If I remember correctly, in 1984 Afghanistan was perceived to be a land filled with heroes fighting a brave war against Russian invaders. 18 years later it's perceived to be a land filled with villains fighting a cowardly war against US and UK liberators. In 1984 when this album came out Angry Anderson sang in one song that he wished he was a tribesman fighting in the hills of Afghanistan. Recently he's made comments in his native Australia that someone would label rampantly Islamaphobic. Perhaps he'd like to forget that lyric from 1984. Some Rose Tattoo fans would probably like to forget the whole album!
All great rock 'n' roll bands face a continual dilemma. You can either make another great rock 'n' roll album, which sounds exactly like the last, or you can try something different. If you try something different, you may scale new heights as ZZ top did with "Duguello", or you may fall flat on your face as Blackfoot did with "Vertical Smiles". Rose Tattoo didn't go completely base over apex with "Southern Stars" but they certainly stumbled heavily.
The singing and playing are basically as good as ever but significantly the raw barroom power of the first three albums is completely missing. The production is polite and sophisticated ("polite" and "sophisticated" have as much place in a Rose Tattoo review as "chest thumping" and "sexism" have in a Smiths review) and some of the guitar licks wouldn't be completely out of place on a Rush outtake. At times the brash and peculiarly Australian machismo which had previously typified Rose Tattoo threatens to breakthrough but its' regularly subsumed by what comes across as an attempt to make AC/DC sound attractive to Boston fans.
And then there's the lyrics, which I gather were written by Angry Anderson. On the first three albums the lyrics are gritty and working class. They articulate frustration with an environment that the singer relishes but sees the myriad flaws in. (OK I studied sociology for while - sue me.) They celebrate the macho without lapsing into self parody or empty posturing. The lyrics on this album frequently sound like ill thought out and very naive Australian nationalism.
This copy of the CD includes sleeve notes which are sycophantic in the extreme and hopefully thoroughly embarrass the band. I nearly concluded that two stars would be more accurate after I read them and played the album a couple of times but the last track rescued the third star. It's good enough to be on the debut, production aside.
If you're a Rose Tattoo fanatic you'll buy this album but just not listen to it very often. If you're a fan of really powerful basic rock 'n' roll then buy anything else they've ever recorded, except "Beats from a single drum", but that's another story.
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