Listeners tend to have an inbuilt resistance to genre-melding. Although we honour a select few of those bands brave enough to blur disparate styles into one big, colourful musical mess – Radiohead, Death Grips and Van Dyke Parks all come to mind – we cringe at such ‘hybridisation’ more than we seek it out. After all, is there anything more embarrassing to some than the nu metal/rap blend unleashed upon the world by Linkin Park? Is there anything daggier than a musician swapping out their guitar for a banjo midway through a freakout, or sprinkling a perfectly decent pop tune with a couple of half-formed beats jacked from hip hop?
Yet that cringe away from audible cross-pollination only serves to make those who nail such a risk all the more admirable. Skunkhour’s Feed, for example, 1995’s melange of world music tropes, hip hop stylings and pop punk chords was a success despite itself – a breakaway hit despite its weird, jubilant formlessness. The thing shouldn’t have sold as many copies as it did: it’s too weird; too experimental; too goddamn ambitious. But it did, and its success should be considered one of the truly formative moments in modern Australian rock history.
Even the members of Skunkhour seem surprised by the overstuffed record’s success. “Feed was our biggest album and went gold,” explained Del Larkin to the BRAG earlier this month, sounding still a little taken aback even after all these years. “It’s the album that helped us cross over into the triple j indie rock scene.”
Part of the reason for Feed’s success can be placed upon the band’s skill when it comes to crafting singles. The record has its own internal logic – songs meld into one another, individual parts of one carefully co-ordinated whole – but you can peel the thing apart track by track and still have a good time. In that way, Feed is an album readymade to be disseminated on the radio; to be dipped into by listeners randomly, with favourite songs poured over again and again.
Not that the thing isn’t packed with individual standouts, either. A song like ‘Treacherous Head’ is a kind of jostling microcosm, a packed pin’s head full of everything that makes Skunkhour great. From its funk-inflected opening to the frothy, giddy climax it builds itself up to, the song reeks of the band’s key influences – the bounce of Mr Bungle, the sun-blasted prettiness of the Red Hot Chili Peppers – but never comes to feel like a rip-off. Rather, all that melodic cherry picking only serves to further enhance the band’s identity: these are men who love music, who listen to it endlessly, and who have rounded up their favourite acts and forced them into a blender, producing a multi- coloured, overwhelming goop of a record in the process.
Even the weirder, less mainstream-friendly tracks have a kind of sugar loaded sense of the absurd to them. ‘Sunstone’, the record’s most hip hop-indebted tune, is all whirling, Jackon Pollock-esque instrumentation, held in place by the Larkin brothers’ striking vocals and the kind of chorus that lodges itself in your head for days. That said, ‘That’s The Hour’ might be even weirder – its deconstructed, skeleton-thin melodies are genuinely groundbreaking, penned in the kind of minimalistic yet colourful style that Damon Albarn would later adopt when launching his Gorillaz project.
Throughout, the whole record teeters on the very edge of collapse – Feed frequently feels unsustainable, like the kind of madcap dream that will eventually collapse into sheer parody. But it never does. It is a record of victories snatched from multiple jaws of defeat – a maddening, miraculous album that works precisely because it flirts with excess, and with abandon. God bless the insane, almost inane thing: Australian rock would be weaker without it.
Skunkhour play ‘Feed’ at the Metro Theatre on Saturday May 27. Get tickets here.