dress me slowly

It’s instructive that Get Up, this album’s exuberant, paint-peeling second single and one of its highlights, was known for a long time in the You Am I camp as Leunig. They really shoulda’ kept it like that, because I think it says everything about their new record. Master Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig’s view of the world is essentially hopeful and uplifting, but tempered, too, by the knowledge that sorrow and despair are never far from the surface. The same might be said of ‘Dress Me Slowly’. ‘I don’t know where the sadness starts, but I’m so happy I could die,’ Tim Rogers sings at one point on the understated Gone Gone Gone, and then counters on Damage that ‘you can run so far from sadness, that you’re never around for the fun’.

Roger’s recognition of the peaks and troughs is nothing new, of course. For every adrenalin rush over the years, from Berlin Chair to Rumble, there’s been the equally sad and melancholy (most famously Purple Sneakers and Heavy Heart). The difference here is that Tim Rogers is clearly a much more reflective man than the flippant young chap who danced and shook his ass through most of You Am I’s wonderful first four albums. You can hear it in his voice, you can hear it in his writing - Heavy Heart is cute in comparison to the weighty relationship issues addressed on the acoustic-driven ballads Damage, Sugar and Weeds - and you can hear it in the grooves: this is a tough, no-nonsense record, full of ragged guitars and nary a sweet dominant seventh chord in sight. You Am I records never lacked for soul, but ‘Dress Me Slowly’ is distinguished by a grittiness and a directness which can only come through life experience (exemplified best on the album centrepiece, the desperate, soaring mid-tempo rocker Watcha Doin’ To Me where Rogers articulates perfectly the paradoxical wonderment and anxiety of new love). I suspect that when they write the history of You Am I, people will point to ‘Dress Me Slowly’ as a defining record in their career, the moment when boys became men. For that reason alone, every self-respecting fan must own this.

The flipside of all this introspection is that You Am I are also positively celebratory of the life-affirming effects of rock and roll, and how fortunate they are to make a living from it. Judge Roy, Doug Sahm, Kick A Hole In The Sky and the giddy Bring Some Sun Back (the latter two destined to be You Am I classics) are as meaty, big and bouncy as anything they’ve ever done. Fittingly, ‘Dress Me Slowly’, closes with End O’ The Line, a dose of good ol’ fashioned American bar band rock and roll. It may be four in the morning in Buttfuck, Idaho; You Am I may be soaked in beer, stained with sweat and tears, and delirious from the road, but when Rogers sings ‘we’ll be there ‘til the end of the line’, there’s not even the hint of world-weariness or cynicism in his voice. Rather, it’s a promise, one made not just to himself and his bandmates, but, importantly, to anyone who still has faith that rock and roll can save lives - no matter how grown up you get. Leunig should be proud.

Peter Strelan