Since before Savage Garden uttered those famous words “chic a cherry cola,” the Aussies have been busy churning up some exceptional talent, e.g. Men at Work, AC/DC, INXS… heck they’ve given us Flea! Acts like these have had a major influence on American pop culture—all the same American pop culture has had its influence down under, and the Melbourne-based sensation Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes proffers credence to this notion. The nonet has revisited and no less reinvented 50’s and 60’s American R&B and soul music. Leading lady Clairy Browne bellows out songs reflective of an old doo-wop era, but reimaged to fit the essence of today. This reverse retro theme permeates the band’s debut album, Baby Caught the Bus, which was released last month in the U.S. and has been catching fire ever since.
An advertisement with Heineken featuring their single ‘Love Letter’ launched the group into commercial stardom. Sure the ad is clever (a rundown bar transforms into a chic lounge the minute Heinekens surge from the tap… the incarnation of Moe’s Pet Shop into Moe’s Tavern), but it’s the music that really makes it work on all levels. Saxophonist Darcy McNulty spars with Nick Martyn’s hard-hitting kick and snare as Browne’s powerful vocals punch through the wall of sound to create something vintage yet all together fresh and original. The song is a jumping off point, a fast pace number to get the record rolling and to lasso the listeners in. It’s also a great number to showcase what the band is about stylistically. Although it wouldn’t be right to pigeonhole such an eclectic group as purely vintage R&B, Baby Caught the Bus is chalked full of inspirations that span the gambit from ska to funk to soul.
Despite all the attention ‘Love Letter’ is receiving, it’s not a crux in a playlist of songs that don’t hold up. The first track that actually stood out to me was ‘She Plays Up to You’, a sultry number that’s less about sex than about unencumbered jealousy; a cool, calm, and collected departure from the in your face pop tunes predicated by such overreaching topics. Never have the lines: “She plays up to you / powdered lips, shaking hips, and flicking her hair / every time you walk into the room,” ever sounded so gritty.
Another track that deserves mention is the reflective ballad ‘You Don’t Owe Me Nothing.’ With block piano chords and lyrical melody lines that seem to evoke the sullen timbre of Fiona Apple, Browne pours her soul into every note and it shows. ‘You Don’t Owe Me Nothing’ explores the ultimate dissemination of all things beautiful… It’s the kind of song—that if you’re in a relationship—you never want to see yourself singing, nor is it an idea you want to buy into, but with all the soul and conviction in Browne’s voice you know she’s right and you can’t help but feel a sense of denial. Tread lightly around this cautionary tale; it’s a tragic number.
Baby Caught the Bus is an amazing compilation of songs; more surprising it’s their debut album. You’d be hard pressed to hear an up-and-coming group storm the scene with such a mature tight sound. That said I’m curious to see where the band goes from here. Either way, Baby Caught the Bus is a record I would highly recommend especially if you enjoy performers like: Etta James, Tina Turner & the Ikettes, Amy Winehouse, Ruth Brown and anything similar. Keep an eye out for Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes they may be the next big thing since chic a cherry cola.