The Triffids – Born Sandy Devotional (Deluxe Reissue)

The Triffids
Born Sandy Devotional (Deluxe Reissue)

Whilst other mid- to late-80s Australian exports had more commercial impact (INXS, Kylie Minogue) or cult-based longevity (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Go-Betweens, Crime & the City Solution), The Triffids somehow missed both boats. Meaning that David McComb and his loyal colleagues were too easily washed in and out of British music industry nets, with cruel tides dragging their considerable canon away from sympathetic ears. Thankfully, however, thanks to the increasingly successful Domino Records (financially flushed via the recent success of Franz Ferdinand and The Artic Monkeys), the cherishable Triffids back catalogue is finally being put back to pasture in revitalised and expanded form, beginning with the band’s mid-career peak Born Sandy Devotional, from 1986.

Originally birthed out of Perth, Western Australia, in 1981, The Triffids moved to London in 1984 in search of a wider audience, already endowed with several singles, one album (Treeless Plain), and a mini-album (Raining Pleasure). Although showing a flair for sprightly 60s folk-pop, it was lead singer/songwriter McComb’s darker, more melancholic, and menacing vision that still had to be tapped-into and fully realised. Through greater media support from music papers like the NME, increasingly powerful live shows, tireless songwriting sessions, the band self-funding new recordings, and hooking-up with producer Gil Norton (Echo & the Bunnymen/Pixies knob-twiddler), McComb meticulously refined his aim for the masterful Born Sandy Devotional.

Although The Triffids’ sound had toughed somewhat under the shadow of the post-Joy Division Britain, Born Sandy Devotional ultimately found the group ignoring many Anglo-American rock influences in favour of relishing the weirdness of Australian homeland geography with its deep abiding sense of sadness. From its iconic sleeve image inwards, Born Sandy Devotional is full of personal and intimate songs written large across epic and foreboding landscapes. No better is that perspective shot than on the mid-album highlight “Wide Open Road,” the classic Triffids single. Its tale of deserted-lover-turned-long-distance-stalker provides the defining moment in the album’s dual embodiment of romance and danger, with McComb intoning “I drove out over the flatlands hunting down you and him / The sky was big and empty / My chest filled to explode / I yelled my insides out at the sun / At the wide open road” with all-consuming conviction.

The fact that the remaining nine songs of the original album sequence possessed almost the same level of soaring melodrama and mystery explains why Born Sandy Devotional remains so powerful. Seeped in Australian outback folklore (“Chicken Killer”), bad love turned felonious (“Life of Crime”), late-night/long-drive psychosis (“Lonely Stretch”), tales of suicide (“Tarrilup Bridge”), youthful innocence and optimism (“Estuary Bed”), and redemptive devotion (“Tender is the Night (The Long Fidelity)”), these songs still feel exhilarating and embracing.

However, as McComb’s rudimentary demos – intriguingly appended to this new edition of the album – reveal, the life-blood of his songs was inherently indebted to an empathetic supporting ensemble. Without Alsy Macdonald’s subtle but powerful percussion, future-Bad Seed Martyn Casey’s bedrock bass, Robert McComb’s versatile violin/guitar-work, “Evil” Graham Lee’s alluring adaptable pedal and lap steel guitars, and Jill Birt’s essential keyboard embellishments (and serene lead vocals on “Tarrilup Bridge” and “The Long Fidelity”), McComb’s songs would not have inhabited such lofty heights of atmosphere and aggression. Perhaps the only chinks in the timeless armour of Born Sandy Devotional come from the gauzy mid-80s production values. Mercifully, though, they’re nowhere near as harmful here as on the band’s 1987 sheen-coated major-label debut Calenture. More crucially, too, McComb’s towering vocals always managed to surmount any studio obstacles.

Whilst future reissues will help recognise this inexplicably ignored group’s importance even further, Born Sandy Devotional is undoubtedly the album that most deserved restoration for the benefit of the small-but-loyal Triffids fanbase and newcomers alike. David McComb – who died tragically early in 1999 – will also be nodding in approval somewhere in the Antipodean afterlife, content in the knowledge that his legacy has finally been rescued from the carelessly filled litter bin of musical history.