By Bernard Zuel
May well be wrong. May certainly be doing a bit of projecting. But I get a healthy wave of no fucks to give from this Tori Forsyth album. A second wave of because I damn well please, too.
Forsyth, who can if she chooses play roots, do pop, offer country, or pitch up somewhere between all of them, has chucked on some trews and gone the whole rock’n’roll hog. Hog wild when it comes to some of the guitar sounds at least; hogging the ground for attitude and tone for sure.
The focus at first is on kinetic impact, the elements a pretty straightforward blend of guitar/bass/drums that don’t just turn up for show but feel cranked up, pushing at the bit. Except for the occasional slowed up track which isn’t aiming for pompous power balladry, just for a bruised tenderness that shouldn’t be mistaken for weakness.
Forsyth’s voice too is no nonsense: usually not bothering with extreme highs and lows/cries and groans, just powering through. Except for the occasional slowed up times when she says, yeah I hurt too; I just won’t let it beat me.
By this stage you may be assuming this is some old school rock, a throwback to the ‘70s in the way Australians have an almost instinctual fondness for and a blurred memory that eulogises the stinkpits that were the old school beer barns. But no.
Forsyth and producer Shane Nicholson aren’t here for the riffage and greasy denim. Or at least not just for the riffage. The reference points are instead a couple of decades further on: a smaller beer barn (with the beer probably in a plastic cup now), an audience not so demarcated by sex or race (though possibly by suburb as you’ve got to travel further to get to a joint like this), a place where one week you might find a bunch of shaggy haired types in freshly mussed up flannies playing recycled Nirvana, the next a quartet led by a forceful woman in black who will smack your head with her guitar if you get fresh in the moshpit, and the week after that some outfit offering a mix of both of them, nodding to Hole as much as Baby Animals.
So, Shapeshifter can feel like a guitar-first punch that finds its roots in Vanda & Young’s Cremorne studio – boogie! – and Redundant has a flip in its move from verse to chorus that feels shiny – pop! – until the song veers into a sludgy break that is far more Tad or Mudhoney. Yet Forsyth is as convincing in the moody pop of Keeper, which doesn’t even so much as hint at turning the power up as she is in Down Below, which simmers like it’s leaning into a low-key Heart Shaped Box, or All For You which remembers its blues groove, a good hint of Sharon Van Etten, and almost – almost – suggests a chance to move more than shoulders and head.
The glistening slow moves and keyboards of Courtney Love are harsher in their words than their disarming presentation, likewise the spacious Cosmetic Cuts, but the overall impact turns out to be the same and the songs leave residual heat. And if Blaming Me surprises by going nowhere in particular, and Martyr is a reminder, just as the album ends, that Forsyth is very comfortable in modern country’s too comfortable pop/rock guise, by immediately returning to the album’s opener, Be Here, you bring the siren guitar and rhythmic strut to redress those relative disappointments.
Which is where Forsyth’s attitude begins to bubble up, changing the slant of your reaction. What’s evident is that the lack of a central plan is the plan: a refusal to be one thing or the other except pushing forward.
She isn’t daring you to keep up, sneering at your uncertainty about the kick-in-the-balls coming, or trying to throw you when she opens up. Nor is she making some kind of statement of independence. You and I aren’t why she’s doing any of this – she is. And that’s the best way.