Russell Morris has always been somewhat of a poster-boy to the Australian baby-boomer generation. He’s best known for his classic 1969 single The Real Thing but over the course of his illustrious career, despite existing on the fringes of the ‘70s nostalgia segment of pop-culture, he’s released plenty of albums with some of his generation’s finest performers. He experienced a bit of a renaissance last year with his album Sharkmouth that did incredibly well among his demographic of mums, dads and old pub-rockers and this month he dutifully follows up with a new collection titled Van Diemen’s Land which carries on with the same salty-blues aesthetic and spins more tales of Australian folklore.
The record opens with Dexter’s Big Tin Can, a vaguely shuffled collection of weekend-warrior tropes that sound like a bunch of guys in the studio after knockin’ the top off a couple of cold ones and this sets the tone for much of the rest of the record. It would be unfair to criticize Van Diemen’s Land for it’s pretty static sonic qualities as it is Russell’s storytelling troubadour mystique that has led to his success so far. However this being said, other than the minimalist mid-album blues dirges Breaker Morant and Loch and Gorge and the telephone-filtered Sandakan, the vast majority of the album doesn’t really stray from the stock standard, no frills Aussie pub-band sound of the early ‘80s that you still seem to hear in seedy pubs throughout the land however virtually doesn’t exist anymore on the vast spectrum of modern music.
Again, it’s a little unfair to take pot-shots at someone whose iconic status as one of Australia’s premier songwriters is undeniable, but there comes a point where an artist has to either age gracefully or cling onto former glory for dear life. There are parts of Van Diemen’s Land where Morris embodies both like on the tastefully slow stomp of Sweetest Thing or the spooky Witch of Kings Cross but the moments where you just hear the purity of an old dude singin’ songs about other old dudes to an audience of even more old dudes are sadly few and far between. By and large the grooves on the record just give you images of your dad letting his hair down and cutting sick on a beer-soaked Sunday afternoon dancefloor at his local pub after one too many schooners. Not a pretty sight.
If you prefer to listen to songs written about literally anything other than obscure, shady figures from the farthest reaches and seediest underbellies of Australian history, then Van Diemen’s Land is probably an album you can afford to leave on the rack. It’s obviously a very passionate, literary approach Morris has taken over the course of this album and its successful predecessor Sharkmouth with both albums achieving their intended purpose. While it’s definitely nice to hear some attention paid to intriguing, textured lyrical content nowadays, they kind of read like that dusty old book of bush poetry that sits unread to this day on the bookshelf in your dad’s home-office.