Sydney, Australia’s Divinyls couple Christina Amphlett’s unusual vocal mannerisms with the band’s rowdy pop sound — kind of like AC/DC meets the Pretenders, with a soup‡on of Lene Lovich and a few subtle, unexpected chord-progression shifts. The thick guitar and keyboard textures pack a marvelous rock’n’roll punch; the downside is the band’s occasional flirtation with arena clichés.
Amphlett appeared in the movie Monkey Grip, for which the group recorded the six songs contained on the EP; some were redone for Desperate. The LP’s standouts include “Only You” (all the above comparisons applicable in one song, and it works!) and the goofily lovable “Science Fiction.” Even the weakest songs get by on sheer gusto. The Easybeats’ “I’ll Make You Happy” is given a hard-rock update, as Amphlett blithely assumes the song’s assertive role which had, after all, been written for a man.
Intentionally or not, all three producers (Mark Opitz, Mike Chapman, Gary Langan) of What a Life! appear to have been determined to sell the group to US radio by polishing away their idiosyncrasies (dousing the spark in the songs too, if there was any). The result comes awfully close to Anybandism. The worst offender is “Pleasure & Pain,” the only track produced and co-written by Mike Chapman, which veers towards the territory of his onetime charge, Pat Benatar.
That’s why it’s all the more surprising that Chapman not only produced Temperamental, he also allowed the quirky, rough-edged charm shown on Desperate to come through. There are some nifty little touches, like clever usage of backing choruses as aural coloring. Divinyls is now reduced to the songwriting team of Amphlett and lead guitarist Mark McEntee, but the hired hands on bass and drums provide a superbly compatible loose-limbed wallop. The title track is the killer; the others are also generally strong right off the bat. The Syndicate of Sound’s “Hey Little Girl” gets an impressive reading: the original is definitive, but Amphlett’s rare ability to make the tune hers (as “Hey Little Boy”) is an entertaining angle.
What a disappointment, then, that the duo’s self-titled fourth LP falls so flat. The co-production by erstwhile Chapman protégé Dave Tickle (who also worked with Split Enz) is okay but, on the whole, the music is pedestrian and the performances lackluster. Even the vocals: you really have to pay attention to what Amphlett’s singing to notice anything offbeat going on, e.g., the not-so-coy naughtiness of “I Touch Myself” — which was co-written by Hollywood hitmeisters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (“Like a Virgin,” etc.). The most interesting tracks are “If Love Was a Gun” and (coincidence?) “Bullet” — but they’re just near misses.