Review - The Celibate Rifles

Chain Reaction #115, August 2012,

The Celibate Rifles



Review by Anthony Amis

"Does suburbia disturbya?

Is it more than you can stand?

Better homes and gardens,

Australian wonderland."

As a young fella stuck in the stupefying morass of early '80s society, it was dammed hard to crack apart the veneer of decades of pre-conditioning to get a taste of something real. Politico based rock music, particularly punk music certainly cracked the veneer. It actually shattered it completely.

Sydney's Celibate Rifles (a play of words on The Sex Pistols), whilst drawing some comparisons to the hardcore punk movement prevalent at that time, particularly in the United States, were something else again.

They often played with a speed that could categorise them as punk, yet could produce impressive slower music which was not so easy to categorise.  They also weighed in with personal political issues through the brilliant observations of  frontman Damien Lovelock.

The band contained a loopy daggyness that perhaps could only be created from a lifetime of drowning in Australian suburban life. This daggyness included subtle, yet complicated changes to song structures including street observations expressed with a dry laconic style often brimming with sarcastic inflections. The songs were also permeated with feelings of hopelessness, existential angst, boredom and spiritual disconnection. "Is my life just a cliché?" Lovelock asks on Where Do I Go.

Perhaps because of these feelings, the band opted to call their debut album, Sideroxylon, which in botanical terms is the Red Ironbark or Mugga Ironbark. The all seeing eye in the trunk of the tree hints at glimpses of deeper ecological truths contained within, something which became more evident on the band's second album released in 1984. How many young people buying this record in 1983 would have heard of an Ironbark or even knew what one looked like?

Perhaps also, the title of the album hinted at the bands own feelings of connection with the Australian environment, perhaps the only place where they could get some kind of feeling. The record still stands up well after almost 30 years and is regarded by many as an Australian classic.