National pride is having a moment here in Australia. You can see it taking form in the unlikeliest of places; from the halls of Parliament, where minority parties campaigning on a platform of ‘Australian values’ are grabbing more seats, to Internet meme culture, in the form of a thriving Betoota Advocate and spin-off pages dedicated to VB, Ibises and gronks and even music festivals, where headliners Peking Duk recently tapped the likes of The Castle‘s Stephen Curry and Shane Warne to introduce their live set. Indeed, for a generation that grew up in early iterations of the Apple iPod era, where most local culture was steamrolled by monolithic global products that changed the face of communications, to be Australian was something to celebrated once a year, albeit on a very loaded, questionable choice of day. But just like Diadora and Stussy, other brands that died a reassuring death twenty years ago, Australiana is back and in vogue. Client Liason are well on the way to exporting a certain iteration of it to the rest of the world, punk bands smash XXXX beer like they forgot that it’s the reason craft beer was invented and at every communal gathering, without fail, someone puts on John Farnham.
It makes sense, in a way. Farnesy, as he’s affectionately known, is the king of the comeback. The man has retired and returned so many times he makes Jay-Z look like a preschooler, each time to even louder roars of approval. In many ways, Farnham fits the Australiana model to a T. He famously rocked a mullet for years. He collaborated frequently with Olivia Newton John (you know, our girl from Grease.) He penned numbers like ‘You’re the Voice’, flamethrower ballads just made for pissed twenty-somethings to scream en masse into an amphitheatre abyss. But curiously, he’s also a pop artist. The party line in this country has, for many decades, dictated that pop only succeeds by going global. Thus Farnham’s enduring presence in Australia as a cross-cultural lion is a somewhat curious anathema, especially when you consider ‘Every Time You Cry.’
We all heard Farnham’s hits growing up, but by the time we were old enough to change the radio station, the man was in middle age and staging yet another run at the charts. This was a diversity play, tapping what was at the time Australia’s most popular (and critically, unfairly derided) boy band, Human Nature. Leveraging what’s hot is still a tried and tested formaula; the same Beyonce went for when she got Father John Misty in for writing sessions and why Kevin Parker was recently asked to remix Mick Jagger. And it worked, too, with ‘Every Time You Cry’ selling bucketloads back in the late ’90s. It not only set the tone for the Motown revival that would go on to extend Human Nature’s career well beyond their shelf life and prove them as actual musicians, but also to highlight Farnesy’s ability to shape-shift into any song.
It’s also a bloody ripper, definitely not a ‘Pressure Down’ or ‘Two Strong Hearts’ but definitely one that could be revived by the latest indie darlings to great effect. Human Nature did a great many things that irked the rock establishment, but one thing you couldn’t argue with was their incredible harmonies. They flank Farnham throughout this song in the most Aussie way possible, a rousing pub chorus behind a hollering ringleader. It sounds like Memphis, it swings like the sixties, but it’s bona fide Australia.
It’s solid proof that our culture revival should be pluralistic. We’ve already exhumed Savage Garden and Tina Arena. It’s time to lose the irony and stubbornly embrace our heavy-hitting pop past.
Don’t worry, you can still drink a shoey to it if you want.