CD Review
The Paradise Motel
Australian Ghost Story

ParadiseMotelThis new album from enigmatic Hobart/Melbourne band The Paradise Motel is the sort of thing that I’m inclined to view favourably, just because it exhibits some real ambition.

The fact that they have had a crack at engaging with an enduring Australian story/legend/psychic rupture — the events and people surrounding the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlian — is a good sign as far as I’m concerned. That they do it through music that steps well outside the usual cliches of the three-or-four minute pop song is also a point in their favour.

So what we have here is an Australian concept album that genuinely pushes the boundaries of what most Australian bands attempt.  The music is, by and large, quiet and understated, but it is full of interesting sounds, some genuinely good playing, thoughtful arrangements, and all this without sacrificing a commitment to melody.  The songs aren’t exactly sing-a-long, but they are tuneful, and, on occasion, quite beautiful.

I’m particularly fond of track 3, ‘My Sister in ’94’ which has at its heart a shimmering tremeloed guitar riff that is simple but incredibly effective.  The trebly guitar sound (which I love in this context) is overlaid with a haunting violin and the net effect is mesmerising.  The song drifts along telling its story and then is brought back into line and anchored by that little riff.  Great stuff.

This might sound weird, but to me the album sounds like some sort of weird hybrid between Yes and early Elvis Costello.  (Which makes it a kind of bridge between the new and old styles of the 70s, I guess.)  There is definitely that progressive, symphonic quality to their sound (and let’s not forget Yes used pedal-steel/slide guitar as way of creating their sound, something you get hints of on this album) but here such features are used in the service of shorter, more folky tunes rather the full-on twenty-minute Yes overload.  In other words, they’ve taken the progressive qualities of a band like Yes and combined it with the punk-folk sensibilities and practices of an Elvis Costello.

Not sure I’ve explained that very well.

Overall, the album has a fairytale quality to it, staying pretty much at the same sonic level throughout, though it does more or less build up in intensity as it progresses.  It is a very delicate album that has obviously had a lot of thought and time put into it.

On the negative side I have to say I’m disappointed that there was no lyric sheet (at least not with my review copy).  The lyrics are hard to understand while listening and given that the thing is trying to tell such a story, it would’ve been nice to be able to get a better grasp of what was being sung.  I don’t know, maybe that’s just a cost thing.   So maybe they could put the words up on their website?

The other thing I didn’t like was the singing.  The vocals kind of fit with the sound of the band, but most of the time I was wishing that a somewhat stronger voice was leading the charge.  Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, as I said, this is an ambitious album that for the most part succeeds really well.  I’ve listened to it a lot over the last few weeks and it grows on me with each listen.  I hope it finds an audience.