100 for 2000 – #12. You Am I – Dress Me Slowly

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2001 – #2. You Am I – Dress Me Slowly
(BMG/RCA)

I can’t be objective about this record. I’m not even going to try. My favourite band in the world is You Am I. By 2001 I was loosely in orbit around their world. I got a unique view of how this album came together. Then how it fell apart and then how it came back together. Here is the abridged version. The long, painful making of Dress Me Slowly.

Sometime in 1999, You Am I signed to RCA Records in the US. Having been dropped by Warner Bros after a restructuring, it seemed like the band was just about to break in the US. It was the first time that I heard some funny lines close up. One was ‘I don’t hear a single’.

Rewind a bit.

You Am I were doing pretty well in Australia, but there was a feeling that they might have gone as far as they could in Australia. Their last album, aptly named #4 Record, had done pretty well but not as well as some people (mainly labels, managers, etc) thought it could. They had spent a lot of money recording it in LA, and so the band released a live album as they reassessed.

Even before that live album, singer and songwriter Tim Rogers had a new albums worth of strong songs. I was lucky enough to get a tape of the demos. I thought this would have made a fantastic album. In the end, only three songs from that twelve would make the finished album.

So – a lot was riding on this album. The big US company wanted a single. It’s hard to imagine what they were looking for. Maybe a ‘Closing Time’? Or a ‘Learn To Fly’? A ‘Sex And Candy’? A ‘Flagpole Sitta’? Some sort of US radio fodder. They just weren’t hearing it on the demos so far. Rogers was asked to go and wrote some more songs.

I still listen to those demos, by the way. Songs like Tourism and Concentration are fantastic. Early versions of Midget In a Nightclub and Get Drunk, Ring Yer Friends are better than the ones eventually released.

In the meantime, the band continued to tour and play. New songs would sneak into the set. But with RCA unable to explain what they were looking for, Rogers was unable to make them happy. All this time, there was more and more pressure. RCA even suggested hooking Rogers up with Ray Davies for a songwriting collaboration. That marketing hook might be enough to get a song on radio. Rogers gracefully declined.

(They also suggested Rogers took out every second word of one song)

By this time, a bunch of new songs had been willed into existence. Gone, Gone, Gone joined Sugar and Judge Roy (although with almost completely different lyrics) joined Bring Some Sun Back, Satisfied Mind and Weeds from those early demos.

Another new song was a ballad called Damage. There was a ballad on the last You Am I album, Heavy Heart. At least two people I know that were in the band’s inner circle disagreed with how Heavy Heart should have sounded. They thought a big string laden ballad would have made it a hit. With Damage, the band finally conceded to this. Finally with a single in the bag, producer Ed Buller was brought in to help finally make this album.

Buller was a disaster. Overblown and over-produced, it caught onto the Australian trend at the time of bright modern pop rock records – Alex Lloyd and Superjesus come to mind. The band cancelled the sessions, and started again. Those recordings would be forever shelved.

With money bleeding, Rogers wrote yet another batch of songs. One, Get Up, the best song on the album, summed up the frustration at the time. The Australian team thought Get Up was the song they were waiting for, and wanted to proceed, with or without the US label support.

Recording began with producer Clif Norrell. The album sessions, which I was lucky enough to sit in on, went painlessly, really. After the album had been recorded, Rogers had three songs that he still had kicking around. It was decided to go back into the studio, damn the cost, and put these three awesome songs to tape.

These last three songs were amongst Rogers best. Kick A Hole In the Sky was the last single from this album when it finally came out. Watcha Doin’ To Me is a passionate song for Rogers new wife. Also about his wife is Beautiful Girl. I thought that should have been a single.

There were still some fights to come – the retro image of the band and the album cover had to stamped out, in favour of something flavourless. They did make a vinyl version, and for some reason, someone listened to me when I said it should include the liner notes written by my friend Michael Lock. Oh yeah, my name appears on the album on a page all it’s own. Ask me about the packaging one day. Of and the promo stickers. So many stories.

It’s a bastard of a record, this one. It lacks the cohesive vibe of You Am I’s best stuff, and that’s because of the long, protracted writing. It took away so much of the band’s momentum. But it has so many of my favourite songs too. It’s like Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life. Not a great film, until you start naming sketches.

It also taught me a lot about record companies too. I helped out at BMG a bit after this, then moved onto Warners. It was the beginning of another story – and looking back, the end of my story with You Am I.

Top 10 of 2006: 5. You Am I – Convicts

5. You Am I – Convicts

For a band renowned for being a great rock band, it could be argued that they haven’t really rocked out in years. So after a break, You Am I release an album that’s almost nothing but rockers, with some of their shortest, sharpest, heaviest work. No ballads here. There’s barely a sparkly pop song a la Cathy’s Clown. It’s pedal to the metal.

So are we down to loyalty buying here? Maybe. But more than their last two albums (and the last 30 Tim Rogers solo albums), it’s a record that has actually won them some new fans. And it’s not You Am I reconnecting with a classic sound – it’s the sound of a band playing louder and and angrier than before.

The first track hits you in the face. Under two minutes, Thank God I’ve Hit the Bottom sounds like hardcore punk, frantic screaming and just riff after punishing riff. In fact, it’s like You Am I have rediscovered the love of the riff. Friends Like You and Constance George has two of the best that You Am I have ever done. If there’s one big gripe about this album, it’s that sometimes you miss Rogers the great songcrafter, the man who can write Gasoline For Two and Sugar.

Tim is still pretty much writing about himself. There’s a bit more anger here, as evident in the tongue in cheek album title. Nervous Kid, a driving rocker, is about being picked on as a kid. It’s a theme Rogers has visited time and time again, but it packs so much more punch. Rogers still plays the lovable failure, declaring him and the band “the last gunslingers in town.” The album ends on the charming I’m A Mess (“I know that it’s a crappy excuse”).

I’ve grown up with this band, and something in the core of what they do just agrees with me. But if that was enough for a good record, then Rhett Miller, Golden Smog, Sloan and the Fauves would all be here. This record is a step forward for the band, one that made me more excited about them than I’ve been for a long time. Let’s hope another record comes soon.

Danny Yau
London