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Album Review: Russell Morris – Van Diemen’s Land

3 min read

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.

Russell-Morris-Van-Diemens-LandThe 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.

4 thoughts on “Album Review: Russell Morris – Van Diemen’s Land

  1. The name of the song is Loch Ard Gorge…NOT Loch and Gore!!!! I love the songs and the album. Russell and band are even more impressive live. Do yourselves a favour and try to catch one of his shows. He does a mixture of the old favourites and the new.

  2. Whilst I respect that everyone has a point of view about music, their likes and dislikes, I would hazard a guess that Mr Fitz-Bugden or his other persona, Art Peasley has never attended a Russell Morris show or concert. That is because Russell Morris doesn’t play in ‘seedy pubs’ but in respectable clubs including the Crown Casino, the Hobart Casino, and Twin Towns in Tweed Heads to capacity crowds that number among them teenagers, to Twenty something’s and I grant some older generations too.
    How many of today’s ‘Pop’ singers and writers will still be entertaining capacity crowds in forty or fifty years from now and how many will still be able to write intelligible lyrics and music, which unfortunately they can’t do at this point in time.

  3. With respect to the opinion of the writer have you actually taken the time to attend a gig and listen when Russell and the band are playing they are always well attended and with a demographic of ages not just the babyboomers he also plays regulary at Blues and other festivals around Australia West coast last week Deniliquin this week with 3 gigs in between not bad for an oldie to Quote Sharkmouth did incredibly well obviously it was Presented with an Aria while Van Diemen’s land may not be to your liking again it is public opinion that matters and the enjoyment the various musicians involved had in making the CD as you seem to like music and maybe as a singer/producer are hoping for a number 1 eventually let us hope that in your 60’s you are still up on stage being appreciated for your musical talents by an appreciative audience.

  4. I actually have attended multiple shows of Russell’s over the years and literally thousands of others in all kinds of music. I even write this before heading to my second day of five at Bluesfest in Byron. Firstly, apologies for the Loch And Gorge typo. And that’s all it was, I know my Australian geography.

    Look, I live and breathe music: Making it myself and with/for others, writing about it, discovering its history, seeing it and in whichever capacity I can, learning as much as humanly possible about it. Obviously this isn’t a record aimed at someone my age and I feel I’m far more diplomatic than most when reviewing records that don’t grab me. Bear in mind like all the writers here, I don’t just glowingly review the releases I happen to love and lazily insult those I don’t. We want to challenge ourselves and if you read carefully, I didn’t include anything that was categorically untrue (granted, a typo) or personally offensive towards Russell as he deserves better and I’m sure is a lovely bloke. I merely described how I felt about it from a point of research, as I am required to do.

    That being said, this record didn’t wow me as much as it seems to have done with the three people here who took the time to comment. This is all in good fun guys and if you read any of my other articles here, you’ll see that I’m not out to bash any particular artist. I write everything here with solid research and complete honesty. I appreciate the feedback so I just thought I’d dispel some of the perceived negativity flying around. I’m not trying to widen the generation gap.

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