Rumors & Lies
Swamp Thing is a Kiwi duo that either can’t spell or is aiming for the big time internationally – either way the delusion is strong across new album, Rumors & Lies. I fondly recall the time I attended a Swamp Thing show. Best thing not in the Comedy Festival. It was a hoot, for sure.
Look, Grant Haua (guitar/vocals) and Michael Barker (drums/keys/vocals) are not without talent. But they seem to operate on one of two levels only: Fuck Subtlety and Subtle As Fuck. Neither is preferable. Here they open with a hurtle through Last Fair Deal Gone Down (that’s in the Fuck Subtlety category by the way, and if you couldn’t guess straight away a mini drum-solo, no seriously, mid-way through the album’s opening song is the clue).
The title track is part of the Subtle As Fuck material the band has, erm, crafted. This sounds like a libido-less Chuck E. Weiss, like the music of Tom Waits has lost all muscle-memory and is jelly-strolling three paces before flopping into a bean-bag.
Swamp Thing owes its tremendous success to appearing on a local talent show and a loyal audience has formed. From there they’ve worked hard, touring incessantly. But the music is missing heart, soul and nuance. There is no real concept of dynamics as Haua hits at the same slide sounds and Barker goes full carnival with his pat-your-head/rub-your-tummy drums and keys. He’s very clever – and I remember seeing him put to stunning use back in the day as part of a Neil Finn band. But here it’s about stick-twirling chicanery as the pair repeatedly dry-hump the leg of the blues then take a leak down its jeans. This is what happens when you’re far too excited and don’t know how to behave.
The breakneck party-punk of Boom Town sees banjo in place of guitar and a song that sounds like a mating ritual between Me First & The Gimme Gimmes and Limp Bizkit. No, really.
A big-throated race through In My Time of Dying sounds like a parody of a Quentin Tarantino bar-room scene; the band almost eating themselves in the blood-lust of devouring the song.
And then, holy shit! – we hit the Subtle As Fuck territory again with a weird little pop song called Mother’s Work. It is about as sensitive-as-can-fucking-be and a real blow for modern parenting. “Mother’s work is never done” is surprisingly not the worst lyric here. But “She’s a selfless creature/And a patient teacher” just might be. Should turn heads at next year’s Comedy Fest at any rate. People might thing the Conchords have reformed.
A bit of the ole, sly New Orleans feel gets hog-tied and pinned down for Baton Rouge, imagine Randy Newman singing a dry first draft with Dave Grohl’s gun to his head. What’s left of that white-on-rice Black Magic trickles out over Let’s Get Live as a perfunctory piano and second line drum rhythm feels like the opening to the off-Off-Broadway equivalent of a Pixar period-piece. When they turn on the trumpet it’s like a sprinkler hitting a home-made water slide.
Once again I struggle to hear any music, much less magic, in the world of Swamp Thing. They throw everything at the canvas, some of it sticks. And that’s largely a shame. Any claims of authenticity would be a sham. Any hope for songwriting or a lingering hook or melody is just deluded. This is sleight-of-hand stuff from a couple of huckster hustlers. Hey, good on ‘em I guess.