The legendary and charismatic Ron S Peno fronted the iconic Died Pretty since the eighties, with time off for bad behaviour and a band hiatus. Having moved to Melbourne, he formed Ron S Peno and the Superstitions while his Died Pretty partner in crime, guitarist Brett Myers, stayed near Sydney, playing with Joey’s Coop. For Peno, 2019 saw a serious health scare that was thankfully resolved, then 2020 saw – well you know what – and now Peno and his band have just released their incredible fourth album, ‘Do The Understanding’.
All the things that made Died Pretty such an important band remain in situ in this album, even in the absence of Myers’s extraordinary guitar playing. Peno has a voice that rasps, growls, whoops, soothes, rails against the vicissitudes of life and then seduces with a sensuous timbre. His vocal dramatics and ebullience nestles perfectly in the arms of a band that produces a jangling and seductive platform for his at times operatic delivery. Indeed The Superstitions’ co-founder, guitarist and composer Cam Butler and band provides the steady rock upon which Peno can launch: layered, celestial instrumentation that sparkles like stars in the firmament. The band consists of pillars of the Australian music scene with drummer Mark Dawson (Black-Eyed Susans, Ed Kuepper), keyboard player Tim Deane (Kim Volkman, Charlie Marshall) and bassist Andy Papadopoulos (ex-Deborah Conway).
Opening track ‘When Worlds Collide’ could well have been on a Died Pretty release: sombre, statuesque with a razor blade edge guitars, pounding piano and Peno’s voice at its peak: switching from sonorous, deep thundering lows to little peaks and whelps that ping in and out. Ultimately it has an anthemic quality that resounds in the chorus: a celestial crescendo.
‘The Strangest Feeling’ has Peno’s voice at its falsetto best – pure and ringing like a bell. Backed by muted guitars, swirling organ and tinkling piano, his voice is up front and exposed – subtle and delicate voicing with soul-inflected backing vocals. There is sonically a lighter feel, even as the song builds gracefully up a head of steam to its denouement and Peno’s voice assumes a greater steel.
‘Everything Has Changed’ has dual vocals – spoken and sung – and a lot more powder in the barrel. Peno’s voice has a rich timbre that recalls the age of the crooner. This is an enigmatic track – reflective and floating in the ether with a strong and steady presence.
‘Lovelight’ is crystalline and brittle – Peno’s voice restrained and low while the instruments sparkle underneath: mellow and dappling splashes with the tremeloed guitars.
The pace tilts forward with ‘Darkness Heart’ with its arcing guitar riffs and effervescent pace with Peno at his crooning best, like some Las Vegas lounge singer in a puffy lace shirt, cravatte and purple velvet suit, with eyes closed in concentration. As is Peno’s way, restraint is shrugged off as the song starts to run forward at a canter with a chaotic thrill.
The church organ beginning to ‘Just a Little’ gives way to a shuffling percussive beat and an imperial progression. This has another steady paced beginning with Peno’s vocals soft and understated: a hammond organ pillow that gives way to a more frenetic ending and satisfying chaotic end.
The album closes with the torch light, piano driven beauty ‘I Think It’s Gonna Rain’: a downbeat melancholy farewell and Peno’s vocals soaked in sadness and regret. The anthemic, theatrical and ethereal nature of the track is pure Peno; heart achingly beautiful and posed.
‘Do The Understanding’ is a beautiful and mesmerising album, filled with a heart-rending purity of expression and an acerbic, gritty edge. It is an affirmation of the power and clarity of indie rock and feels like a warm and natural development from Peno’s past. Indelible melodies, distinctive vocals and a songwriting craft combine to produce some quite magnificent.
The dark and fearful times in which we have lived through have suddenly been leavened by a ray of sunshine.
You can get the album directly through the link below with a vinyl option available, or through a variety of streaming or downloading options here.
The band will be playing a series of launch gigs in Vintoria – COVID willing:
Saturday September 4th
Brunswick Ballroom, with special guests, Serene Dreams (tickets here)
Saturday October 9th
Memo Music Hall, St Kilda (tickets here)
Saturday 23rd October
The Macedon Railway Hotel, Macedon (tickets here)
It is difficult to express what a profound and integral influence singer/songwriter Ron S. Peno has had on the Australian independent music scene. As co-songwriter writer and frontman for the legendary Died Pretty, the eighties indie scene in Australia was set alight with the band’s inherent ear for pop melodies expressed through Brett Myers’s jangling guitars, a hammond organ wash and Peno’s highly distinctive vocals that ranged from fear-inducing growls to a sweet falsetto. And despite the ability to write perfect pop songs, they had just the right amount of grit and an intimidating presence.
Albums like ‘Doughboy Hollow’ and ‘Trace’ have become part of Australian indie rock history and even bothered the mainstream charts in Australia. Earlier albums ‘Free Dirt’, ‘Lost’ and ‘Every Brilliant Eye’ are still to my mind some of the best music to ever come out of the eighties. The band garnered an international reputation (apocryphally being bigger in Italy than Australia) but never moved to Europe as their peers did to build on their presence.
Live they were – and based on the evidence of a recent gig, still are – phenomenal. Myers, still, cool and implaccable while Peno prowled with menace ranging across the stage. I still rate Died Pretty as one of the best bands ever to come out of Australia and if you haven’t heard them, go and have a listen. Ron s. Peno and the Superstitions have carried the burning torch forward, and all is well.