Although based in London since 1984, this quintet originally hails from Perth, Australia. Their musical influences, however, are strictly American. Occasionally augmenting standard rock instrumentation with strings, trumpet and pedal steel, the Triffids manage a spacious country blues-meets-Television sound.
Raining Pleasure is a lightweight, lilting album with some nice songs and more-than-competent playing, but self-righteous lyrics decrying promiscuity and alcohol are pretty much ruinous. The preachy “Property Is Condemned” is almost worthy of a TV evangelist’s seal of approval.
Treeless Plain and Field of Glass both have more bite — “My Baby Thinks She’s a Train” (from the former) sounds like the best song Tom Verlaine never wrote. (Singer/songwriter David McComb’s voice bears similarity to both Verlaine and Jim Morrison.) Most of the Triffids’ best early material is on Love in Bright Landscapes, a Dutch compilation.
Gil Norton’s production on Born Sandy Devotional is bigger and denser than that on prior releases; while it sounds just fine and is a natural progression, one wishes that McComb’s maturing songwriting talents would be allowed to stand on their own a bit more. But on the other hand, it’s kind of difficult for a six-piece band (with additional backing on strings, keyboards, vibes and vocals) to be minimalist.
In the Pines strips things back down; it was recorded on an 8-track in a wool-shearing shed in the Aussie outback on a tiny budget, most of which went for beer, wine and vodka. A lot of it sounds as though it was done live, and such immediacy suits the Triffids well.
On Calenture, the band’s US/major-label debut, McComb’s sensitive, personal visions are again all but obscured by Norton’s big league gloss; this time the band’s personality barely surfaces. There are plenty of good songs here, mind you, they’re just hidden.
The Holy Water EP combines the title tracks from Calenture and Raining Pleasure with “Red Pony” from Treeless Plain and the band’s cover of the Beatles’ “Good Morning Good Morning” from the Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father benefit album.
The Black Swan finds the Triffids scrambling to come up with something new. The first side dabbles in country, nightclub jazz, off-center doo-wop, strangely arranged funk and even pseudo-rap (“Falling Over You,” also the title cut of an EP). Arrangements are jammed with incongruous drum machines, bouzouki, operatic background vocals and electric cello (?). Side Two starts off with “The Clown Prince,” which attempts to combine flamenco and French café accordion music. Who told them to try so hard? Just sounding like the Triffids should suffice. Despite quality material, The Black Swan ends up drowning in its own excesses. The live LP is a career-spanner: a dozen songs recorded in Sweden in 1989.
Completists will want the Peel Sessions EP: three songs from May 1985. True fans should also be on the lookout for the Triffids’ pseudonymous releases under the name Lawson Square Infirmary. The 1984 12-inch is a bouncy visit to informal jug-band music: six enticing original folk songs winningly performed with low-key rustic rambunctiousness.