A new Life during quarantine playlist finds Nick Triani revisiting the doomed romanticism of Australian band The Triffids and their Calenture album.
For the first time since coronavirus arrived, it feels like I’m living in an alternate reality to what I read about. The World Health Organisation this past Friday announced a record rise in worldwide infections. Finland has had 50 cases in the last week (down from the previous week) with no one in intensive care. One could almost feel guilty about this. I do see people relaxing their social distancing practices whilst I’m also less careful than I was last month for example. It’s a fact that people have relaxed everywhere with differing starting points as to where they are with the pandemic. Am I in the oxygen tank or are these altered states we’re living in only affecting everybody else?
It seems the most prescient of times to be re-discovering The Triffids‘ Calenture album from 1987. If you’re not so sure, calenture is a noun and its definition is listed as ‘feverish delirium formerly thought of as afflicting sailors in the tropics.’ So The Triffids’ forgotten masterpiece seems to be the perfect audio companion for these times. For those not aware of the band, The Triffids were led by the handsome David McComb and forged their reputation with a series of great albums for Rough Trade Records, Born Sandy Devotional having been the most celebrated. Calenture saw the band move to a major label (Island) and was supposed to be their breakthrough record.
Traversing the line between the mellower side of early Nick Cave and the more sonic aspects of mid-period The Go-Betweens, McComb’s innate sense of documenting the deepest emotions of the heart whilst aligned with capturing the spirit of Australian imagery, posits The Triffids as the other great Australian band of that time. Calenture has a far more orchestral bent than previous albums, with a pre-Pixies Gil Norton producing with lush aplomb, his stint on Echo & The Bunnymen‘s Ocean Rain record served him well here. ‘Bury Me Deep in Love’ was an almost-hit, whilst ‘Trick of The Light’ shimmers with built for radio beauty.
As usual, the album was well received by critics, but didn’t really ignite the band’s career into the rock stardom some thought them capable of. The more convoluted The Black Swan album followed a couple of years later and then The Triffids were no more. Some post-Triffids music followed, but sadly McComb’s real life reflected the doomed narrative he often brought to his songs and he passed away at the age of 36 in 1999. Calenture is a gateway into the music of McComb’s songwriting, a serious talent whose lyrical romanticism still resonates after all these years.
Nick Triani is an editor and contributor to One Quart Magazine.