GRINSPOON – Guide To Better Living


In Europe and the US, Grinspoon have never achieved any more than cult status, and yet, in their native Australia, they’ve been hugely successful. Although Grinspoon’s debut full-length release was released in Australia in 1998, I first heard it when it received an international release the following year. I was instantly taken with their brand of post-hardcore music, especially the album’s opening number ‘Post Enebriated Anxiety’ [sic]. Although Grinspoon had enough talent of their own, I heard more than a trace of other great post-hardcore bands like Quicksand and Helmet within their music, even though the music press at that time had been quick to label them an Australian grunge band.

‘Post Enebriated Anxiety’, in many ways, is the track which best captures the early Grinspoon sound. The band throws down a pounding rhythm and angry riff, which could have easily been a Helmet number – and anyone who wants to be influenced by Page Hamilton should be given the thumbs up. If you’re looking for similar post-hardcore material, ‘Repeat’ offers plenty of slow grinding, but retains enough quirk to never sink into unnecessary sludge and ‘Sickfest’ works well coupling a simple punchy verse with a quirky riff during its intro, while it’s chorus stands out with its use of tuneful harmony vocals backing a shouty lead. It also features a guitar solo, which is almost entirely out of character, as ‘Better Guide…’ isn’t big on that kind of old-style musical showing off. ‘DCX3’ shows a slightly more fun side of the band. First off, its main riff resembles White Zombie’s ‘Super-Charger Heaven’, though I’m sure any resemblance is purely coincidental and lyrically it concerns a dead cat. It features another metal-style lead guitar solo, but it’s nowhere near as accomplished as the one featured in ‘Sickfest’. ‘Black Friday’ utilises Joe Hansen’s Helmet-influenced bass style and is another of the better examples of Grinspoon’s take on the post-hardcore movement. ‘Pressure Tested 1984’ is noticeably weaker than most of the album’s material; here, the sharp edges are a little too sharp and Phil Jamieson’s vocals wander into slightly uncomfortable territory. The second half of the song moves towards a more pleasing slow and heavy approach, but Jamieson’s vocals remain at their most extreme.

‘Bad Funk Stripe’ features the band in an uncharacteristically mellow mood, as the track winds things down to a lazy jangle, suitable for those summer days. It also features another lead guitar break, which also manages to be restrained, reaching no more than a bluesy noodle. ‘Champion’ pushes the band’s post-hardcore qualities into almost rap-metal territory without ever quite getting there, but even so, it’s a standout. ‘NBT’ and ‘More Than You Are’ have a sharpness which both bring more of a pogo element to the band’s sound, without resorting to being straight-up punk numbers and ‘Pedestrian’ also features the band at their spikiest, matching a riff-based verse with a sharp and angry chorus. The simple repetition during the chorus helps make it easily memorable, but it’s the return of the Helmet style bass work which is the track’s real draw.

It wasn’t until I’d had my international version of ‘Guide To Better Living’ for about a year, I discovered the original Aussie release not only presented the tracks in a different order, but also featured a few different songs. ‘Black Friday’ and ‘More Than You Are’ are not included on the (proper) domestic version, as they’d already been released in Australia as part of the ‘Grinspoon’ and ‘Pushing Buttons’ EPs respectively (both of which feature other non-album cuts, so they’re worth seeking out). In their place, the album features ‘Just Ace’, ‘Balding Matters’ and ‘Don’t Go Away’. Neither ‘Don’t Go Away’ or ‘Balding Matters’ are especially distinctive, but ‘Just Ace’ stands out as it doesn’t sound as mature as most of the other songs. It focuses largely on a lead bass part, joined occasionally by a fun sounding lead guitar part which instantly recalls a lot of mid-90s pop-punk stuff.

The only real downside with the Aussie version of the album is that ‘Pressure Tested 1984’ is the opening track! After being used to the international version of the album, ‘Post Enibriated Anxiety’ always felt like the perfect opening statement… For those unfamiliar with Grinspoon, ‘Pressure Tested 1984’ could be more than a little off-putting as an opening number.

If you’re thinking about buying ‘Guide to Better Living’, it’s likely the version you’ll find is the international release as (unless you’re native to Aus) it’s the most common pressing of the album. If you hear that and like it, then it’s worth looking for the original version to hear the album the way it was originally intended.

March 2010