There is a simple and very expressive joy that threads its way through the new album by the enigmatic Dons Savage under the nom de plume of Dead Famous People. It has to be a genetic implant in New Zealanders – it can be found in the work of The Chills, The Clean and The Bats – in other words the Dunedin movement (and it can be called no other) historically attached to Flying Nun Records. The purest pop songs expressed with sincerity and melody – an almost innocent and naif approach.
Indeed, Dead Famous People has links to all this movement but somehow never settled into something more permanent or sustained. Savage moved to the UK thirty years ago where she sang with St Etienne, signed with Utility Records – Billy Bragg’s short-lived label, provided backing vocals to The Chills’s ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’ before returning to New Zealand and apparently disappearing. ‘Harry’, her new album, shows us in no uncertain terms what we have been missing.
Herein lie ten tracks of impossible beauty: gentle, thoughtful, reflective tracks that shimmer, shine and are filled with a sense of wonder. Whether it be a Beach Boys harmony-filled track like ‘Groovy Girl’, or the jangling joy of ‘Dead Bird’s Eye’, the mountain high pop sensibilities of ‘The Great Unknown’ or the single ‘Goddess of Chill’ (reviewed by Backseat Mafia back in June), there is unadulterated joy to be found in every track.
‘Looking at Girls’ blasted off the album with Hammond organ swirls, a bouncy pace and a hilarious tale of a lover who crashed a car while looking at girls (and I thought I was your world while you were looking at girls). Priceless, joyous and self-deprecatory delight cloaked in jingle jangle guitars.
‘Safe and Sound’ captures the melodic strength of Savage’s songwriting: open, honest and expressive. ‘Turn on The Light’ enters with a joyful sparking riff, dealing with loss with humour and wit and layered harmonies and an anthemic chorus. Savage has an inherent romanticism too – witness the heavenly joy of ‘To Be Divine’. And celestial choruses fill the title track that closes the album: a beautiful expressive love song to Harry (her son).
This is truly a pop masterpiece that deserves a wide exposure – if you know what I mean by C86 era quality, you will know exactly what I mean. It is rare that an album can be filled with such perfect pop jewels.
Dead Famous People was coaxed out of obscurity by the dynamic Fire Records and we are all the better for it. You can get the album though the link below or through the normal download/streaming sites here.
Feature Photograph: Francis Carter