Regurgitator – Unit
On paper, it wouldn’t have seemed likely. Brisbane’s hip-hop rockers Regurgitator – the band who released a 7” housing the track I Sucked A Lot Of Cock To Get Where I Am – doing an Eskimo Joe-esque genre backflip on their second album, eschewing guitars for 1980s synths – and said album Unit selling double platinum and transporting the band to the ranks of urban legend: “oh yeah, Regurgitator… those guys fuckin’ rock.” But somehow they did it. The band’s tour in support of Unit – the Caveat Emptour supported by TISM and The Fauves – sold out Festival, Falls and Hordern Pavilions nationwide, the band won six ARIA Awards and the faces of Quan Yeomans and Ben Ely peered out from the cover of Rolling Stone. All while the album contained tracks called things like I Piss Alone and I Will Lick Your Arsehole. What went right?
Put simply, Unit is a perfect pop album. Containing enough sly irony to keep the beer swilling Triple J types happy (the album kicks off with I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff – and don’t forget that this is the band who would later claim over a monotonous groove that “I like repetitive music”) and enough sugar coated, keyboard laden singles (Black Bugs, Polyester Girl) to tap into commercial radio top 20 land.
Everyday Formula was the first single and introduced the world to the new Regurgitator sound – a world away from the beats/grooves/hip-hop sound of debut Tu-Plang, the new Regurgitator was all about short pop songs and harmonies. This was reflected in the band’s Unit-era animated cartoon-like film clips and Yeomans’ late ‘90s bouncy pop side project Happyland, with Spiderbait’s Janet English.
! (The Song Formerly Known As) is three and a half minutes of the most sublime pop to be recorded in Australia. You know the song, because it was a hit – albeit a hit about social phobias –
“you won’t see me down at the disco mama,
because bright lights really hurt my eyes.”
The World Of Sleaze is as close to a formulaic rock track on the album, with the guitar heavy chorus singing the praises of, as the title would suggest, the world of sleaze. Regurgitator have always had a knack of singing of all sorts of perversions under guitars and keyboards but somehow this is missed by whoever chooses the music they play in your local Sanity store.
I Piss Alone maintains a sense of dignity for thirty seconds until the fuzz bass kicks in and Yeomans screams over the top. It’s wonderfully stupid. I Will Lick Your Arsehole – one of the album’s standout tracks and a live favourite to this day – combines a monotonous keyboard groove over which Yeomans raps
“I’m faking all my lines like that dolphin called Flipper
send chills down your spine like the strings in Billy Jean.”
There are no weak points on Unit, rather only moments which are not as strong as the aforementioned tracks. 1234 is a 50-second blast of guitar and distorted Ben Ely vocals which sounds like it has had no mastering whatsoever, but somehow it works amongst the ultra-slick pop songs. Just Another Beautiful Story rounds things off. All Beatles organs, a trumpet breakdown in the middle, and a soft guitar chorus of
“I won’t mind if you’re holding my hand
and life seems to fly when you don’t understand it
the world turns around and it don’t give a damn
if we all die away and we never come back again.”
Unit is, to my mind, the most diverse and cohesive Regurgitator album to date. Whilst 1999’s …art contained some excellent singles, it also contained some tracks which have not been touched live by the band for years. Likewise 2001’s hip-hop heavy Eduardo and Rodriguez. Unit is the epitome of what Regurgitator can do – funny, subversive, catchy and accessible. And when the band are at the top of their game such as on this album, they’re one of the finest bands around.
When looking at the success of the album in hindsight, though, it’s vital to remember that the mid-to-late 1990s were the days pre-Popstars or Australian Idol. Every You Am I album debuted at #1. TISM reached the top 10 national singles chart. You couldn’t escape Jebediah or Grinspoon on commercial radio. Regurgitator would later tour with Custard and Gerling, both of whom would also experience chart success. Craig Mathieson’s wonderful book The Sell-In documents the rise of Australian alternative music, right back from the early ‘90s stripy shirted pop of Ratcat (don’t laugh, I bought a 7” copy of Don’t Go Now a few months ago). It seems that 2004 saw somewhat of a resurgence of this whole shebang – Jet’s Get Born was the highest selling album of the year, and Dallas Crane, The Cops, The Casanovas and Wolfmother have all been hyped as ‘the next big thing.’ And as for Regurgitator? Their 2004 album MishMash! was one of the year’s finest.
If you’ve got a copy of Unit, go and revel in its brilliance. Pre-Machine Gun Fellatio or the Scissor Sisters, this was the original electro-pop-rock. If you don’t own the album, get a copy as well as a copy of the band’s Live In Brisbane 1998 VHS and party like it is 1997-1998 all over again. You can thank me later.