poison to the mind


fuzz and stripes

Due to some bubble in the space-time continuum, Australia did the Nirvana-breakout phenomenon more than six months ahead of schedule.

By the end of 1990, the biggest indie record of the financial year was, legend has it, shaping up to be "Sarah's Not Falling In Love" by the Plunderers. The Canberra escapees, whose songwriters would shortly go on to greater success with higher anonymity (in the Whitlams and Lemonheads, variously), had been slogging around the traps for about five years, churning out singles and side-projects galore. This was the peak of their struggle, a power-pop classic that belts out of the gate with the title wailed in ocker harmony, lines traded off between Stevie Plunder and Nic Dalton, a grin across their collective face that you can hear through the radio. And released only on 10" vinyl - indie to the core.

But at the same time, the most aggressively-funded and -marketed Fake Indie Label(tm) in Australia's history had snapped up another Sydney power-pop band with years of pub gigs and a brace of singles, EPs and one album under their belt. And crucially, they had an even more undeniable power-pop classic tucked up one stripy sleeve: "That Ain't Bad." Opening with a single guitar and Simon Day's longing voice, the track builds and bursts at the chorus, eventually working into a frenzy by the coda - but remaining throughout a simple enough love song (though, like the Plunderers song, more concerned with expressing a sanguine acceptance of compromise than actual romance) that high-school girls could wail "I LOVE YOU...OO-HOO-HOO-OOH!" until their throats turned red.

Which you can hear them do here - after "That Ain't" was released as the first 'radio track' from the Tingles EP, Ratcat blew up beyond corporate expectations, and ushered in an age of "alternative rock" as the paradigm for youth marketing that was only cemented, rather than initiated, by the washing of the grunge wave that followed over the next couple of years. Before Nirvana made it to our shores (supporting the Violent Femmes! on a tour booked before Nevermind blew up) and had to have firehoses turned on audiences, Ratcat had become the first favourite band for so many kids that live performances saw Day not even needing to bother singing.

The Plunderers - Sarah's Not Falling In Love
(from a 1990 radio session)
Ratcat - That Ain't Bad
(from the Ratcat Alive quickie cash-in EP)

The Plunderers' entire studio discography has been remastered and collected on one release, the Banana Smoothie Honey CD. One disc of their fuzzy rock songs, one disc of psychedelic jams. Get it direct from Half A Cow.
Ratcat's early indie catalogue is sadly all out of print, and their best-of is both missing some of their best, and crammed full of late-period b-sides on a second disc. But luckily the cream of their major-label period is available for under ten bucks, on a disc collecting the Blind Love album with all the tracks from Tingles that weren't put on it in the first place.

Since the above version isn't necessarily much use for hearing the song qua song, go here to catch someone who actually was a kid being woken up to 'alternative' music by Ratcat's success, covering "That Ain't Bad" at a radio concert eight years later. It's the second song in the MP3, but listen to the first and come back tomorrow.

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  1. This is a comment.
    It’s tokenistic, to stop a database thingy spazzing out and making the sidebar go wonky.

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