Album of the Week, July 19: Doughboy Hollow by Died Pretty

DiedPDHDousedDied Pretty formed in Sydney in 1983 when singer Ron Peno (late of the Screaming Tribesmen) joined the duo of keyboard player Frank Brunetti and guitarist Brett Myers. Influenced by the darker elements of American punk and psychedelia, they called themselves Final Solution after a Pere Ubu song until Peno hit upon the name that fit their sound perfectly. They built a strong local reputation with a revolving door rhythm section. Their first album, Free Dirt, was an odd mix of punk, pub, and prog that showed promise but barely hinted at the sound the band would refine over the next couple of years. After two more albums that crystalized their approach — smart songs mostly written by Peno and Myers, aching vocals, gritty but polished music — the band was fairly settled with drummer Chris Welsh and bassist Robert Warren. Their new secret weapon was John Hoey, replacing Brunetti on keyboards. His sophisticated playing emphasized the Peno/Myers compositions with a quiet elegance, firmly establishing the Died Pretty approach that would last until their breakup in 2002. This lineup’s first outing is the band’s finest hour, Doughboy Hollow.

Title Doughboy Hollow
Act Died Pretty
Label Beggars Banquet Release Date January 1992
Producer Hugh Jones
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Doused
  2. D.C.
  3. Sweetheart
  4. Godbless
  5. Satisfied
  6. Stop Myself
  7. Battle of Stanmore
  8. The Love Song
  9. Disaster
  10. Out In the Rain
  11. Turn Your Head

From the first notes it’s clear that something special is happening. Low-key but passionate, melancholy and reflective but with an edge of hope, every song contemplates a distinct aspect of everyday life with a keen eye and aching heart. Doused is a perfect opener. It’s filled with gambling references but refuses to simply be about gambling, providing a broader metaphor for life. Quiet and stirring, it features one of Peno’s finest vocals and announces a newly confident band.

The lyrics are often elliptical and mysterious, but the emotion is pure and the themes unwind themselves with careful listening. D.C. is a loving tribute to a departed friend, with some of Hoey’s best piano work and a nice violin part contributed by the Go Betweens’ Amanda Brown. Sweetheart reads like the pleadings of a broken relationship but is in fact a dark look at the workings of a serial killer. On Godbless, Peno explores addiction and fame, tossing in a nice nod to fellow Sydney band the Sunnyboys. This trio of songs is among the strongest in the band’s catalog and helped establish them as a force to be reckoned with in Australian rock.

With the six-minute epic Satisfied, the band put the contradictions of modern life — trying to make the most of challenging times — in a gorgeous musical setting. That sense of contradiction returns with Stop Myself, a cheery pop number with a grim lyrical determination. It also features fine guitar solo from Myers. After a brief detour — the curiously martial, sung-through-a-megaphone Battle of Stanmore — the irony gets deeper with The Love Song. The story of a disintegrating couple, it belies its title with every word.

The final trio continue the strong playing and passionate singing but take a much more direct lyrical approach. Disaster is an honest title, with the singer pleading a partner to reconsider the end of their relationship. Out In the Rain finds our protagonist coming to grips with the inevitable, making his peace with the world as he finds it. The disc closes with the elegant Turn Your Head. Peno encourages the listener to walk away when its clear that the time has come. It’s a strong song that brings all the elements of the album together nicely.

Doughboy Hollow is dark but hopeful, a very real album with a lyrical heart and musical muscle. From the opening chords to the slow fadeout, it’s the kind of set that few bands achieve.

FURTHER LISTENING: Died Pretty’s early work is a bit spotty but promising. Lost and Every Brilliant Eye each have a handful of great tracks that hint at the stunning album to come. After Doughboy, the band landed a big contract and solid international distribution. Trace is almost as good as its predecessor, but suffers a bit from songs that go on longer than they need to. Sold is more of the same, with the magic beginning to fade. The band recorded two more albums in a very different, electronica inspired sound, then broke up. They have reunited for a couple of special projects, including a live performance of Doughboy Hollow as part of the Don’t Look Back series in 2008. Peno has some nice reflections on the album made in an interview during the concerts.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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