Where The Triffids come from the isolated coastal city of Perth, Australia cabin fever and tropical delirium are a way of life. No wonder the band's chief songwriter, singer-guitarist David McComb, is so obsessed with altered states and warped reality. Calenture, according to the dictionary, is a fever accompanied by hallucinations often suffered by sailors too long at sea; Calenture, in turn, is about the chills and delusions suffered by lovers separated too long from each other and from reality. And while McComb's songs may seem overburdened with bristling rage and oppressive sorrow, he is always careful to shine a little light of hope down into the black pits of despair.
In fact, Calenture the Triffids' second American LP and fifth overall opens with promises of rescue and redemption, in "Bury Me Deep in Love." The song's tiptoe electronics and silken strumming blossom into sunrise strings behind McComb's vigorous entreaty. But the trick in McComb's songs is to figure out where the hallucinations end and the real hope begins. "Open for You," which recalls Lou Reed's acoustic lullabies with the Velvet Underground (no small thanks to the whispery Mo Tucker-style harmonies by pianist Jill Birt), is ostensibly a song of forgiveness. But the gruesome imagery in the second verse "Well, they've dug up the patch/And found the remains ... hidden beneath that old stone/Where we carved our names on the underside" makes you wonder if McComb is singing about emotional resilience or romantic delusion.
It is a distinction further complicated by the ghostly psychedelic swirl in songs like the nightmarish sea chantey "Jerdacuttup Man" and "Unmade Love," where the harsh guitars and thunderclap drums sound as if they'd been forged on the devil's own anvil. With solo violin, steel guitar and distant, churchy keyboards coursing through a striking guitar blend of acoustic shimmer and metallic clang, and with McComb's rough but evocative voice frequently raised to a violent declamatory pitch, the Triffids often sound like a full-tilt late-period Jefferson Airplane backing Australian angst king Nick Cave.
Calenture's best moments come when the band's instrumental strengths complement the otherworldly allure of McComb's imagery: In "Kelly's Blues," he sings, "Her tree blew over/I shook her branches down/The wind and I, we howled around her door." There is nothing illusory, however, about either McComb's lyric power or the Triffids' rare musical charm. Calenture may be an album about bad dreams, but the effect it has is all too real. (RS 523)
(Posted: Apr 7, 1988)