The Wrights – Evie Parts 1, 2 & 3

This is what I like. An Australian rock opera. No, seriously – listen to Evie (Parts 1, 2 and 3) and you’ll find that it’s a tale of love flirted with, consummated, and finally lost. Not for us, the triple-album, stage-show and ropey mystical tie-ins. Nah, for Aussies, a rock opera can be whacked out in two days, and come in under fifteen minutes. And goddamn, but if it doesn’t feature as much anguish and big rock action as some of your interminable prog-rock confections.

By now you’ll have no doubt heard about The Wrights – a supergroup assembled at the behest of Jet’s Nic Cester after reading a biography of Easybeats frontman Stevie Wright, to record a disc that’d benefit the singer. The major musos assembled – Kram from Spiderbait, Chris Cheney of The Living End, Davey Lane from You Am I, Pat Bourke from Dallas Crane, Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning and Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson –read like a JJJ Hottest 100 who’s who, but deliver the goods with their stab at the Aussie classic. It’s made all the more appealing for the fact that it was all nailed down in two days; a miracle of scheduling more than anything else.

And as for the subject matter? Let’s just say that never before has there been such charitable interest in a song that’s ostensibly about getting into a teenager’s pants. Well, the first part, anyway.

Speaking of which, Evie Part I (Let Your Hair Hang Down) tears out of the gate with the sort of force that reminds you why Oz rock can be such a fantastically visceral experience – I defy any listener not to play air-drums along with Kram’s rave-up fill just before the vocals kick in. Yes, this is the part you’ll have heard broadcast the most, and damn if it isn’t the catchiest part of the song. And love Jet or hate ‘em, Nic Cester’s really got the vocal powers to pull this off: he’s a rock screamer of the old school, with just enough rip in his voice to underscore the strain of the song. (That, and the way he pronounces woman here – how many syllables are there in that word?) When you add Chris Cheney’s fiery soloing to the tune, it’s safe to say that some extreme rocking-out head-nodding is unavoidable here.

Evie Part II (Evie), though it doesn’t have the big rock overtones of Part I, is really the best performance on the disc. Bernard Fanning’s vocals appear darker and more ragged, reminiscent of Stevie Wright’s own husky performance of the tune. When he’s musing

Oh Evie… I’m nothing without you

it’s utterly believeable. There’s the slightest hitch in the throat, as Fanning sings about the child that the protagonists are expecting, and it’s this simple, rough-edged touch that makes it seem somehow both honest and theatrical – without sacrificing a sense of reality – at the same time.

Evie Part III (I’m Losing You) kicks things back up into gear again. Phil Jamieson’s frantic vocals tell of loss over a curiously jaunty background. I’m serious – have a listen and tell me that this isn’t one of the funkiest musical portraits of familial destruction you’ve heard. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but there’s enough of a head of steam built up in the section to carry the listener along to the end, where Jamieson’s final

I’m… losing… you-uuuu

hangs in space for a moment, as a universe-ripping burst of hammond (courtesy of Dan Knight) underscores the finality of events described.

Of course, no matter how hard you listen, the song always routes back to Stevie Wright. It’s curious how, whenever the name of the track’s leading lady is mentioned, one can’t help affixing the s and t to the front of it. Recursively, it adds another facet to the song. Like the theories that Leonardo painted himself into his Mona Lisa, Stevie is present through the song, no matter who sings it.

As you’d expect, the production on this release is topnotch. Harry Vanda’s back behind the desk, and there’s a clarity here that you don’t often hear, outside of Wayne Connolly-produced discs. It’s a solid, meaty sound that, I suspect, sounds shit-hot whether it’s played on Blaupunkt or bargain brand stereos – a true cross-culture creation.

Here’s hoping that Cester and co. go a bit further with the idea of The Wrights, and use the public support of the single as a way to bring back the music that Stevie was involved with. Elsewhere, musical heritage is lauded; in Australia, it’s reserved for the dusty death that is being out-of-print, circulated occasionally on compilation albums, or played as covers by musos grinding out a living to pissed punters in underpopulated back bars. The Vanda & Young songwriting team’s impact in Australian music – with the contributions of Stevie Wright – can’t be underestimated, but it seems to be suffering from a chronic case of lack of label interest.

Soapboxing aside, Evie Parts 1, 2 & 3 is great. It all just works. In places it’s pompous, but the strength of the songwriting, the quality of the playing (and the startling vocal takes – each performer is captured at close to their best here) and the general bonhomie of the enterprise carry it through. Donating their time for nix, to help out one of their own? Who says big-time musos have no heart?

Onya, boys – onya!