UCK. Arguably the second-most infamous word in the English language (after, of course, love), the word has become pregnant with meaning from heavy (mis)usage over the last hundred years or so. Fuck is disdain, dismissal, copulation, dehumanization, surprise, or aggression, expressed as a noun, adjective, adverb, transitive verb, intransitive verb, reflexive verb, and even a linguistically-illuminating infix (e.g. “San Fran-fucking-cisco”). Those who claim that overuse has sapped the word’s power and meaning are obviously not fans of capital-R Rock & Roll, having never had the opportunity to set the needle down on Side A or watch the first chord struck in a sweaty club and have their cochleae blown halfway out their ears. George Carlin understood the word as opener better than anyone else in his heyday, and so did MC5. It’s the classic rock and roll “Fuck,” uttered not only by the performers in anger, but by the audience in awe. FUCK.
That Radio Birdman still understands the importance of these first impressions is essential, given that it has been twenty-five years since they’ve released new material and new sets of ears have been colored by punk’s five or six Oruboros-like incarnations, as well as hardcore, post-hardcore, and a number of stilted garage-rock revivals. Formed in Australia in 1974, Radio Birdman recorded two albums and an EP, heavily influenced by the Stooges and MC5, in their four-year stretch before breaking up, and though commercial success eluded them, their influence on rock around them resonated far beyond their tenure. Now, twenty-five years after the posthumous release of their second album and ten years after their 1996 reunion, the band has offered up Zeno Beach.
And they waste no time getting back into it. The opener “We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today)” offers a classic example of the “FUCK” moment, skittering into a full-band romp with a caustic progression that sounds much bigger than its two guitars and keys. That five seconds is really the thesis statement of Zeno Beach: Radio Birdman is back and they don’t have time for any of that “old rockers return” shit. Sure, better studio equipment has allowed a warmer guitar sound to seep in, and You Am I drummer Russell Hopkinson’s drumming is a little looser than the metronomic original member Ron Keeley, but the band has largely stayed true to their sound and wisely ignored such sceney trifles as hardcore and the garage-rock revivals.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference is in the melodicism and dynamic shifts dotted about Zeno Beach. Vocalist Rob Younger takes a few refreshing breaks from his usual rapid-fire delivery and on tracks like “Found Dead,” “Die Like April,” and “Heyday,” takes advantage of their reams of experience and unfolds journeyman chord progressions. “Die Like April” in particular has something really interesting going on, with jangling, chorus-effected guitars chiming in behind a (relatively) softly-sung melody by Younger, until the instrumental chorus blows into an anthemic guitar lead. It’s almost like the Paisley Underground running up against classic hard rock, and it’s a palatable sign of the thought that Radio Birdman have put into their comeback statement.