The new album by the Spines is the best the band has sounded in the studio, certainly since the very early days of the band (getting back towards 40 years now). Dreamboat follows on, nearly two and a half years after Epidural – an excellent set of songs too but Dreamboat features the production skills of Maurice Priestley (PriMau Productions) and is mastered by Mike Gibson at Munki Studios.
It’s a warm, lo-fi sound that allows Jon McLeary’s songs the breathing space they deserve in this world.
We open with I Got A Message which rides along on a soft buzz of bass and a hooky little guitar lead. It’s a hit pop single beamed in from another universe and with some slick drum fills by Riki Gooch and backing vocals by Hannah Fraser it really makes the most of its 3-minute run-time.
Next up is An Enlarged Heart, the kind of warm-soul balladry that oozes from McLeary’s pen; he’s got stories like these for days, blending personal woes and wisdom to make something universal. Here guest vocalist Lisa Tomlins really goes full gospel-swoon in a slow-build siren-call. It’s subtly majestic.
There are so many great songs on this album – that’s been the case in my experience with any Spines album, I love Jon’s lyrics and the way he bends them to suit bluesy note-bending (We Are Strangers) and folds them into grooving little straight-ahead pop-rockers (Stole My Dreams). But here the modern incarnation of this long-running band hasn’t ever sounded better.
The mournful violin that sets up The Lassie is gorgeous, I Know The Sun Will Set features a little hint of mandolin in and around more sweeping violin – there’s an almost Celtic sway to this one in fact.
There’s a profound vulnerability expressed in many of these songs too. Some of the Joy is my current favourite for that.
These are also tunes that reach very far back – in terms of the weight of the world that holds down the lyric and in the more tangible sense of when they were first made. The Lassie, for instance, dates back some 20 years and features a duet with Louise Loft (one of a handful of appearances on this record). Jon and Louise were there on stage in the big Nambassa festival and as Negative Theatre they slotted into the late-70s/early 80s drama/music/arts scene in Wellington. The rest, as they say, is history.
History is one of the big themes of Dreamboat.
I Got A Message opens the record with its words about getting a message to “face the fact/I wouldn’t get any younger” and the closing number, The Great Unloved, begins in a manner befitting Mott The Hoople as McLeary croons of trying to rest himself, this meditation on love and creativity finds itself in and around a seesawing violin pattern.
These are songs of self-preservation. Deep internal discussions. Sly wisdoms.
That’s always been the world of the Spines. And we’re lucky to have these songs, new and old, out in our world.