t be so lucid amidst the rollicking playfulness if it weren’t for Richards’ brooding lament that “Violence is king and love is pauper / In the mix of spleen and moral torpor”. Long Pigs alludes to a dream that the singer-songwriter conceived of Gertrude Street in the ’50s, but its darkly hypnotising grooves drive the ragged rocker stridently. Even the tale of a city’s inexplicable occupation in Apply Of My Eye is beautifully evocative as Richards ties in romantic notions with a similarly enigmatic air.

In Unflappable Man’s exploration of grief and pain, ethereal vocal harmonies and rich vintage folk-rock cadences instil a soaring propensity to Richards’ poignant lamentation that “It isn’t all those promises you vow to keep then don’t / It isn’t that the world will end but the likelihood that it won’t... wake me up from remembering”. Atop the glistening piano melody adorning Turn On You, Richards sings about the practice of fermenting alcohol from the rotten flesh of a dead horse – a practice that became the ‘only joy’ for soldiers during the American civil war.

The affecting folk melancholia of South Of Heaven depicts Black Saturday with a dignified honesty, while Harsh Critic is an exploration of his “on and off stage hissy fits”. Harsh Critic is not only an album highlight – featuring Richards in a seductive baritone – but the singer-songwriter’s directness proves fiercely compelling, as he broods: “All the humming drones in the hive / All the tender messages that never arrive / And every temple that the hammer strove / The curling hand is not a disease / I need you out of my way, but I don’t have the strength to move you.”

While Glimjack does seem rather lengthy (15 songs in just under an hour), its songwriting poignancy is undeniable. Richards’ exceptional, evocative and insightful lyricism remains at the forefront of Australian rock. Glimjack is stylistically, emotionally and thematically intriguing, but more rewarding is how revelatory its finest moments are. - Beat Magazine


Say that I told you about an album with songs that evoke cannibalism and psychopathic Nazis conducting grisly experiments with human flesh. Death metal? No, such things lie within Glimjack, the (official) debut solo record from Glenn Richards of Augie March.

A ‘glimjack’, in 17th century Cockney slang, is someone who, in the days before streetlights, would carry a flaming torch to help pedestrians find their way at night. (I found this definition in a Thomas Pynchon glossary; an author for whom a writer such as Richards would surely be accustomed with). This idea of the glimjack isn't a bad description for what Richards does - he of dreamy, sweetly-sung melodic pop and ornate, pretty lyrics - as an artist. Because appearances deceive; underneath the sweet veneer lie darker truths and complicated emotions. (Take 'One Crowded Hour', Augie March’s most well known song. It's not the anthem about "love at first sight" that it's titular chorus suggests, but rather a musing on the falseness of pop music, and on the many little lies we tell ourselves to be able to invest our emotions into it. That a song about exactly this became such a huge hit because people thought it was a love song, makes for some wonderful irony.)

Glimjack isn't a drastic departure from what Richards has done in Augie March, but it is unencumbered with the polished approach of that band's more recent output. It’s certainly not the lo-fi acoustic one-microphone recording that some superfans might have hoped for however - this is very much a band outing. The illustrious group, featuring members of the Drones and Ned Collette's Wirewalker, mostly don’t do anything radically different to what Augie March might have done, beyond playing with a vigor that I suspect that band wouldn't have mustered at this juncture. But the sound is busier – there’s more commotion here than Richards’ songs have had for a while. Dan Luscombe's frothy lead breaks bubble away at least somewhere in the mix on most numbers, while Mike Noga's drumming lays down an unfettered barroom drive to proceedings. Richards still sings with a choirboy tone to his voice, a strange accent that sounds vaguely like the newsreader on an old Australian film reel. What is absent among the fifteen tracks on Glimjack are the usual bookends to his songwriting; there's nothing as direct and catchy as 'One Crowded Hour', nor starkly beautiful as 'There Is No Such Place'.

I can’t resist a dreamy, languid waltz, and 'Turn On You' and 'Mengele In Brazil' are two gorgeous examples of the genre, albeit the latter seemingly told from the point of view of Joseph Mengele, the sadistic chief physician at Auschwitz, whose twilight years hiding in Brazil were spent doing genetic experiments on the local livestock and townsfolk. 'Painter By Numbers' is a typically pretty ballad but with scathing, fingerpointing, lyrics attacking an artist for their unoriginality: “so many masterpieces, but they all share the same features”. Musically, 'Harsh Critic' resembles The Church in its nervy, downcast mood, and both the restless, swirling chords of 'Barfly Prometheus' and the build to a crescendo in 'Long Pigs' - a euphemism for human flesh - are quite affecting.

