“Impressive instrumental work and an emotional vocalist” could adequately summarize most albums released in the last decade, but when describing the Devastations’ Coal, it’s as close to a fact as can be found in a music review.
Coal, released in 2005 in Australia and subsequently nominated for the Australian Music Prize’s best album, is the Devastations’ second full-length. Forget the easy comparison to be made between the Devastations (now of Berlin) and fellow Aussie Nick Cave: Conrad Standish’s stoic delivery recalls the contemplative sorrow of Leonard Cohen. Drummer Hugo Cran and multi-instrumentalist Tom Carlyon play into his emotion the same way Johnny Marr and the Smiths carried Morrissey through his sulking. A comparison to the Smiths and Leonard Cohen is a good start, but the Devastations misplace their talents: Standish should be following his band’s beat rather than the other way around.
On alluring opener “Sex and Mayhem,” Standish speaks the first verse more than sings it. This dramatic use of lyrics to lead into the song occurs throughout Coal. The pattern seems to support the notion that Standish has something meaningful to say, but unlike Cohen, Standish’s prose has little chance of being published in book format.
On album highlight “Terrified,” Standish takes his usual cue to sing before any other sound is laid on the track. Standish constructs a loose narrative about everyone being terrified, but then comes the weak punch line: “Let’s throw this shit out to the dogs.” “The Night I Couldn’t Stop Crying” and “What’s a Place Like That Doing in a Girl Like You?” follow this trend of having forgettable lyrics that don’t stand up to ambitious titles.
The ambience of complicated guitar rhythms, steady drum shuffles and the timely rhythms of the keys all seem to play a second fiddle to Standish’s overstated emotion. Perhaps some more time in the shadows of castles scattered around Old Europe will inspire a better delivery of the gothic tone that seems to elude Standish.
Label: http://www.brassland.org/“Sex & Mayhem” MP3