Models – God Bless AmericaBy Craig Smith • May 24th, 2008 • Category: Secret History of Australian Music
The Post-Punk years in Australia were a mixed ground. The key bands of that era were floundering or disbanding while the second wave was about to hit, bands like Hunters and Collectors, Hoodoo Gurus, The Scientists and The Beasts of Bourbon would soon come to prominence, but one of the bands who had been lingering on the fringes pushing their skewed new wave pop since 1978 was Melbourne’s Models.
Released in 1983, The Pleasure of Your Company was Models third album, an undeniable step up sound wise from their quirky previous releases, incorporating a dance-floor funk angle that acts like Shriekback and Gang of Four were hitting paydirt with in the UK. From the beginning of the band the line-up never seemed consistent but what is regarded as their classic line-up (as far as I’m concerned, matey) is Sean Kelly (vocals/guitar), James Freud (vocals/bass), Andrew Duffield (keys/synths) and Barton Price (drums). Producer Nick Launey, having previously produced albums for Public Image Limited and Gang of Four, worked with the band to give them a more polished, radio-friendly sound. Despite being their most successful release to date, The Pleasure of Your Company would be the last recording for this line-up. Duffield was ousted a year later and in the wake of this the band dynamic and sound changed completely. Models post-Pleasure would be a less interesting, less innovative, though in no way less successful, entity.
Models – “God Bless America” (1983)
I could’ve chosen the infectious “I Hear Motion” which was the top ten hit in Australia, a song I still remember hearing when it was released (on one of those double LP chart comps) or the dance-floor classic that was “Big on Love” released a year later, but the standout track for me has always been the pseudo-anthem “God Bless America”. Whilst at the time my musical leanings were still coming to fruition, I still recall the video clip they made for the song. Filmed in 3D (one of those jobs where you need the blue/red glasses), the band are sporting an “urban guerilla musicians of the wasteland” look, all greasepaint and guitars and attitude and they look incredibly fucking cool. Sean Kelly’s wearing a radio earpiece, calling the shots and has an American flag dangling from the neck of his guitar, James Freud wields his bass like it’s an M60 machine gun and Andrew Duffield stands there triggering bursts of gunfire from his sequencer. Kate and Zan from I’m Talking play the part of army backing singers, while the band stand defiant on the top of piles of flattened cars and machinery in a dirty old junkyard. For about three and a half minutes, the eighties actually looked awesome and in 3-D.
The Models in 1983
The song itself is Kelly’s tribute to Ronald Reagan, backwardly championing the then President of the United States of America and his movie star cowboy roots. The title and lyrical bent is largely full of sarcasm, unlikely to endear Models to the Americans, but which didn’t prevent them from being signed to Geffen for their next album (perhaps they didn’t read any further than the song title?). I love the way Kelly mockingly sings the first couple of lines — “I’m an Americaaaan/I ride into the suuuuun”, then a line later sums up Reagan’s career perfectly with “I’m Gene Autry in Lincoln’s shoes” and then with the punch line chorus of “I’ve had this recurring dream where I am in control” which is as relevant now as it was then.
Models weren’t exactly known for their lyrical insight, but this song, and the single that followed “No Shoulders, No Head” sidestepped their regular vagaries for some timely political/anti-war discourse without sounding like they’re jumping the bandwagon or trying to ape Midnight Oil. The final scene of the video is a real kicker, recreating the famous photograph of the American marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. It still makes me laugh. For a promo video shot in a junkyard, what a piece of art it is.
After that it’s all aboard for “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” where Kelly gets the elbow out of his own band and Freud fronts them to number one with the most banal song in Australian pop history. But that’s a history which is best kept secret.