Can questionable taste in album artwork really put you off a record in the same way we judge certain books by their covers? If so, do One A Day favourites Sticky Fingers a favour and try not to figure out the sound of their excellent debut record by the front image, which looks like what happens when R.L. Stine is allowed to design Mambo T-shirts from the ’90s. Wrapped up inside is some of the most delightful, well-written and seriously likeable reggae-pop to come out of this city in a long time, and I should know, because I have been handed no less than three reggae CDs from Sydney-based groups in the last month. The omniscient genre is something that the Inner West quartet use as a soundbed for almost all of their songs, but that’s kind of the long and short of it. It means they can experiment with all the good parts of reggae; like the loping bass rhythms, the high keyboard ostinatos, the tumbling flow of lyrical ideas, without having to succumb fully to the whole ‘think about de planet she is the only mother we have’ sort of shtick. It’s really easy to be lazy with this kind of music, just as say, David insinuated Justin Timberlake was being recently with Timbaland’s reprocessed beats from 2008. Because everyone’s ears have been whittled down and streamlined into a singular expectation of what comes with those offbeat chords and dropped snares, there’s little reason to challenge them on it, right?
Wrong. Sticky Fingers may be young and completely obsessed with the kind of things that are usually of secondary importance after peace and goodwill – you know, like drugs, alcohol and multiple women at the same time – but they’ve got a definite handle on their sound. Moreover, like The Police, who they don’t sound like particularly but from whom they’ve certainly learned a thing or too, and to a lesser extent, No Doubt, they use the trappings of the sound to create deceptive rock anthems. Audiences in the 21st century may be suspicious of a new AC/DC or Bon Jovi, but they’re less likely to be when the accompaniment is so damn pleasant. It’s almost a quiet revolution, in a way (not that this is ever the case with them in real life), and ‘These Girls’, which could well be a comparison to some of the songs from Some Girls, penned by the band from whose album they cribbed their name, is superb. It takes a specific kind of cheeky bastard to serenade one girl by telling her that he’s dreaming of her while in bed with another one, but frontman Dylan Frost is one of those bastards. You know he’s going to be trouble, but there’s that voice, right? It’s like he’s been singing sex jams since he learned how to talk.
The real magic here is in the chromatic run of the melody, which you hear being set up by the flecked guitar in the introduction. It opens each phrase, floating effortlessly down in line with the changes. Once you’ve got that pinned down by the rhythm section, it’s all systems go. Pitted against a strong current of syncopated notes from both the bass and bass drum and the Roland chugs overhead, what seems to have been a neat trick now becomes an impressive harmonic sequence, which sounds like it has reggae, or ska in it, but also totally doesn’t. It’s a love ballad, morally ambiguous or not, and it just sounds perfect. You don’t even care that he’s rhyming ‘eyes’ with ‘thighs’ like it’s never been done before, because the tone of those guitars is so sweet and the groove so deep that you’re pulled along for the ride. I said previously that Sticky Fingers were going to be the ones to watch this year, and aside from that cover, they haven’t let me down. Coast into the weekend on this.
Sticky Fingers – ‘These Girls’