Home for good, solo for now: Peter Garrett’s first solo album is energised and never just adequate. Photo: Maclay Heriot
A VERSION OF NOW
Here are some things you will not get on Peter Garrett’s debut album.
Three-fifths of Midnight Oil: Martin Rotsey appears but Bones Hillman, Jim Moginie and Rob Hirst are otherwise occupied. Which isn’t to say you won’t recognise Oils-ian sounds and moves, and that is hardly surprising: the man has spent around 30 years in that band and quite likes what they did. The looming bassline in No Placebo, the semi-spectral oohs of Kangaroo Tail, the truncated guitar hook in Great White Shark and, well, that voice, will take you to some familiar places.
Apologies for taking a political route instead of remaining policy pure and on the sidelines: “I went of my own accord to do what I could/I got my hands dirty I had a go,” Garrett says in I’d Do It Again, whose title answers your next question. And in case you think he’s pretending some things – pink batts anyone? – didn’t happen, in Tall Trees Garrett refers to being “replete with all my foibles, no catastrophe avoided”.
Settling of scores: while the first single Tall Trees, which opens the album as an introductory statement of “I’m back”, runs through a torrent of images that includes a line about being “like Muhammad Ali’s punching or Rupert Murdoch’s latest swag”, there’s no more naming of names and nailing of individuals. That said, you can see, if you want, a certain bespectacled prime minister, his female successor and some turbulent times in some lines such as “I saw the best of men and I saw the worse/I saw the best of woman too, from governor to nurse” and “While all the glory hunters were basking in false smiles/Twisted egos and ambitions mile after mile/I went to find a quiet place away from the madding mob/To try and make a difference get on with the job and do it again.”
And who knows, maybe his thoughts crossed the floor here: “Disconnect the alter ego/Jung and Jesus no placebo/Faust has won the war is over/Ji Xi Ping is at your shoulder”.
Sparkling melodies: Garrett, who wrote pretty much everything here save for a song he’d first assayed in the Oils (Rotsey and Moginie are credited as co-writers of Great White Shark) and one written with Hillman (Homecoming) is no high end melodicist. Which is fine mostly – you’re not coming here expecting some McCartneyesque tune-age after all and Garrett’s voice is not made for too much pure singing. But in Only One the narrowness of the song overall cries out for some melodic relief.
Here are some things you will get on Peter Garrett’s debut album.
Love songs: two of them. And not just box-ticking, could be about anything love songs but fixed firmly to his wife, Doris and their shared lives and different needs. “If I wake in the night/It’s coal black, you’re my light, you’re the only one,” in Only One, and “I’m an innocent child holding on tight/You’re going to find me by your side,” in Night & Day.
Female backing voices: provided by three Garrett daughters, Emily, May (who also plays drums on Homecoming) and Grace. They may often be working a traditional Oils-backing vocal manner in It Still Matters, Homecoming and Night & Day, but the difference is unmistakeable and necessary.
Harmonica: not exactly Blue Sky Mine redux, but it’s there.
A reminder he had an interest in the environment before becoming minister for said environment: “Infant nation what’s your measure/Drink your poison take your pleasure,” he sings on No Placebo. “To the screen our soul is tethered/As we disrespect the weather.”
Unapologetic guitars: While Heather Shannon of Jezabels is a key contributor on keyboards (piano and organ/synth) Rotsey and, at different times, Jamie Hutchings do tend to stick out, especially in the ragged and jagged sounds of Tall Trees. They offer wah-wah tones (I’d Do It Again) and winding lines (Homecoming), rhythm-focused but potent (Great White Shark) and acoustic with electric set against, but never in competition with it (It Still Matters and Night & Day).
Continued belief in activism in song: “It still matters to me/I hope it matters to you/First principles: concrete action reconciliation, no more talking fix the system,” says the self explanatory but nonetheless needing to be said It Still Matters. “Gadgets that can’t save our world where one side has an excavator the other has a wooden spoon/self-centered slick celebrities are crowding out the room.”
Home: it’s a sanctuary, it’s a launching pad, it’s Sydney and the inland, seas and the people. A Version Of Now is all about getting back and digging deep into “home”.
Here’s a verdict on Peter Garrett’s album.
Pretty good: energised and powerful, surprisingly tender and likely more complex than many expected. If it’s short of brilliance then it is also fair to say it’s never merely adequate.