The antithesis of a sex pistol is a celibate rifle, but Australia’s Celibate Rifles are anything but the opposite of loud, snotty and fast. A fusion between Detroit-style straight-ahead hard rock and Ramones pop, steeped in Stooges and Radio Birdman milk, the Rifles began as a party-time Sydney band, racing through deliberately silly and simple Ramonesque lyrics (“What about the kids? Get a baby sitter…and some kitty litter”) with three fast/loud chords. But unlike the Ramones, the Rifles insert loud, sinewy guitar solos between the slash’n’burn verses and, on tracks like the 7-inch Jacques‘ “24 Hours,” warped and warbly guitar effects.
By Sideroxylon, the Rifles had dropped most of early punk’s stripped-down economy for the heavy guitar sound — more Hendrix than Kiss — that would follow them through the rest of their career. (An obvious Hendrix reference pops up in the middle of Sideroxylon‘s “God Squad.”)
Three of the four tracks from Jacques and five of Sideroxylon‘s eleven were later issued as Quintessentially Yours. Mina Mina Mina is also a compilation, featuring four more Sideroxylon selections and all but “Electric Snake River” from The Celibate Rifles (aka Les Fusiles Célibataires). If that’s not confusing enough, Sideroxylon and The Celibate Rifles are on a single CD.
Turgid Miasma sums up the band’s past without reissuing any material and takes them in new directions (some of which they’ve never again tried). Split almost evenly between early-style fast, poppy rockers, metallic guitar excursions and a new style which encompasses everything from piano through zither and glockenspiel, Miasma is anything but turgid. Lead singer Damien Lovelock adds a sinisterly effective soft deadpan to his vocal repertoire — a deep, dark grumble which meshes into the guitar texture in “No Sign” and stands out in contrast with the bright chugga chords at the opening of “Conflict of Instinct.” Miasma is one of the Rifles’ most interesting LPs.
Lest their new-found studio prowess convince fans they had a secret craving to become sons of Steely Dan, their next release, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is a straight-ahead live album recorded at New York’s CBGB. Most of the material comes from Celibate Rifles and Miasma, with covers of the Only Ones’ “City of Fun” and Radio Birdman’s “Burn My Eye.” No keyboards. No soft thinky-feely moments. Just hearty rock’n’roll.
Roman Beach Party and Dancing Barefoot take the band in an even harder direction, back to the metallic ’70s music they first admired. On “The More Things Change” and “Junk” (from the Barefoot EP), loud twists of feedback meet fuzzy scuzzy chords that are deep and dark — heavy as molasses and powered by 200 proof adrenaline. “Dancing Barefoot” itself couples twisted solos with Patti Smith’s lyrics about heroin for an acid-hard ’60s revivalist version of the song.
Despite the noisy washes of swirling wah-wah/fuzz/feedback guitar, the rough’n’ripping Blind Ear transcends any particular stylistic era for a bracing adult punk rush. Alternately wry, angry and compassionate, the intelligent lyrics concern politics, global responsibility, losers (like drug-dealing “Johnny”) and progress (check the ultra-catchy “Wonderful Life” and the new-age spoof “Dial Om for Murder”), giving the exciting music a good run for album honors.
The double-album Platters du Jour career retrospective begins with “Kent’s Theme” (which incorporates the Marlboro jingle) and the rest of Jacques and runs through the Dancing Barefoot EP. With numerous band classics (mostly singles), rarities, outtakes and informative annotation by guitarist Dave Morris, this is the ideal starting point for discovering (or rediscovering) the Rifles. Early pressings included a bonus 7-inch.
When bassist James Darroch left the Rifles in 1984, he formed the Eastern Dark, a trio in which he played guitar and sang. The five-song EP, released shortly after Darroch was killed in a 1986 automobile accident, has plenty of noisy electric excitement, but his songwriting isn’t quite strong enough to make the band special. Mixing acoustics and electrics in a Woodentopsy rush, “I Don’t Need the Reasons” comes the closest. Girls on the Beach is a two-record (one CD) set of live performances (including a side of cover versions not included on the CD) and a pair of unreleased studio tracks from ’85.
Lovelock is backed on his first solo album by colleagues from the Rifles and friends from the Church. The record by Crent, a slightly adventurous side duo formed by Rifles guitarist Kent Steedman, is promising but dull, fitting a few clever bits in amid such trippy but pointless ’70s rock exercises as the side-long “9K?” jam.