I discovered Australia’s Radio Birdman by accident at Jive Time Records in the lovely (but odd) Fremont section of Seattle. Fremont is know for lots of things, most notably the troll statue under the bridge and the annual parade that includes nude bicyclists (who are not the kind of people you want to see nude, nor do they look like the type of people who bicycle regularly). It’s also the home of Seattle’s best burger joint (Uneeda Burger) and a great used record store in Jive Time.
So… flipping through the new arrivals I found a compilation of Radio Birdman put out by the local Sub Pop label. It seemed worth a listen, and the guy at the counter seemed pleased I was buying it, so that was a good sign. Turned out it was a great collection of songs by what was arguably Australia’s first punk band. Score.
I ran across Zeno Beach a few months later and figured it too was worth a shot. I mean, what would Birdman sound like in 2006 compared to their early stuff? It turns out they still sounded pretty good… though certainly not punk. I’d be hard pressed to describe the style. A few songs were solid rock, and a few others were very new wavish. Some of it sounds more “alternative”, meaning what “alternative” sounded like when it was new and I was in college in the early 1990s and trying to figure out what the hell had happened to my beloved grunge. I had some sweet long hair I hadn’t cut in two years and a closet full of flannel, and my genre had already moved mainstream and jumped the shark. Fortunately graduation and a haircut helped me break out of that mold.
The dozen songs on Zeno Beach are pretty good, but there isn’t really anything that will grab your attention. It’s kind of vanilla rock. I mean, I like vanilla. But you usually need to add some other flavor to it to make it really stand out (peanuts, chocolate sauce, rye whiskey…), and I feel like Birdman overlooked that missing ingredient somewhere. It’s fine, but unlike the Sub Pop compilation (which I HIGHLY recommend) there aren’t any tracks that really reach out and grab me.
If you want to understand the roots of punk, you have to listen to Radio Birdman. But stick with the earlier stuff to really get the feel for the band’s power.