During the late 1980s, Sydney band Noiseworks made an impact with a tightly focused sound that was tailor-made for commercial radio. By presenting just the right balance of tough pub-rock, anthemic choruses and lush production, the band produced three multi-platinum selling albums. Towards the end of its career, the band added supercharged funk and soul to the brazen white rock mix, but it was not enough to prevent the inevitable split.
Frontman Jon Stevens had been a successful solo pop star in his native New Zealand during the late 1970s/early 1980s. His older brother Frankie Stevens was a popular cabaret performer. Jon Stevens cut an album for CBS (NZ), Jezabel, which produced three hit singles `Jezabel' (a New Zealand #1 in December 1979), Bobby Bloom's `Montego Bay' (a second NZ #1 in January 1980) and `Loving You' (Top 40). Stevens enjoyed another hit single, `Don't Let Love Go', a duet with fellow CBS (NZ) artist Sharon O'Neill, that reached #5 in mid-1980. In 1981, Stevens relocated to Sydney where he signed a deal with the Big Time label. He cut his second, self-titled solo album in Los Angeles with American session players. It yielded two singles in 1982, a re-working of `Jezabel' and `Lover My Love', but neither was successful.
Stevens then formed The Change with Stuart Fraser who had been playing in bands since he was 14, when he and his older brother Warwick joined Blackfeather during 1976. Blackfeather was well past its prime by that stage, and when lead singer Neale Johns left, the rest of the players recruited singer John Swan (Swanee) and reconvened as Feather. When Feather broke up, Stuart and Warwick joined Smith which also comprised Karen Smith (vocals) and latter-day Feather bass player Mark Mitchell who was replaced by Marcel Chaloupka. Smith issued two independent singles, `Nightlights'/`Life on the Line' (April 1981) and `Lonely Man'/`Steppin' Time', `Intensive Care' (June), before breaking up.
The Change played the occasional Sydney pub gig, and with the help of bass player Steve Balbi (on loan from Kevin Borich Express) recorded an independent single `Forever Young'/`Out There' in 1984. By 1985, drummer Kevin Nicol had joined Stevens and Fraser, who began to lay plans for their new band which would combine Stevens' early love for Motown, Tom Jones and David Bowie material with Fraser's penchant for heavy rock riffs. They recruited Balbi as a permanent member. Balbi had played with funk band Rupert B. (or Rupert B. Funkified Filth Band as it was originally known) before joining the Kevin Borich Express in 1982. Balbi spent three years with the Express during a time when Borich was without a record deal.
Newcomer Justin Stanley completed the Noiseworks line-up in early 1986. He had been writing songs with Balbi. Noiseworks built up a grassroots following on the Australian pub-rock circuit and then, with the help of former AC/DC manager Michael Browning, signed to CBS. The band's debut, self-titled album peaked at #2 on the national chart in July 1987, sold over 210000 copies (triple platinum) and produced five hit singles: `No Lies'/`Learning to Swim' (#19 in December 1986), `Take Me Back'/`Don't Wait' (#6 in May 1987), `Love Somebody'/`Love Somebody' (September), `Welcome to the World'/`No Lies' (live) (November) and `Burning Feelings'/`River of Tears' (1988).
The band enlisted the services of English producer Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones) for the second album, Touch (November 1988). The album reached #4 on the national chart, sold 150000 copies and yielded four hit singles: `Touch'/`5 More Days' (#11 in December 1988), `Voice of Reason'/`Walk with Me' (#43 in March), `Simple Man'/`Letter' (#47 in May) and `In My Youth'/`I Can't Win' (#44 in September). While Noiseworks barely made a dint in the Top 40 for the whole year, the band's position as one of the most popular live acts in Australia remained unchallenged.
By the end of 1989, the band had commenced work on its third album. This time the members handled production duties, which allowed them to stretch out in the studio. When the band's new label, Sony, rejected the completed album, American session ace Randy Jackson was brought in to work with the group in the studio. Only the singles `Freedom'/`Believer' (#30 in June 1990) and `Miles and Miles'/`Be Someone' (#26 in December) from the original sessions came out at that time. Neither was a big hit, but they did add a more innovative, almost hypnotic dance-groove to the band's standard FM rock formulae. The completed album, Love Versus Money, finally appeared in July 1991. It mixed tracks from the original sessions with straight-ahead, mainstream rock songs like `Hot Chilli Woman', `R.I.P. (Millie)' and `Liberty Bell', which had been recorded with Jackson.
Love Versus Money made its debut at #1 on the national chart and `Hot Chilli Woman' became the band's biggest hit when it reached #7 during July 1991. The emotion-charged power ballad `R.I.P. (Millie)' peaked at #26 in October. A fifth single from the album, a cover of Sly and the Family Stone's `Take You Higher' (also from the original sessions), failed to chart. At the start of 1992, Stevens joined the Australian cast of the revived stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar, in the role of Judas. Alongside John Farnham (Jesus), Kate Ceberano (Mary Magdalene), Angry Anderson (Herod), Russell Morris (Simon Zealotes), John Waters (Pontius Pilate) and David Gould (Caiaphas), Stevens featured on the #1 charting Jesus Christ Superstar the Album issued by Polydor in July, as well as the CD single `Superstar' (October).
Stevens' spell with Superstar also heralded the end of Noiseworks. The band played its last gig at Selinas in Sydney during March 1992. The show produced the band's final single, a cover of The Beatles' `Let It Be' (live), which came out in October, along with the Greatest Hits package (#6 in November). Stanley and Balbi formed production/recording duo Electric Hippies and Stevens relaunched his solo career. With the help of Stuart Fraser, Jed Starr (guitar; ex-Massive Appendage, Killing Time), Nick Barker (guitar, vocals; ex-Nick Barker and the Reptiles), Paul Gray (keyboards; ex-Wa Wa Nee), Roger McLaughlin (bass; ex-Little River Band, Stars) and Virgil Donati (drums; ex-Taste, Southern Sons), Stevens recorded his third solo album.
Issued in October 1993, Are U Satisfied? produced three singles, `Going Down', `Reflections' and `I Wish It Would Rain'. In 1994, Stevens sang on The Black Sorrows' single `The Last One Standing for You', which reached #46 on the national chart during December. In 1996, Stevens travelled to Los Angeles to record his next solo album under the direction of producer Randy Jackson. The R&B/MOR (Middle of the Road) styled Circle appeared in January 1997, preceded by the CD single `When?' in September 1996. Stevens' next CD single, a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's `Two Tribes' (March 1997), was used as the theme song to Foxtel's Rugby Super League contest. By 1995, Stuart Fraser was a member of the John Farnham Band; he appeared on the album Romeo's Heart and the hit single `Have a Little Faith (in Us)' (#3 in March 1996).
In 1999, Noiseworks reformed with the core of Jon Stevens, Stuart Fraser and Kevin Nichol, under the moniker of Noiseworks II. The new, touring line-up including Barbara Griffin (keyboards) and Chris Becker (bass).