Monday, 28 September 2009
ROWLAND S. HOWARD - TEENAGE SNUFF FILM
This is not a new album; it's actually been out for almost 10 years but I only discovered it about a week ago. Rowland Stuart Howard, for the uninitiated, was the guitarist and occasional songwriter in 1980s Australian punks, The Birthday Party. After the band's split in 1983 (due to that old favourite, "creative differences" between Howard and main songwriter Nick Cave) he was far less prolific than his former bandmate. After a few collaborations with the likes of Lydia Lunch and ex-Swell Maps frontman Nikki Sudden, Howard formed a short-lived band called These Immortal Souls and then disappeared from the public eye in the mid-1990s.
He has recently released an excellent 7" called "Pop Crimes" (hopefully paving the way for a new album) and this led me to investigate what he's been doing for the past 15 years. Not much, it seems; when I discovered that, before the new single, he had only released one record since the demise of These Immortal Souls, I decided I should check it out immediately. I wasn't disappointed, as "Teenage Snuff Film" has barely left my turntable since it arrived.
Within seconds of the first song starting, it becomes apparent what a great voice Howard has. It is similar to Richard Hawley's deep crooning, but far more menacing. This is the first of several similarities with Hawley's new album. Both records are built around the recurring theme of a failed relationship, but while Hawley chooses to deal with his heartbreak in an adult fashion and settles for mellow reflection, Howard clearly has revenge in mind, with titles such as "I Burnt Your Clothes". When he spits out the line "My darling I never knew, how hard it was to get rid of you" in the song "Breakdown (and then...)" you suspect he's contemplating how to dispose of the body.
Another attraction is Howard's guitar playing. His role in The Birthday Party was to bury everything under layers of feedback, but his playing style has evolved and much of the guitar work here echoes the finest moments in Johnny Cash's back catalogue. To give you some idea of his talent, here he is playing the opening track from "Teenage Snuff Film" in a record shop in Melbourne last year:
I'm still kicking myself for missing out on this album for so long. If, in a few years' time, I decide to update the opening entry in this blog and list another five great albums that most people have never heard, "Teenage Snuff Film" is sure to be included.