It’s understandable that Australia and New Zealand have a contentious relationship. I used to live in Cleveland, don’t anymore, but still cringe whenever I see a Stealers logo anywhere. The fact, though, that the Aussies recently claimed that New Zealanders are hermits, or some such, seems a bit beyond me. Anyway, New Zealand, as much Australia, has a pretty rich and important musical history. The Tall Dwarfs (sic) and Chris Knox have impacted current indie musical trends in a pretty noticeable way. You’d be able to hear it even if Jay Reatard didn’t tell us straight out.
But a less lauded band – the Axemen – in the early ‘80s mined similar territory to Knox. They were a bit more noisey. Ok. A lot more noisey. The trio comprised some scene veterans and when Bob Brannigan, Little Stevie McCabe and Stu Kawowski came together, a more twisted vision of what pop should be was spat from speakers. Perhaps their most enduring – and time specific – document comes in the form of Big Cheap Motel (it’s there, but you gotta look for it).
At a time when British punk bands wrote songs about Maggie being some body part and American punkers criticized Reagan on a daily basis, the Axemen took a more localized view of politics. Being slated to perform at a festival early in 1984 at a public park, the band was prepared to run through a set of their previously written material, but sponsorship of a milk company – Big M – prompted the trio to compose eleven new songs to comment upon the perceived problem.
Supposedly, the band took issue with the sexist imagery displayed at the festival. Although, there aren’t any specifics to be found in the interwebs as to what, exactly, the problem was. Either way, it inspired some stripped down, rock thudding. Most frequently, the Flying Nun label and its stable of acts are in some way checked in relationship to the sound found on this disc. But the Axemen sound way more furious than anything else that I’ve come across on that label.
The occasional inclusion of a sax, as on the anthemic “Stupid Symbol of Woman Hate,” points to the breadth of work that these folks were listening to. It isn’t quite Funhouse from the Stooges, but that track does ratchet up repetitive punk tropes along with the bleated chorus. And for some reason, this track sounds a bit better recorded than a few others.
A few other tracks leap out of the pile, which, for a great deal of the long player suffers from less than desirable sound. But even if you can’t understand the words to “Pornographic Milk Drink,” you can sense the band’s dedication to what they have to say as the disheveled punk track plays out. The inclusion of an extended Stones cover – “We Love You” – is a bit confusing since this performance, in part, was meant to defy corporate shenanigans. But if you’ve heard the Cock Sparrer version, you may have already heard the best rendition of the track.
If the historic and political perspective of this work was removed, I don’t know that we’d still be talking about this disc twenty some years after it was recorded. But it’s an artifact. And it’s one that fits into the linear narrative of rock history.
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