Excellence through endurance. Not exactly the type of career you aim for in rock and roll. Longevity is borne out of success and while The Fauves courted popularity to a lesser degree in the 90s, their visibility since has dimmed over the years. Yet these Victorian men have become the cornerstone of the Australian indie rock scene, the last guard of an era who’s veterans have since laid down their guitars and moved out of their parent’s basement into a life of semi-detached suburbia.
Twenty years, nine albums. Ask me to name all nine and I’d be struggling, but the aptly titled When Good Times Go Good finds The Fauves in a reflective but memorable mood. The sarcasm, snipes and humour-tinged lyrics are put largely in the back pocket in favour of some mid-tempo, straight-faced maturity. Lead track “Underwhelmed” displays a softer, more melodic side. Guitars chime and harmonies swell to an Eagles-like degree and its instantly obvious we’re in new territory for The Fauves.
What gives When Good Times Go Good the edge on previous Fauves albums is the increasing contribution from Phil ‘The Doctor’ Leonard. Often it’s his songs that have been the musical glue that held a Fauves record together. His “Love Radar” being a particular highlight, a searching, mellow pop track, Leonard sounding sincere even when singing lines like “Love radar, I’d love to know where you are”. Along with the riff-heavy old school Fauves rock of “Fight Me, I’m 40” which rains contempt on the younger generation (“When I was your age I had a record deal/Send me a text let me know how you feel”), this album has added two classics to the Fauves canon in the first ten minutes.
For long-time fans, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Cox has always been the voice of the Fauves, dictating the flow and focus of each album with Leonard, often given two or three tracks per album to stretch his legs, often to highlight what an under-used talent he is in the band (you only have to check out “Right Wing Fags” from 2002‘s Footage Missing to understand this). This go around he’s been given a record five songs and for the first time ever the Fauves sound like a band with two distinct voices with a dual songwriter flavour akin to listening to an old Go-Betweens record.
Working with long-time producer Wayne Connelly and Jim Moginie from Midnight Oil has seemed to done wonders with smoothing out the rough edges, and the laid-back instrumentation has suited the soul-searching/introspective tone of songs like “Best Work Alone” and “Back to Being Me”. Leonard’s French-hating kidnap drama “Sunday Drive” is perhaps the only real oddity on the album but its quirky rhythm picks up the pensive pace. Unbeknownst to them they’ve got minor dance-floor rock hit with “How We Gonna Live?” an addictive track tucked away toward the end of the album that goes to show they haven’t traded their synths in just yet.
For a band I’ve often considered as amusing to a point, I feel justified in saying that When Good Times Go Good could be their most accomplished release to date. Seriously. It’s that fucking good. Leonard has grown into a worthy songwriter in his own right, and Cox, an inspired man of wit and wisdom at the best of times has really lifted his game. There’s still life in these old men yet. Long live The Fauves.