An album a week #8: “A Good Kind of Nervous” by The Lucksmiths
The Lucksmiths were a tuneful guitar-pop trio (and briefly, at the end, a four piece) based in Melbourne. Crucially for me, they played a lot of gigs in Ballarat at the beginning of their career. Indeed, their first two lengthy recordings — First Tape and Boondoggle — both namecheck Ballarat institutions of the early 90s — the Bridge Mall Inn, a live music venue that attracted a lot of good acts — and 3BBB, Ballarat community radio, one of the first broadcasters to pick up and play them. I have vague memories of them playing the refectory at Ballarat University College (then University of Ballarat and now winner of the ‘tertiary institution with the worst acronym’ award, Federation University), although this might be an example of remembering things that never happened. I know the Dead Salesmen (or the duo, singer and guitar player) played there.
From the beginning they showed a knack for beguiling tunes and lyrics that reflected the everyday concerns of folks living in the inner suburbs on less-than-munificent incomes. Shared houses, the weather, relationships, the pub. The Lucksmiths never put their hearts on their sleeves and wailed. They reflected ironically, and not without puns.
“A Good Kind of Nervous” is in my opinion a transitional work. Over their years together, they broadened their instrumental pallet and cut down on the wordplay, the songs becoming subtler, melodic as well as tuneful, and the lyrics less flippant.
This album is the last of the early albums. It has songs about being fascinated by crimes and murder mysteries, and ditties of under two minutes. The next album, Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me is lusher and more spacious and, while hardly a sudden break from the past, in retrospect is clearly the first ‘later’ Luckys album.
Which is not to say “A Good Kind of Nervous” is trivial or lightweight. Some tracks are just larks — if there is a more tuneful couple of minutes than ‘Under the Rotunda’ I’ve yet to hear it (‘…and I didn’t mean to yell it’s/just that I’m a little jealous/’cos you can do the Rubik’s cube and I can’t/I relied on blind faith and dumb luck/but eventually the stickers were unstuck.’), and ‘Up’ (‘I know this is ridiculous/I’m an idiotic Icarus’) was clearly copied by Disney… well, probably not, but they should have used it in the movie. ‘Columns o’ Steam’ is simply a little joy, especially if you’ve ever ridden Puffing Billy. ‘Wyoming’, though slight, nicely evokes the view of empty spaces seen fr0m a bus. ‘Caravanna’ and ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ strike a note of gentle ennui, something of a trademark of the group.
It’s not heavy. It doesn’t make me weep or punch a wall. It makes me smile a bit, and whistle now and then, and maybe feel a little sympathy for a couple of the protagonists. ANd fight to avoid singing along with a couple of tracks.
And then I go about my business, feeling just a little bit better.