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If you thought Crocodile Dundee was wild, then you haven't heard Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, a rabble-rousing Hard Rock group from Down Under. These guys knew how to bottle lightning. After listening to More Arse Than Class, it's no surprise that they were one of the most popular 1970's Hard Rock groups in Australia, but why haven't they gained fame in the United States where similar bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Foghat, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive were making names for themselves? I don't see any reason other than geography why they couldn't have made it big in the States.

The album opens with the rollicking “Boogie Woogie”, whose songtitle tells no lie, it is indeed a boogie woogie. It's also a peculiar boogie woogie, what with its menacing pace and crazy ascending key-changes toward the end. Billy Thorpe's powerful raspy vocals are also amazing to behold, bearing a resemblance to Roy Wood's, but with slightly more body. I also bring up Roy Wood, because “Boogie Woogie” reminds me of Wizzard. It's normal genre music, but with a slightly alien edge to it. And it's very good, too!

Probably the greatest testament to Thorpe's vocal prowess is the epic closing track “Slowly Learning How”. It alternates back and forth between a soulful Blues number and a tight rock'n'roll groove that resembles early Dire Straits. Thorpe's utterly soaring vocals have the same effect on me as Joe Cocker's, and bringing in a Gospel choir at the end only made me wish I could have joined in with them. That song is hardly amazing as a composition (it does nothing more than repeat those two sections for an entire nine minutes), but it's such a rousing experience that I'd gladly listen to it many more times. And I probably will.

“I Wanna Know” is also a gospel-oriented number, and Thorpe's commanding lead vocals keep the song exciting. The melody is catchy, and I like the ascending chord progression its based on. But I'd have to say the star of that show is the wily harmonica solo in the middle. If one thing's clear about Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, they were a first-class jam band.

And that fact about them couldn't be any clearer than it is on “Back on the Road Again”, a powerful rocker that's so tight and exciting I can't contain myself! (I'm not kidding, either, I'm hopped up on adrenaline right now.) It's obvious they're emulating 1950's rock, but it's impossible to not get caught up in its spirit. The drive of that song is amazing, and Thorpe's lead vocals take an incredibly commanding lead over it. Perhaps even more amazing is the extended jam sequence in the middle. It takes a lot for me to enjoy a rock'n'roll jam, but I rarely run across things this exciting. When the Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano solo comes in, it's like nothing could be more thrilling ... it starts normally, then starts to favor the high-pitched keys in the middle, playing some brilliantly weird patterns. The electric guitar solo operates in a similar fashion ... it's normal and exciting at first, but it turns into something more fuddled and hyperactive. Crikey!

Still good, but not one of the highlights is the energetic R&B number “Walking Down the Street”. Thorpe's spirited vocal that opens the track is hilarious (at one point nearly going off into a rant), but unfortunately whoever was in charge of producing this album did a weird number on the panning effects ... it's painful to listen to this song with headphones. “No More War” is apparently a psychedelic anthem, with a rubbery guitar throughout and a huge reverb on the vocals. It's jam-oriented, but it's not quite as arresting as the others I've mentioned.

It's a shame that Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs aren't well-known in America. This style of music is still very popular around here, and if I'm able to enjoy the crap out of this, then there are millions of others who are bound to like it more. Trust me, if you've had your fill of all the Foghat you can handle (as if that's possible!), and you're feel like visiting the land of wallabies and Vegemite, then you should put Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs on your list. Even if you're not, then you should still consider giving them a try. After all, they seemed very passionate about rock'n'roll, and they could rock like nobody's business. That's more than I get from most Hard Rock bands. Plus, it's kind of cool to have an album called More Arse Than Class on your iPod, just to see the reaction on people's faces.

[Footnote: Don Ignacio's Blog supplements this Review with a bonus track-by-track commentary]

Rated:
by Reviewer: Don Ignacio

Posted: Wednesday 23rd Apr 2014 8:30 PM

review
To my mind, Jackson's early albums see him coming across like a poor man's Elvis Costello, but where Costello was the archetypal 'angry young man', Jackson just comes across as plain bitter on this, his debut, and cynical too (witness the admittedly very good 5½ star "The Band Wore Blue Shirts" on the follow-up to this release, I'm The Man). But I'd wager that on the strength of Look Sharp!, not many folk would've had him marked down as an emerging talent with a longterm career.

The music here was already sounding rather dated by the time of this album's release in 1979, it occupying a rather awkward position midway between the-then fading punk scene, and the already established New Wave movement that emerged in its wake. The first four tracks have a New Wave sensibility, though none of them are especially notable, the best being "Sunday Papers" and "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" (both 4 stars), the latter being a sizable hit single that got Jackson noticed. Even so, with it's elementary structure it was only the tune's simple bassline and singalong chorus that people latched on to, and as such the song had the air of 'one hit wonder' written all over it, especially when several further tracks from this album were released as follow-ups, and failed to register.

That doesn't surprise me - I'm inclined to think Look Sharp! sold off the back off one hit single more than on its own intrinsic merits. That impression is supported by a rough production that makes the album sound like a rushed job, and the material beyond the single being pretty weak clunky-punkish filler. The only exception would be "Fools In Love", but then that lifts its underlying musical motif virtually unaltered from Costello's "Watching The Detectives", from two years earlier, that only underscoring how Jackson sounded a bit behind the times.

Beyond this, Jackson's albums gradually improved, albeit rather slowly, and it would be several years before he'd find his feet (not surprising, in those shoes ;), and start releasing more satisfying and consistently better music than what's on offer here.

Rated:
by Reviewer: bluemoon

Posted: Wednesday 23rd Apr 2014 10:34 PM

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