CD Review
Dan Sultan
Get Out While You Can
(Distrib MGM)

dansultancoverIs there a bigger hunk of musical, masculine talent and gorgeousness in Australian music at the moment? Has there ever been? I doubt it. Dan Sultan is a tower of appeal and ability who nonetheless — judging by the way he presents himself on his website and on album — is content to continue as an independent artist rather than try and take his music to a bigger, more lucrative mainstream audience. Nothing wrong with that, of course, if that’s how he wants to play it, but I reckon if he ever did want to reach out to that mainstream they would eat him up. That is, buy lots of his albums and spend up big on seeing him live. I’ll say a bit more about this after I talk about the album.

The album is great.  It has a self-consciously fifties feel about, not just in the style of music but in the way it is recorded. The website notes that producer Jonathan Burnside used “a myriad of vintage equipment to achieve a supremely warm and genuine sound” and that’s true. That warmth hits you from the opening track, “Goddess Love”, which has a distinctly 50s matinee idol feel to it that you could easily imagine showing up on Bobby Darin or Cliff Richard album, though our Dan brings a much more contemporary, ballsy sexuality to the track than either of those guys could muster.  The label “black Elvis” has often been attached to him and you can see why.

The next few songs continue in a similar vein, though become a bit rockier, or rockabillier, as they go along.  ”Dingo”, in particular, does a nice job of marrying of ballad and rockabilly sounds and vocally rather unashamedly, I think, riffs off Elvis.  And why not?  I also love the why he ties these essentially American music forms to a distinctive Australian sensibility, by which I basically mean that the lyrics are about Australian places, sights and sounds and events.  Fortunately, he does this without it ever becoming corny or jingoistic or token.  It’s just who he is, and it doesn’t stop him singing about Cadiallacs and Mustangs if the need arises.

Anyway, as good as it has been to that point, the album kicks up a notch with what I think are the three best tracks on the album, “Old Fitzroy”, the title track ‘Get Out While You Can”, and then “Walk Through My Dream”.  ”Old Fitzroy” is a beautiful ballad with an affecting lyric set over a decidedly dirtier guitar sound (less of the rockabilly twang) and you begin to get an idea of the latent power in Sultan’s voice.  I love this track and the way it shimmers beautifully, as if suspended in midair, when the guitar hits that big tremoloed chord about halfway through.  Killer.  Ella Hooper’s background vocals are a perfect complement and lift the song to another level.

“Get Out While You Can” is another great ballad, this one kicking off with a nice progression on acoustic guitar and the arrangement remains sparse throughout, with the support vocals again being used to good effect.  The touch here is so delicate and measured that you can’t help but admire the thought and control that went into it.

“Walk Through My Dream” is basically a ballad too, though it is raunched up with the inclusion of a horn section, and it works really well.  I particularly love how the vocals sound on this one.  This track has hit single written all over it, if you ask me, though (at the risk of offering gratuitous advice), I’d be a bit tempted to start slower, drop the middle eight, and build it up into a belting, full-bodied number that by the end really lets Sultan unleash on the vocals.

Which kind of brings to me what I wanted to mention about commerciality.

I’ve got no idea how Dan Sultan sees his career going, but as I suggested above, the guy has megastar written all over him.  I’ve had a go at least one other Australian band for not being ambitious enough, and I can’t help but get that feeling here too.  That’s not meant as criticism; it’s just meant to take note of the fact that if, by chance, he wanted to move in a slightly more commercial direction, I reckon he would have enormous success.   And there isn’t much he would have to do to get there: it’s not as if he is inhabiting some weird corner of indie heaven that he’d have to break out of.   The album is pretty commercial to begin with.  It’d just be a matter of tweaking.  The songs are there; the band is there; the voice is there; and certainly the visuals are there.

He’s the full package too, the triple threat, in that he has already ventured into movies.  It was great seeing him in Bran Nue Dae, even if he was horribly under-utilised, but it does show that he could easily pursue other musical-movie roles to great effect, here and overseas.

Anyway, all that’s up to him.  Whichever way he goes, I wish him well.  In the meantime, what we have here is an incredibly talented guy with a fantastic new album.  Buy it now so just in case he hits the big, big time you can get brownie points for saying I-knew-about-him-when.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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