I’m sure the Lucksmiths have a very strong and devout following, both within and outside of their native Australia. But I’ve always wondered why this brilliant pop band never achieved the same level of recognition as Death Cab for Cutie or even Belle & Sebastian. The Lucksmiths have been toiling at least as long as those bands and released insanely catchy and wonderfully crisp and pure pop songs that just beg to be heard everywhere, perhaps the most well-known being “T-shirt Weather.”
It may be because the Lucksmiths have a penchant for melancholy songs instead of simply catchy pop. Even these songs, however, are bright and crisp, buoyed by Tali White’s amazing vocals and the light guitar underpinning. And sometimes the band gets creative with harmonica and other instrumentation, on occasion adding guest female vocals. I suppose the band’s following has been big enough to keep this three-piece together for a slew of brilliant full-lengths, singles, EPs, and compilation appearances.
Those hodge-podge songs are brought together on Spring a Leak, a marvelous two-disc set of assorted tracks that span more than a decade. It’s not a best-of by any means, and some of the older songs or rough cuts find a band much less crisp and precise than I have been led to expect. But there’s not really a clunker here, except for, maybe, the noisy and experimental “I Prefer the Twentieth Century” or the countrified “Are You Having a Good Time??” and guitar-band-sounding “Camera-Shy.”
The Lucksmiths have covered a host of pop bands, especially those from Australia. The album opens with the absolutely brilliant Siddeleys cover “Falling Off My Feet Again,” one of my new favorite Lucksmiths songs. The Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” sounds perfect in the Lucksmiths’ melancholy pop style. The band covers The Magnetic Fields on “Deep Sea Diving Suit,” The Ladybug Transistor on “Rushes of Pure Spring,” and The Modern Lovers with “Dignified and Old.” The Bedridden’s “Boat” sounds wonderful in melancholy Lucksmiths style, as does The Sugargliders’ “Dolly.” Other bands get in on things too, as Pipas offers a fun and jangly remix of “How to Tie a Tie.”
The band’s own songs are typically brilliant, from the beautifully crisp acoustic “Point Being” to the live version of the wonderful track “Synchronized Sinking,” featuring Kellie Sutherland of Architecture in Helsinki and Darren Hanlon. “T-shirt Weather” fans will enjoy “The Year of Driving Languorously,” and the pure buoyant pop of the unreleased “Even Stevens” will have you dancing in your seat. By contrast, “The Winter Proper,” a single release, is lushly dark in tone, and the melancholy (live) “A Hiccup in Your Happiness” would make the Smiths proud. The sad “I Started a Joke” single makes me sniff every time, as does the starkly personal, storytelling “Shine on Me” from 1995.
The band proves it can rock with a 60s sensibility on “Anyone’s Guess,” the live “Punchlines,” and the bouncy “Once Again.” “From Macaulay Station” shows a somber mood, with some deep double bass to compliment the acoustic guitar, while “Rue Something” is surprisingly bright and crisp, really demonstrating White’s vocal range. “Yunta Hair” is a nice, bouncy song that shows a more full-band feel, and “Danielle Steel” is a nice little love song. There’s even a timely Christmas song, “The Thought That Counts,” from a 2002 Christmas compilation.
It’s impossible to go through all 45 songs here, and the band admits that the bar was lowered a bit in terms of quality to fit in some long-overlooked 7” singles and alternate versions. This compilation may be more for longtime fans than new ones, but it helps fans overlook the band’s two-year absence. And even casual indie-pop fans will find some wonderful gems here. Spring a Leak is a testament to The Lucksmiths’ long and fame-worthy career.