At the outset, Melbourne’s Hunters & Collectors offered an Australian response to the Fall: an unremittingly bleak and powerful ensemble capable of horrendous noise, gripping drama and slithery funk. They do all three on both eponymous albums, which are almost entirely different records. The Australian release is a self-produced double-album with only three tracks common to the UK/US single disc of the same name, which Mike Howlett produced. (And remixed “Talking to a Stranger.”) Utterly oblique lyrics (and a credit to the band as a whole for “lyrics, music, artwork, management”) typify this enigmatic album. Fans of challenging, noisy rock and rhythm should enjoy, if not understand, this; real enthusiasts would do well to seek out both versions.
It took a while to locate another American label courageous enough to take the band on, but eventually Slash saw their way clear to releasing The Jaws of Life, recorded in Germany with Conny Plank. Thanks to normal cover info, it becomes possible to compliment bassist John Archer and drummer Doug Falconer for their dominant rhythm work, suggest that guitarist Mark Seymour let someone else attempt to sing next time and praise keyboard player Geoff Crosby for the nifty cover assemblage. Way to Go Out is a live album recorded in Melbourne in the summer of ’84.
Human Frailty was the band’s long-delayed IRS debut (a 1983 deal with the label had fallen through at the eleventh hour). One immediately notices the more mainstream sound — or at least as close as they can get to one and still retain some of their trademarks. The unorthodox horn section (trumpet, trombone and French horn) plays conventional parts, and there’s a lot more in the way of background vocals. Fans of the band’s early work simply won’t believe that several cuts, especially the Top 40-flavored “Throw Your Arms Around Me,” are actually the work of the band credited on the album cover. While Human Frailty doesn’t lack in quality per se, Hunters & Collectors have certainly done more interesting music than this.
“Inside a Fireball,” which opens the five-track Living Daylight EP (a three-songer back home), indicates that all is well; while not as art-noisy as early work, the record at least has the punch and bite its predecessor lacks. It also contains remixed versions of “The Slab” and “Carry Me” from The Jaws of Life. (The entire EP is appended to the American Human Frailty CD.)
Fate (originally released in Australia as What’s a Few Men) is accessible, has a nice clear, guitar-driven sound and its share of catchy hooks; nothing to alienate the casual listener. What sets the group apart here is Seymour’s vivid word pictures and urgent delivery. His vocals have improved a lot over the years; on Fate he sounds like he’s wound pretty tight, but never resorts to histrionics. Highlights: the semi-hit “Back on the Breadline” and the haunting, anti-militaristic CD-only “What’s a Few Men?,” an account of an Aussie fighting for the British army. Although almost undetectable, there are thirteen (!) guest artists augmenting the seven-piece band.
Ghost Nation is more relaxed; acoustic and slide guitars figure prominently and several tracks feature somewhat awkward background vocals (some supplied by Crowded House leader Neil Finn). But with only a few exceptions (the plaintive “Lazy Summer Day,” “The Way You Live”), no songs really stand out. “Running Water,” a fearful view of the environmental future, sounds an awful lot like Midnight Oil, and this band has never had to imitate anyone before. Hunters & Collectors just don’t stand out the way they once did.
Barring the obligatory “Talking to a Stranger,” Collected Works only acknowledges material recorded during the band’s IRS era. Considering how much their sound has changed, the sixteen-track collection doesn’t serve any valuable purpose. A real Hunters & Collectors compilation would have to go back further than this.