... punk rock is alive and well in old Melbournetown. The Sneakers rocked a set of tunes that you want, need and must have on album.
... the Sneakers played a 40-minute set of pure, pumping rock ‘n’ roll. They just smashed their way through their set. Fuck, it went quick, but I do remember “Bank Robber” was better live than on record (and on record it is amazing.)
It is in the context of ruby-tinged memories of rock’n’roll’s old school aesthetic that we turn to Powerline Sneakers. This is a band filled to the brim with old school rock’n’roll credibility: Sly Faulkner (Splatterheads), John Nolan (Powdermonkeys), Katie Dixon (Ripe) and Mark Hurst (Guttersnipes). Powerline Sneakers is awash with the brazen attitude of punk rock, the punchy riffs of ‘70s rock, the invigoration of the original ‘60s pop era and the spectre of a thousand gigs lost in a haze of booze and narcotics.
Signs is that buzzsaw guitar track you heard when you were 16 and you were never the same again, Bank Robber is positive proof that punk rock can live in peace and harmony with pop sensibility and Miracle of Sin is as bold and brassy as The Saints hanging loose with the Dap Kings.
There’s ‘50s dancehall rockers (Wedding Rocker and Spectre), God-like romance (Miss You) and powerpop angst (Don’t Shit Me Now) and MC5 arrogance (2 Step Wreck). Top it off with the punchy Miles of Love and it’s clear there’s no cheap bullshit licence here. Powerline Sneakers are the real deal.
There’s a beautiful, sleazy rock and roll feel to “…disasterpiece” that’s refreshingly hard to pin down. From the rumbling and seedy “Dream Feature” to the girl-group-on-steroids swagger of “Don’t Shit Me Now”, and even more Spectoresque glow of “Spectre” (ha!), it’s an avalanche of hard-boiled hard Rock Action.
That Powerline Sneakers rock like motherfuckers should come as no surprise, given the pedigree of the players. Lead guitarist John Nolan was in the Powder Monkeys and Bored!. Sly Faulkner, on vocals and guitar, fronted the Splatterheads, who were well regarded even if I never got into ‘em. Bassist Katie Dixon was in Ripe and Mark Hurst pounded the tubs for The Yes-Men and Gutternsipes.
Sometimes such well-qualified bands don’t pull it off. Too much reliance on what they might do because of past glories rather than what they should do. Ego clashes. No songs. Rest assured that none of this is the case. The engine room is as great as you might hope, the guitars as caustic as Draino and the vocals expressive and arresting. The songs are very good (and all their own work) and Paul Maybury’s production is ace. MIkey Young's mastering is widesreen enough without losing its punch.
You may have seen video of “Bank Robber”. If so, you'll know it bears no relation to the dubby Clash song of the same name. The furious guitars and wailing, woo-hoo backing vocals sound more like San Diego’s brutal Dragons or the Hellacopters at their height, but with more swing.
There’s another misnomer: “Miss You” has not a touch of a disco-fried Bill Wyman bass-line or lyrics about Jagger communing with West Side Puerto Ricans. No, it’s a surging fest of guitars with an urgent rawk bass-line and precise, driving drumming. A splash of keys (credit to John Olson) sets the scene before the guitar wave breaks and, along with Faulkner’s vocal, drags us right out to sea.
There’s an endless number of styles being mixed up. “Miracle of Sin”, the lead-off track online, shows a band unafraid to mix it up. Horns duel with soaring and driving, strafing guitars. If the song was any harder you could crack nuts on it.
Then we slip into “Wedding Ring”, where Katie Dixon’s vocal part flips the switch to bubble-gum. I shit you not. Heavy duty bubble-gum inflated by what sounds like a vibraphone and what’s undeniably a pair of cast iron guitars, sitting astride a monstrous bottom end.
Then there’s “Dream Feature”, the song mentioned earlier. Throaty organ intro and then two cabinet-rattling, filthy guitars charge in. Faulkner’s knowing vocal complements the here’s-a-bloke-cutting-your-grass lyrics. “Girl, you featured in a dream of mine.” John Nolan’s snaking outro is worth the admission price.
Powerline Sneakers have been around the block a few times and then some, the members sometimes navigating unclear career paths that involved detours onto rock and roll’s darker side. Let’s be frank, though: Music like theirs’ isn’t made by kids from posh private schools in expensive studios and nor is it supported (any more) by silver-tongued and often clueless men in suits with fat wallets. One look at any one of the three gnarly heads in this band would send them running the other way. That's why they put Katie up front in the photos.
Did I mention there are horrns on this record? I have now.
Powerline Sneakers deserve their time in the sun and you deserve to hear them.
The collective history of Powerline Sneakers – Sly Faulkner (Splatterheads, Red Planet Rocketts), John Nolan (Powder Monkeys, Bored!), Mark Hurst (Guttersnipes) and Katie Dixon (Ripe) – more than warrants interest in this debut from the Melbourne four-piece. There's been a handful of rough live tracks in limited circulation over recent years, fuelling speculation about when the group would enter the studio. They did sometime last year and between Paul Maybury recording them and Mikey Young's mastering, it's been worth the wait.
Opener Signs slams the foot on the gas from the opening bar, but this is no reckless joy ride. Faulkner's brilliantly ragged and seasoned pipes have stood the test of time and again he stands and delivers; Nolan's slashing guitar right alongside him in a mix that serves up clever songwriting, harmonies, seriously good keys and a full throttle rhythm section. Bank Robber is a guaranteed live favourite, Miracle of Sin comes complete with horns and Dream Feature quite simply struts, while across the album's 11 tracks there's an assuredness that only comes with experience.