Garageland: Come Back Special
EP | 1995
Come Back Special. No, this is not a bargain bin rebound, but the outstanding debut by Auckland’s mid 1990’s finest, Garageland.
Jeremy Eade, Andrew Gladstone and Mark Silvey played together on and off at Pakuranga College before becoming the band called Garageland in 1992. They named themselves after the song from the first Clash album: “we’re a garage band, we come from garageland”. Debbie Silvey joined soon after on guitar. Jeremy brought song ideas to the band and collectively they made them cohesive and presentable.
Garageland established themselves and then built a career on the back of student radio play, first at Auckland’s bFM and then nationally. Independent and alternative music was shifting and changing and this aural post modernism was being broadcast by the student radio stations to a receptive and growing audience.
Garageland grew up on local favourites such as the Chills, Straitjacket Fits, JPS Experience and the Able Tasmans and were excited by the likes of the Pixies, Pavement and Nirvana as they emerged on the international scene. There was a sense of musical optimism and possibility that all of these bands exhibited and it was infectious. These were bands with the enthusiasm to take the old rules and bend and twist them to make new sounds.
By 1994, the young Garageland were making cassette tapes of their songs and dropping them off at bFM. These tapes were cunningly packaged to capture the attention of bFMs programme directors, and soon announcers Graeme Humphreys and Marcus Lush were ardent fans. The songs climbed up the bFM chart. People liked this stuff and so did Flying Nun.
The 1995 debut release was the Come Back Special EP (5 songs on 7” vinyl, CD and cassette). After working happily with Chris Sinclair at Lab Studio on and off for 4 months, the band emerged with 5 bright and well-crafted songs. All 5 songs are particularly strong, and while the playing is exemplary, it is the idiosyncratic on- edge vocal style of Jeremy Eade that gives the band and this record much of its character.
A feature of the release is the use of excerpts from the novelty sound effect tapes they found in the studio. The band were strong on song openings, which usually involved a forceful guitar construction or flourish, but here they mixed it up on some of the songs with the use of these additional sound affects. This added further variety and colour to the individual songs and to the EP as a whole, making it even more of a cohesive artistic unit.
“Come Back” itself is the lead song and single off the EP. It is brisk and propulsive with a quirky vocal delivery cleverly incorporating half sung lines, gently off-key phrases and strange and slurred accents sung over layered and melodic guitars with one huge uprush of a chorus. It is undeniably a great pop song.
‘Struck’ is slower and rather bleak. There is an uneasy troubled current that runs under the surface of much of Garageland’s material and it is much closer to the surface in this song. A dark and understated humour just manages to mask a terrible despair: “I have regrets, I have no cigarettes”
“Come Back” may have been the single, but ‘What Will I Do” is the masterpiece. This is a song that takes you on a musical journey. The rhythm section has precision and just the right touch to assuredly drive the song forward while the band’s signature guitar interplay weaves intricate melodic patterns over the top. Jeremy sing whispers; the guitars ring. It builds and builds and the listener wants it to never end.
“Fay Ray”. King Kong’s girlfriend that is. This is another side to the band; the thrashy guitars from their younger form and a vocal that is gruffly half sung, half spoken. Guitars that thrash but also mesh, spin and spiral.
“Pop Cigar” is yet another outstanding song and another sound and mood. This one is sinister with a treated vocal from Jeremy that feels awry and distant and creates the sense that it is set in an oppressive, unfamiliar and almost alien environment. What’s it about? Smoking pop cigars that give you funny boys and funny girls, that’s what.
The 5 songs are complete in themselves and are all very different to one and another. The songs are lyrically and melodically strong. The listeners attention never wanes. The EP sounds exciting and utterly compelling but there is a dark undertow that never feels far from the surface musically and lyrically. It is a musical balancing act and the tension is attractive.
The playing on Come Back Special is assured. The vocal style is varied and always of interest. The band obviously knew what they had to do in the studio to get the sounds they wanted on the finished record. The production is unadorned, clear and clean. The recording sounds timeless.
Come Back Special charted on the New Zealand National Singles chart for 6 weeks and peaked at Number 21 on 17th September 1995.