May 12 – “True Tears of Joy” by Hunters & Collectors

Hunters & Collectors, circa 1986

If you only listen to one song today, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you listen to this 1995 acoustic version of “True Tears of Joy” by Hunters & Collectors. It’s really good. Read on to see why I think so.

But first, there’s this: If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noticed I am not dlee. David got tired of hearing his critics whine about this blog not being “diverse enough,” so he asked this 44-year-old white guy to submit a post or two. Things are really gonna be different around here today. You’ll see.

Hunters & Collectors were a pub rock band that formed in 1981 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. They were active until 1998, releasing ten studio albums and four live albums and establishing themselves as one of Australia’s most popular bands. Outside of Australia, though, they never managed to develop much more than a niche audience. Which is too bad, because they were really great.

Early in their career, their sound was pretty edgy. “Talking To a Stranger,” their first single, is a post-punk gem, driven by a skitchy rhythm, angular guitars, and John Archer’s prominent bass. The heart of the band was vocalist Mark Seymour (brother of Crowded House’s Nick Seymour) who ably demonstrated his ability to howl and yelp on that single and the first few albums, but who later developed a superb singing voice as well (which we’ll get to in a bit).

I bought a cassette tape of their self-titled debut, and their third album, The Jaws of Life (a second album, The Fireman’s Curse, was never released in the U.S.) when I was a junior in high school. I had seen the hypnotic “Talking To A Stranger” video (which featured some sort of fluid being poured over Seymour’s face as he mouthed the largely unintelligible lyrics), and I concluded that band was definitely weird enough to be added to my collection. Turned out my tender teenage ears weren’t quite ready for Hunters & Collectors. I rarely listened to those tapes, preferring much less challenging records by New Order, The Cure, and Echo & the Bunnymen, instead.

Flash forward to college where I, like dlee, became deeply involved in the student-run radio station. I.R.S. Records, arguably the hottest label in college music at the time, acquired U.S. distribution rights to Hunters & Collectors’ (henceforth, I will refer to them as “Hunnas,” which is what all good fans refer to them as) fourth album, Human Frailty, and provided our station with a promo copy.

Although I was the only person I knew at the time who was familiar with Hunnas, I was unprepared for the shift in sound displayed on Human Frailty. On that album, the band began to focus on melody. Mark sang far more than he growled and yelped. The horns were featured far more prominently. It was still a tight, propulsive rock record, but it also included ballad-y, melodic singalong tunes like “Throw Your Arms Around Me,” which became their biggest hit in Australia, and globally (Pearl Jam regularly covered it live; check out this awesome 2003 video of Eddie Vedder and Mark Seymour performing it together, and notice which of these two great rock and roll voices is actually the greater).

I played the heck out of that record when I was in college, and I developed a new appreciation for their old material as well (ask me later how I feel about “Betty’s Worry or The Slab”). I.R.S. released the very good Fate (known as What’s A Few Men in Australia) the next year, and Atlantic released Ghost Nation in 1989. But, in the U.S. at least, label support pretty much dried up and the band more or less faded from my consciousness by 1990.

In 1994, an old high school friend who’d married an Australian woman and moved to Sydney sent me a “care package” of CDs that included Hunnas’ 1993 CD, Cut. I shortsightedly dismissed it at the time as the work of a band past its prime, not good enough for the American market and not good enough for me. That was a terrible error.

Though it was never released in the U.S., Cut was a HUGE record in Australia. It peaked at number 6 on the Australian charts and spawned six singles that would up in the Australian Top 100. One of those songs was “Holy Grail,” which later was appropriated as the theme song of national Australian Rules Football telecasts (Hunnas were the Hank Williams Jr. of the AFL). Another of those hit singles was “True Tears of Joy.”

As big a hit as it was, the studio version of “True Tears of Joy” still (in my opinion, anyway) suffers from flummoxed production. No producer really understood what to do with Mark Seymour’s voice in the studio. The end result is watered down. He rarely sounds growly on the studio recordings, and when he “sings,” it winds up sounding thin.

Not so on this live acoustic version of “True Tears of Joy.” At some point in the late 1980s and early 1990s, producers learned a thing or two about microphone placement. Digital recording equipment became cheap and ubiquitous. To listeners, acoustic performances suddenly sounded like you were not just sitting in the front row of the performance, but it was almost as if you were in the instruments themselves. It really influenced the immediacy of these recordings.

Hunnas were definitely beneficiaries of this technology. On 1995’s Living In Large Rooms & Lounges — a double CD that featured live pub recordings on one disc, and intimate lounge recordings on the other — the standout tracks are all collected on the acoustic disc. Hearing “True Tears of Joy” in the acoustic format totally revitalized my interest in the band. I immediately ordered pristine CD copies (Australian versions, of course) of all of their albums from the Australian HMV outlet. Mark Seymour sings “True Tears of Joy” with such raw emotion, it sometimes makes me tear up a bit (the melancholic french horn at the end doesn’t hurt). I don’t even know or care what the song is really about. That voice of his is just an instrument, and when it conveys emotion so efficiently, so directly, it doesn’t really matter what words it’s singing. The best songs are like that.

I found my CD copy of Living In Large Rooms & Lounges years ago at a now-closed Tower Records store in Denver, but if I wanted a copy these days I’d have to order by mail from an Australian retailer (the entire Hunters & Collectors catalog is still in print and readily available there). If you were feeling generous, you could buy us both a copy of the gorgeous 2008 Horn Of Plenty boxed set, which contains everything the band officially released. If you did that, I would thank you with my undying devotion.

If you want a digital copy, you might have to search around. The big U.S.-based digital retailers don’t seem to carry it, though the studio version found on Cut is easy to track down. Fortunately, you can always stream Living In Large Rooms and Lounges from Spotify, if you like to get your music from the cloud.

Oh, and if you want to listen to the Spotify button presented below, you’ll have to download Spotify (assuming you haven’t done so already). There are a few hoops you’ll need to jump through the first time you use the app, but I promise it’s worth it.  Listening to music with the Spotify button is both legal and free. You can’t beat that.

One response to “May 12 – “True Tears of Joy” by Hunters & Collectors

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