Everything So Far
Flaming Pearl Records
I’ve wrestled with this album for a lot longer than might normally be the case. I’ve tried to like it. Really tried. Because I’ve met Bernie Griffen – and he’s a nice guy and clearly has some talent/s and has built up some mana from his various roles on the fringe of the music industry, be it distributing a range of punk albums and other CDs that would have otherwise slipped through the cracks, or hosting an Americana radio show. He’s doing well to cash in on that now as you won’t find a bad review of this album anywhere beyond this site.
I’ve heard him called the Kiwi Johnny Cash, I’ve heard The Grifters be compared to The Bad Seeds and Lil’ Band O’ Gold and really all of this hype is excruciating as well as dishonest.
The larger issue I was faced with in hearing this album far too often is that the Lyttleton-led Kiwi contingent of Americana hopefuls is really rather embarrassing. It’s too much. It’s simply not believable. And Griffen’s Auckland crew are just another example of a phoned-in country sound that wants to be better than it is. We have such high hopes for ugly-croon tunes with fiddles or banjos and laconically strummed acoustic guitars. And I’m not quite sure why. It is the new/old roots music of New Zealand – and it’s as painful to walk amongst as when, 10 years ago, we had a nation of Ben Harper-wannabes.
Griffen’s voice grates, a pained and painful bleat that isn’t even dressed as lamb. And the song that has had the most fuss made over it, 29 Diamonds, is just awful. I almost want to call the band on this for milking a national tragedy. I haven’t heard it in single-form but I imagine the b-sides are about the Christchurch quakes and the Rena.
There’s a song toward the end that uses a touch of slide guitar and a scrape of fiddle to have you almost believing it’s a country Bad Seeds – right up until you realise that the aim was for it to be a country Bad Seeds; another in an album of cloying non-songs nonchalantly chanted out to whoever believes that farmers market excursions make them closer to the earth, to working the land.
And that’s my problem with this album – and with the current country/alt-country market in this country. I don’t believe (in) it.