Few bands in Australian rock garner the kind of respect and admiration that the durable and much-loved You Am I have worked tirelessly to gain over their lengthy career. Emerging from the Sydney pub rock scene in the late ’80s, the band has since gained legendary status in the country over a career spanning more than 20 years. So it wasn’t so much a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ they would be given the lavish reissue treatment. Well, 20 years on from the release of this classic debut album, Sound As Ever, appears to be as good a time as any.
Along with their highly successful follow-up albums, Hi-fi Way and Hourly Daily, Sound As Ever has been remastered, repackaged and loaded with extra material. And like any good reissue it comes with a smorgasbord of extras to satiate the long-time fans of the band, justifying a re-purchase. A solid, lively set from a concert in Seattle from 1994 (previously released as a limited bonus disc on Hi-Fi Way) is accompanied by various rarities, B-sides, and several acoustic renditions from the album, including an excellent stripped back version of ‘Jaimme’s Got A Gal’- dubbed the Maker’s Mark version.
You Am I established themselves as a rising force in the Australian alternative rock scene in the late 80’s/early 90’s through four EP’s and a strong live presence, before hooking up with Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo to record Sound As Ever in a studio in Minnesota. Drawing influence from the Seattle grunge scene, garage punk and beer soaked pub rock, You Am I meshed these influences into their own distinctly Australian sound with a wonderful knack for song-craft.
More than any other album in the band’s career, Sound As Ever finds You Am I at their most raw and energetic. It lacks the song-writing sophistication and diversity of later albums, yet it holds an endearing place in the hearts of many. The remastering job has given the album a nice tune-up in volume and clarity, without compromising the rough and raw charms of the original recording. And despite Sound As Ever being the band’s debut full-length, they had spent several years honing their chops. So while rough edges are present, they serve to bring character and a live feel to what are exceptionally well-crafted and catchy tunes.
The album features drummer Mark Tunaley, who was later replaced by long serving skinsman Rusty Hopkinson, before the band were eventually fleshed-out into a 4-piece during the late 90’s. Tunaley puts in a solid performance, forming a key part in solidifying the band’s trademark chemistry and the tight chops that were prevalent from this early stage in their career. Charismatic frontman Tim Rogers and bass player Andy Kent round out the line-up. The dirty, fuzzy riffs and urgent pulse of opener ‘Coprolalia’ kicks the album off in electrifying style, with Rogers’ slightly unrefined howl a fine early example of his signature, easily identifiable singing voice.
‘Berlin Chair’ is an endearing Aussie rock classic with irresistible guitar and vocal hooks that have stood the test of time. Other highlights on a remarkably assured debut, include the jangly garage rock and killer basslines of ‘Adam’s Ribs’; the catchy chorus and inspired song-writing of ‘Jaimme’s Got A Gal’; the raw honesty and brooding balladry of the sublime ‘Ordinary; and the powerhouse riffs and rugged rock dynamics of the closing title track. Sound As Ever stands as a consistently strong album, and while the song-writing isn’t quite as adventurous as later offerings, it certainly isn’t lacking in variety or dynamics.
This deluxe reissue represents an ideal opportunity for newcomers to get on board with a taste of Australian rock history. While for long-time fans, it’s a perfect chance to update that dusty old original copy and bag some compelling extras as well. Recommended.
Reviewer: Luke Saunders