There's also as a pleasing haze to the sound of Glimjack, something that went missing on Augie's recent work. The clean, radio-friendly sound of Augie March's 2008 record Watch Me Disappear (an album that in the wash-up even the band could barely be bothered to defend), and - to a lesser extent - their 2006 breaktrhough Moo, You Bloody Choir!, worked wonders for songs as direct as 'One Crowded Hour', but did little favours for the more nuanced outings. Glimjack is all nuance, though it takes a little while to hear it - these songs may seem a little faceless at first, but the set more than rewards repeat listens. - The Vine- Tim Byron


Discography

Glimjack 2010
1. Torpor and Spleen
2. Long Pigs
3. Old Love
4. Apple Of My Eye
5. Painter By Numbers
6. Unflappable Man
7. The Drive
8. Turn On You
9. Glimjack Muttering
10. Barfly Prometheus
11. They Hate Us
12. The Love Zoo
13. South Of Heaven
14. Harsh Critic
15. Mengele In Brazil

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Bio

Chris Richards:

Older brother of me by 11 months, was learning the second solo from Metallica's "Orion" out the back of our Kialla block while I was memorising an economical response to Les Murray's "Broad Bean Sermon" and trying to hold down my Weet Bix before my HSC. Knows my tastes better than I do and can imprint them with greater acuity than I can on a song. Loves four track recordings as do I, thinks everything should be recorded so, and that all film should be 8mm, as do I. Plays in Hobart band Dust and wrote and played the music for two The Beautiful Few records among other things. Has two kids, lives in Hobart and is always tired. An invaluable presence on the record.

Mike Noga:
Another Hobart lad, I first saw Mike singing behind a kit and wearing a Carlton jumper at The Arthouse which should have been two reasons to hate him on the spot. But the Tasmanian in me identified with his disability and the mainlander in me just felt sorry for him. Has since gone on to make records as himself, a Gentleman of Fortune, and a globetrotting Drone who had a long breakfast with Crispin Glover. Not afraid of random fills, terrified of toms but will hit them if he has to, thinks time is a magazine, smokes two cigarettes at once, plays like a songwriter because he is one. Perfect drummer.

Ben Bourke:
In one of the trades of the season team Richards managed to offload a substance (beer) abusing guitarist to team Ned Colette in return for a very slightly red headed bass player called Ben Bourke. While team Ned Colette foraged for scraps of gig in Europe Ben laid down some of the tastiest lines we've heard for a while in the arctic space of a Fairfield warehouse. It was at a speakeasy in the same space a couple of months before that Ben and I held forth on the merits of Iron Maiden's Steve Harris. The offers went out the next day and my people got their man in what I think was a coup along the lines of a Judd to Carlton but without the cardboard money chucked in. A rare talent who insisted we pause the recording to watch Gillard's speech. It seemed to me there was a faint cheezel glow in the room, emanating from the bass corner.

Dan Luscombe:
Obviously one of the great talents of a generation Dan is currently another Drone who has done time in countless outfits, chief among them The Black Eyed Susans and whatever 80 piece cacophony Spencer Jones had together early last decade. Ever in demand it's hard to even get a word in to Dan so it was with great relief that I paid off every other songwriter in Melbourne for the Winter to piss off and leave my boy alone. He knows what's good for him anyway. Our first acquaintance was Augie March's roughly 15th gig when we were first up supporting The Church at the Palace. The Susans were main support and after trembling through a forgotten half hour Dan, very politely, remarked to us "That was really...messy." Of course it was meant as a compliment and each time he repeated it during the recording I took it as such.

That should do. Maybe a quick picture of the process - we set up in a warehouse based in Fairfield, the size of a skating rink, rehearsed and recorded 19 songs over a month, although with the many technical hitches I can safely say we probably did 19 in 19, a fair achievement, and not without cost to health and sanity. Due to illness, dust and cold I ended up doing most vocals with the tireless Robin Mai at Woodstock and Sing Sing.

I spent some weeks living at the Chelsea Hotel in NY and mixing up the road in the Village with Victor Van Vugt during the heatwave that had Satan swimming in the dumpster. Anyway, there's longer stories but who cares? It's rough and ready but not without ambition and some finesse. Like most of the Augie stuff it ain't hip, but I hope it's got some legs to out-stroll the sprinting ninnies on Cool Street.

The Songs:
"Torpor and Spleen" hopes to simultaneously force an understanding of the writer's temperament at the time of its writing, and his deep reckoning of the twin evils giving rise to anti-social behaviours in the youth of the West - chroming and Grand Theft Auto.

"Long Pigs" is a cracking of that pubic old chestnut 'style over substance' and alludes secretly to a dream the writer had about Gertrude Street in the 1950's.

"Old Love" worries about elected people banging on about one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country, but also gets a bit sad about a matchbox car which once was a prize possession.

"Apple of My Eye" is musical recreation of a vivid dream about an alternate history Hobart which has been occupied by a mysterious, quite possibly allied force which, in the vein of the Americans commandeering the opulent French glamor ship The Normandy, has aquisitioned the resources and the people