The Triffids - Treeless Plain / Beautiful Waste and other songs / The Black Swan

Cam 28/04/2008

Rating: 4/5

Persisting with their endless philanthropic efforts, Domino Records have just released what perhaps is the last part of their fairly extensive re-issuing campaign of one of the most undervalued bands of the eighties, Perth's finest: The Triffids. This celebration of the genius that was David McComb began two years ago with the re-packaging of Born Sandy Devotional, continued last year with In the Pines and Calenture (plus a 7'' singles box) and went even further with some tribute concerts by the surviving Triffids as part of the Sydney Festival. But what we now have since April are both the beginning (Treeless Plain) and the end (The Black Swan) of the band as well as a collection of their mid-period EP's and rare tracks (Beautiful Waste and Other Songs) that show not only the abundance of available material, but also the consistent quality of a band rarely mentioned as a major influence these days.

But the influence is there, Black Swan's 'Fairytale Love' and 'Beautiful Waste' (so good that its title had to be part of the record's name) are virtually the entire career of Tindersticks condensed in two songs; 'I Am a Lonesome Hobo' in Treeless Plain sounds so much like post-Birthday Party Nick Cave that it makes you think how much the now 50-year-old took from his contemporaries to find his own path; while 'Jack's Hole' is so Isobel Campbell-esque it would be difficult to believe that she has never heard the voice of Jill Birt, even in her dreams. All this evidence and how important is this Antipodean band for the world? Little or not at all, apart from a fairly solid fan base (forum population: 460), The Triffids is not a name that resonates with the same intensity as the Bunnymen or the Commotions. True, in the eighties, the geographic position of a band was extremely important for obvious reasons (if it were not for their trips to London, perhaps these re-editions would never have taken place), but nowadays we could easily be talking about a Perth band as if they were playing next door. Yet today you've still got to dig very deep to find a young Australian band directly influenced by the Triffids, why o why?

Guided by sales, The Triffids were much more popular in Sweden than in their own backyard, ironic, but true. And also bizarre, because since the beginning (as heard throughout Treeless Plain) there was a certain quality of freedom that could only belong to a band physically distant from its influences, but at the same time completely dissonant from what was happening in mainstream Australian music back in 1983. Taken out of context, Treeless Plain is an extremely marketable debut with a mature and concrete sound, developed after releasing self-produced cassettes for 6 years, this was enough to convince Geoff Travis in Rough Trade who gave them a contract for a single LP and a couple of singles before he even saw them. Back down under, tired of travelling endlessly through the open Australian fields, McComb and co decided it was time to seek recognition elsewhere, and after releasing that two-chord wonder titled 'Beautiful Waste', it was time to take Europe by storm.

By 1985 and after releasing several EP's (collected for the first time on CD in Beautiful Waste and Other Songs), the band began to get the recognition they deserved by supporting Echo & The Bunnymen, playing Glastonbury and even getting an NME cover in the process. It's at this point where The Triffids' story is split by Domino (with their three most successful albums already released) fast forwarding to 1988. The Black Swan was originally designed as a double album produced by a young Stephen Street, compiling the stream of ideas emanating from David McComb's extensive songbook and adding more contributions from the other Triffids. According to popular myth, Island Records refused to finance the work, releasing only 13 tracks that don't show the complete picture, which we can now finally see: An incredibly ambitious record with extensive influences that go from the pseudo-rap of "Falling Over You" to an immense Plastic Ono Bandesque cover of 'Can' t Help Falling In Love". Neither here nor there and with the recurrent theme of not fitting in any place, Black Swan is a perfect testament to the talent of The Triffids: Prolific, atmospheric and cynically underrated.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be the last LP the Triffids would ever make as a band, after years of exhaustive trips, enough was enough. So almost twenty years from their demise it's time to take your hat off, give thanks to that very intelligent person in Domino and buy The Black Swan, Treeless Plain and Beautiful Waste and Other Songs in that respective order. Regrets? You'll have none.