Review Summary: "It's all so funny I can't laugh."
The hateful reception on the home front. The sparse yields of the promised land. Tetchiness and frustration growing within the camp. “It’s all so funny I can’t laugh.”
The bad vibes surrounding the recording and release of Australian punk legends the Saints’ second album Eternally Yours
positively drip off your speakers. Having created one of the most important albums of the United Kingdom’s burgeoning punk eruption with their debut I’m Stranded
, the Saints jumped at the chance to record their follow-up in London with EMI, the label who had signed the band to a three-album contract on the back of the unexpected success of their lead-off single ‘I’m Stranded’.
Lead singer Chris Bailey, guitarist Ed Kuepper, drummer Ivor Hay and newly appointed Alasdair Ward on the bass guitar (replacing Kym Bradshaw) were shocked to find that they had been invited half a world away to dance to the tune of an unpalatable choice: to fit the trends of London’s punk scene as secondary characters in the stereotyped Australian ocker role or nick off, get lost, we don’t recall saying good luck. EMI even tailored a lime green ‘Saints suit’ for the band members to wear on stage, a proposal that went down about as well as a last clap contest at a funeral.
Who knows if the friction between the Saints’ refusal to play ball was the reason behind EMI’s inexplicable promotional mishandling of the single ‘(This) Perfect Day’; a two-week nationwide distribution shortage consigned what should have been a cornerstone of punk’s golden era to a piddling UK chart peak of #34 and from there the Saints were dead in the water.
is sarcastic, jaded, joyless and even unfinished in parts (place-holder song names like ‘No Your Product’, ‘A Minor Aversion’ and ‘Untitled’ do not help). The Saints had very clearly been stung by the outright castigation to which they had been subjected from day dot in Brisbane (‘Orstralia’ is a two-finger salute to the motherland’s social indolence and political naivete) and the double-crosses and corralling of London saw Bailey’s lyrics flow with references to two-faced manipulators, phoneys and lackeys, all written from the perspective of narrators who have their backs to the wall: unyielding but aware that this battle is a losing one. Yet the palpable dejected mood of the recording couldn’t entirely neuter the potency of a very, very good rock ’n roll band.
No internal disillusionment is apparent in the album opener ‘Know Your Product’. Indeed, the seminal Saints’ song sounds every bit the solid gold smash single. While its anti-advertising snark retains the ethos of the cynical punk, the Saints showed a willingness to push beyond the template of the bands aping their sound with rocking brass arrangements courtesy of Graham Preskett. Catchy, raucous and with just the right amount of humour and levity to balance its anti-materialism… dare I say, there is more than a smidge of the Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ in ‘Know Your Product’.
Better still was to come. ‘(This) Perfect Day’ takes all the losses and suffering of the Saints up to this point – the rejection, the unfulfillment and the wounded, impotent rage of the prodigal son kicked out of the homestead and unable to find a shelter for all the restless wanderings – and turns it into one of their definitive songs. The band punches Bailey’s every word in the chorus as the singer’s gruff depictions of the punk scene as laughing socialites in bourgeoise cocktail bars declare war on a counter-culture that was, with the benefit of hindsight, turning into a uniformed and flash-in-the-pan trend. The Saints were losers at the time but ‘(This) Perfect Day’ has endured so fully formed to give the band, if not the last laugh, as its lyrics grimly acknowledge, then certainly the last word.
Not every gamble on Eternally Yours
cleaned out the house. ‘Memories Are Made of This’ finds guitarist Kuepper jettisoning his lo-fi anti-hero thrash for a more melodic jangle but the song is ultimately deadened by Bailey’s surly rant (he very much should have been tapped on the shoulder when it came to the line, “You’re living your life on a chain gang/You’re so retarded”). A more successful attempt to widen their sound comes on ‘Run Down’: the stop-start dynamics and distressed harmonica wail of Iain Ward (Saints’ roadie and the brother of Alasdair) give the song the feel of a slapstick police chase with the robbers ducking in and out of an urban rat-nest, one step ahead of Johnny Law.
Just as I’m Stranded
was the antipodean predecessor to The Clash’s iconic self-titled debut with its anthemic rawness and enraged working class view of bureaucracy and systemic oppression, Eternally Yours
is a one-step-forward, two-step-back sophomore that anticipates the Ladbroke Grove quartet’s harried Give ’Em Enough Rope
, which saw the light of day five months later. Both albums make attempts to expand the band’s punk roots with brass arrangements but ultimately feel like sprints to the deadline with half-realised, quickly bashed out songs. ‘New Centre of the Universe’, ‘I’m Misunderstood’ and ‘International Robots’ skid through to the end with such obvious haste that they feel like perfunctory punk-alike songs, poorly serving their creators’ position as one of the more influential bands in the genre.
By the album’s end, the external frustrations had clearly suffocated the writing process. What is not so deafeningly obvious is that the trials and tribulations of London had expedited the antagonism between Bailey and Kuepper; in early 1979, the guitarist left the group along with Hay and Ward.
So that is Eternally Yours
: a bitter album with some of the Saints’ best songs but a compelling feeling of being both rushed and constricted. What was next?
Not the end. Not just yet. Indeed, what followed in the wake of Eternally Yours
was the Saints’ finest hour. But that’s a story for another day…