on 12 December 2003
Aussie alternative band Something for Kate is a prime example of self-development. Some artists have a way of keeping the same style throughout each album, but SFK is changing. In the beginning, with the album "Elsewhere for 8 Minutes", they were more rock. "Beautiful Sharks" was more commercial with a bit of experimentation, capturing attention with rock songs such as "Hallways" and the catchiness of "Electricity" (which has an excellent riff). "Echolalia" brought the most public attention, a very commercially friendly album that seems pretty much flawless. Now with "The Official Fiction", they've grown to add classy sophistication to their repertoire.
The differences between this and past albums are evident. While the commerciality isn't as frequent, "The Official Fiction" is nonetheless quite powerful and emotional, and is best played during a quiet night in. And to get the most out of this album, one should pay close attention to the lyrics, and SFK provides some of the best in the song-writing business of recent times.
A brilliant example of quality lyrics is "Best Weapon", clearly inspired by today's world. One can tell by the sinister tones in the opening bars that there is something disturbing going on. "His machines all agree, let's wind them up and march them out / History repeated and read out loud – this could be our best weapon now..." The second verse is even more powerful: "Stripes and suits pushing the numbers through / They treat them like they don't exist / And they count them up like they're matchsticks..." The lyrics are perfectly suited to the music, which has a haunting and emotional outro, with those two adjectives capable of pretty much summing up the entire album.
Another standout track is clearly "Letter to the Editor", upbeat and energetic enough to capture attention, with a brilliant riff in the verses. However, the true essence lies in the lyrics, which comment on the media's interpretation of life. "It's just information burned up, passed out, spun to your door..." is a prime example, as are the choruses. This is a very meaningful song, with other lyrics such as "and the choice of words is choose no words; say nothing, nothing at all" and "tell it like it is". This is a song to remember.
The first single released from this album was "Déjà Vu", certainly a change from the released singles of previous albums. This is a powerful, string-driven track with lyrics of coincidence. It's a haunting piece, and the strings truly bring the song to life, before it softens for the ending. A terrific version of it (though with the lyrics slightly altered) was performed at Australian music's night of nights (the ARIA Awards), complete with a string section, so it can be brilliant live as well.
"Song for a Sleepwalker" was the second released single, and tames the passionate fire created by the more powerful tracks. It's sweet, with a gentle lightness that makes it accessible for commercial purposes, and elicits smiles. However, like with SFK's other released singles, it didn't stay for very long in the top 20 singles in Australia.
Like "Echolalia", this album has a track best performed live. In this case, it's "Light at the End of the Tunnel", with an acoustic guitar, strings and light female background vocals. This is one for gigs.
"Max Planck" is solid, a smooth piece that holds something somewhat emotional in the verses. "Kaplan / Thornhill" isn't particularly a standout, with a swaying feeling, and string instruments playing a major part in the outro.
The only track that I personally don't think belongs on the album is "Reverse Soundtrack". It's a slow track, and the problem with slow tracks is that if they're not special then they seem like time-fillers. Unfortunately, it is the later that describes this song, and it's a disappointment.
The track positioning of the album shows that maybe this didn't go unnoticed, and so it seems as though attempts to make up for it are done with the following tracks. "Coldwater Canyon" is lightly upbeat about getting "out of this still life", reasonably catchy. The last minute consists of strings only, but they are slower, and so I'm not quite sure if they fit in with the rest of the song. Meanwhile, "Souvenir" sounds as if it was written back in earlier years of the band, around the time of "Elsewhere for 8 Minutes", perhaps, as it is upbeat, lively and catchy soft-rock, its best line being "it's all money over mind over matter over miles of nothing, nothing here".
One of my personal favourite tracks is "Moving Right Along", which is the blessed feel-good track of the album. This is the song to hug – it's lovely, lively and cuddly, and you just have to adore it. The lyrics are about a friend never falling in times of trouble: "They thought you'd falter, they thought you'd fail / But I knew better – you were just setting sail / And you were moving right along..."
"Asleep at the Wheel" goes back to slightly haunting soft-rock, with a snappy riff and interesting lyrics in the chorus – "This is how we come and go, with ghosts for memories and memories for ghosts..." And the final track, "No Man's Land", has its opening bars and verses similar to the band's earlier work, but the chorus sounds similar to "Déjà Vu". It's nice, though not particularly outstanding, with good writing, but it doesn't feel individual enough.
Overall, "The Official Fiction" is powerful, sophisticated music, but lacks stability of strength. "Reverse Soundtrack" bogs down the album, and the next three songs seem to try to compensate for that. The first half is – for the most part – serious and dramatic, while the other half is lighter, so maybe this could be better equalised by mixing up the track order. The album could be viewed as an acquired taste overall, but it's a must-have for fans. Newcomers to the band's listeners may prefer to start off with "Echolalia" or "Beautiful Sharks", but it really depends on what they're after.