Review by Kris Peters
The Poor are one of Australia’s hardest-working and best bands.
Since the release of their debut album Who Cares back in 1994 – an album which featured the catchy as fuck More Wine Waiter Please – The Poor have been the loveable larrikins that keep on giving.
Even after an extended period between albums, resulting in a 15-year gap between that debut album and its follow-up Round 1 in 2009 and Round 2 the following year, fans of the band stayed loyal and have been paid back in spades with The Poor’s recent return to our stages and radio stations on the promo trail for their new album High Price Deed which will be out on February 3.
The Poor have released a string of singles from the album, each of which showcases a different side to their musical psyche which only furthers heightens expectations.
Lead single Payback’s A Bitch started this whole cycle and as such deservedly opens the album.
And what a way to deliver!
Payback’s A Bitch sees The Poor in all of their anarchic glory, with confronting lyrics and thundering drums just daring you to cross them, and is quite possibly their best song since their smash hit More Wine Waiter Please.
Harnessing every ounce of The Poor’s collective pent-up aggression, Payback’s A Bitch is fast, frenetic and confronting, with vocalist Skenie refusing to mince his words on topics that are far too often swept under the carpet.
If The Poor were looking to make a statement of intent on album number four then this track rams that point home with the subtlety of a train wreck. Just like a fine wine…
Lover enters the fray on the soul of the first of what promises to be many crunching guitar riffs before drummer Gavin Hansen thumps his kit and calls the rest of the band into action.
It is in stark contrast to the aggressive nature of Payback’s A Bitch, Lover is instead a blues-driven and measured track with enough groove and swagger to appeal across the board. Rapid-fire vocals over soaring guitars provide the highlight before Cox once more fires into action and off we go to rock town again. Not a bad place to be it must be said.
Hurricane flicks the switch of hard rock, a constant guitar groove laced underneath Skenie’s menacing lyrics that are by now starting to settle in to the album with force.
A couple of timing changes here and there keep things interesting, the whole while Cox smashes away at his guitar building tension before the inevitable guitar solo pierces the regularity. It’s almost pop/rock ish in parts (and I KNOW they are going to hate me for saying that) but it’s a cool, groovy track that has more balls than most grown men.
A voice-over introduces This Is The Story before Cox’s guitars screech in opposition and coax Skenie back into angry mode in a track that appears to be directed at all of those who dare to oppress and desecrate the ideals of which the rock community was founded.
This shows yet another side to the hard rock library that is The Poor, with a crushing tone dripping with intent that is perfectly matched by an intense musical score that adds mystery to the track. Moments of bass-driven madness from Matt Whitby combine with Hansen’s frenetic drumming and, of course, demanding guitar work that should see This Is The Story adopted as the voice of reason over oppression.
Take The World pulls things back a notch, ushering in another hard rocking blues-tinged track that rumbles from first note to last with an underlying sense of menace.
It would have been easy and possibly tempting for The Poor to write ten songs like Payback’s A Bitch, safe in the knowledge that 99% of their fans would love every minute of it. But instead, they have written a collection of songs that is more true to their musical pedigree and for that, they must be respected. The fact that they have taken this “risk” and nailed the living fuck out of it is typical of a band who have lived through every musical revolution to sweep the world in the last 25-plus years and survived with their integrity intact.
They don’t need to appease anyone and if you want to party with them on this album, you sense they would have room for each and every one of you, but if you viewed it any other way, they would react just the same.
Except maybe not invite you to their party.
Goin’ Down kicks off with an almost blues-like swagger before Hansen starts pounding the drums and leads Cox headlong into a guitar riff that seems to be a refreshing new focal point of The Poor’s music.
Skenie’s vocals are by now as much Australian rock royalty as Shane Warne was our most revered beer-swilling leg spinner. But so far on High Price Deed he seems to be lending more of his actual singing voice rather than the gravelly strains of previous albums. Don’t worry, they are still there, but they are offset by a newfound vocal maturity that suggests Skenie may have finally started supporting a decent football team…
Cry Out changes tact yet again, with an emotive underlying score that acts as the album’s power ballad. Because every album needs one, right?
Starting with a wall of guitar, Cry Out soon pulls back with Skenie pouring his heart out into a beautifully driving track that shows the more accessible side to The Poor’s music. Although this song can be considered a ballad it is still done in the unmistakable style The Poor command on each release. It is an angst-driven tale of hope featuring layered vocals atop stuttering guitars and the typically powerful rhythm section that is the cornerstone of their sound.
The band is revelling in their newfound groove as well, bringing things back before releasing the trigger with effortless ease. Did someone say a more mature sound?
I know I wouldn’t be game…
A groovy as fuck bass intro to Lies promises something special and The Poor deliver. More blues-based than most of the songs so far, it still has the unmistakable rock DNA that almost dares you to not move in time with the music.
Hell, if I ever danced I would probably be on my toes right now, but we all know that ain’t ever gonna happen…
And there it is.
Cox wails majestically once more on his strings, summoning all of the smoke-filled, sweat-stained memories of the last few years touring into one moment of magic that proves emphatically what we already know.
That The Poor ARE Australian rock and roll. And proud of it.
I Know It’s Wrong breathes to life on the back of Skenie’s isolated vocals that I’m guessing is a song about some of his finer moments in life that he now feels the need to purge.
It’s another measured track that has all of the necessary elements for a classic rock number, and then some. With no disrespect to previous guitarist Julian, with Daniel Cox The Poor seem to have found that balance between harmonious victory and venomous intent.
As I write this, he accentuates that point with a well-timed and soaring guitar solo that adds depth and meaning to the soulful memoirs given life through verse.
More guitar introduces Love Shot, an older song by The Poor given new life on High Price Deed.
Originally released on the band’s first EP Rude, Crude and Tattooed in 1992, Love Shot has long been a live gem of a track which must be part of the reason the boys have decided to revisit it here.
Skenie finally finds full voice on this track, lending an almighty wait before husking into action as the band keeps time in the background.
This is classic The Poor. Moments of ferocity mixed with lashings of subtlety and an overriding sense of contempt that snarls and gyrates its way through a fresh outlook that proves great music is timeless.
Let Me Go kicks back more into straight-out hard rock with a catchy opening that sees Skenie telling all who will listen “I am not your savior”, and this, in my opinion, perfectly captures the essence of High Price Deed.
This album is a more rounded collaboration of the entire band which elevates the tracks beyond the normal meat and potatoes style of Australian rock that The Poor have gradually been cornered into.
You can hear – make that feel – each instrument, with the combined output allowing Skenie’s vocals to stand out even more.
The softer acoustic tone of Too Long closes out High Price Deed but, contrary to my own popular opinion regarding ballads on a rock album, is a welcome and comforting finale that underlines the fact that this is an album from The Poor, and they don’t ever want to deliver the expected.
It is a nicely subdued way to complete the band’s fourth and most complete full length, and also proves that just because us lovers of hard rock and metal like to get down and dirty whenever possible, we also welcome beauty in its place.
Turn High Price Deed up to 11 and rock out kids.
This is Aussie rock at its absolute finest.