Australian rock bands, by and large, are guitar bands. That's not to say that they don't use synthesizers, saxophones and the like, but the sound is invariably centered on the six-string thunder of their guitars. While that may give these bands something of a common vocabulary, it offers nothing in the way of a commonality of style, for the best Australian bands are nothing if not individualistic.
The Divinyls, for example, are almost impossible to categorize. On "What a Life!" (Chrysalis BFV 41511), the band serves up everything from crazed guitar rave-ups to sci-fi sound effects, running the stylistic gamut from hard rock to slick pop. This is no mere hodgepodge, though, for the Divinyls' sound is as consistent as it is wide ranging. Perhaps the simplest solution would be to call it rock 'n' roll, although amending that to great rock 'n' roll would be more advisable.
This is intensely melodic, unremittingly energetic music. Most bands would fall headlong into cliche' when dishing out the sort of overdriven guitar grunge served up in "Don't You Go Walking" or "In My Life," yet the Divinyls easily sidestep such traps. A large part of that is guitarist Mark McEntee, who seems blessed with an ability to translate the familiar into something that sounds entirely new.
Granted, he has plenty of help in the form of singer Christina Amphlett. With a voice that shifts effortlessly from a schoolgirl's coo to a harridan's howl, Amphlett sounds like a one-woman repertory company, and her vocal characterizations are frequently the heart of a Divinyls performance. "Pleasure & Pain," for instance, may start off as a chilling song of obsessive love, but it's Amphlett's inflections that convert the lyrics' protagonist into something of a real person.
"What really pulls the "In My Life" into vivid focus is the way Amphlett's phrasing has plugged into the song's aggressively swaggering beat. Similarly, "Casual Encounter" is built upon a menacing, minor-key guitar figure that vividly underscores the ambiguity of the protagonist's acknowledgment and rejection of an attempted seduction. Because these songs connect so completely, the Divinyls infuse their material with a sense of realism that's well-nigh irresistible.
The Hoodoo Gurus, by contrast, prefer a more cartoonish perspective. Again, part of that is purely musical, for just as the Divinyls' blend of semimetal muscle and melodic acumen matches the sweetness and aggression of Amphlett's delivery, the Hoodoo Gurus' scrapheap approach to '60s pop perfectly mirrors the campy conceits of singer David Faulkner.
Granted, that occasionally produces a song as classically catchy as "Bittersweet," but for the most part, the songs on "Mars Needs Guitars!" (Big Time LP BTA 009) are decidedly tongue in cheek. Sometimes that boils down to something as simple as the sort of genre-bashing at the heart of the surf rock send-up "Like Wow -- Wipeout"; at other times, the jokes work on several levels at once, as with the title song's weird combination of hippie silliness and rockabilly menace. Mostly, though, the Gurus concentrate on melody, and that, more than any jokey wordplay, is what makes "Mars Needs Guitars!" such a pleasure to play.
Melodicism has always been a strong suit for Inxs as well, and that, combined with the band members' shaggy good looks, has long made the group prime contenders for teen adulation. That Inxs has yet to scale the heights reached by Duran Duran therefore remains something of a mystery. Surely, there are enough potential hits on "Listen Like Thieves" (Atlantic 81277-1) to blast the group out of the minor leagues.
The lads in Inxs are more interested in packing a punch than in piling on polish, and it may be that the songs here are too feisty for the preadolescent audience. True, "What You Need" kicks off the album with a savvy dance beat, but rather than simply play out the groove, the band alternates its jangly funk with power chords that hammer home the beat. Such sophistication is typical of the band; "This Time" plays lush harmony vocals off against Stones-style guitars, while "Red Red Sun" links its utterly addictive chorus to a breakneck beat.
Still, even if Inxs proves too intelligent to turn into teen fodder, that's not without its advantages.