Lauded by Wall of Sound’s Ebony Story as “an album I can’t fault”, Slowly Slowly’s seminal third album ‘Race Car Blues’ solidified the group in Australia’s pop punk history. This notion was furthered by Depth Mag’s Kel Burch who also noted the record to be faultless, giving the album a full 10/10 rating. Described by the band’s lead singer Ben Stewart, the term ‘Race Car Blues’ refers to him feeling “confined by the expectations of others” in a period where he had been making music for so long one way an wanted to adapt and grow creatively but did not want to let down his most loyal and vigilant fans. Debuting at #8 on the ARIA Australian Album Chart as well as garnering the triple j Feature Album slot, Slowly Slowly had hit gold.
This week, the Melbourne 4-piece are set to release ‘Race Car Blues – Chapter 2’, 12 tracks aimed to “complete the Race Car Blues story” which “originally faired as B-sides” to the songs on the first record.
“What we first envisaged as background information that assisted in connecting the dots of Chapter 1 soon became its own entity and has actually planted a few seeds.” Shares Stewart on the record.
The album will be part of a limited run LP collectors’ item named ‘Race Car Blues Extended Edition’, combining both records into a 24-track double feature, only releasing 500 copies globally.
An infectious guitar riff opens the album through title track Comets and Zombies. The production is rich, smooth and layered beautifully. “…that’s the thing about addiction – you only trust the card you’re dealt” Stewart sings to end the first verse. The imagery in the song is beautiful – “you look so pretty, I strum the notches on your ribs”, perfectly capturing the beauty of intimacy with a sick lover. He described the song as being “loosely inspired by an acquaintance and his fiancé who passed away from drug addiction issues”, and amongst all the excitement of the guitars there lies real heartache. “I don’t want to see my life through black plates dilated… I love you, we should quit”.
“Tell me what I have to do to take the floor from under you” opens The Best Bits. Stewart’s vocals are breathless, singing only in run-on sentences over heavily overdriven instrumentals. His voice pertains a shakiness, presenting the lyrics with a sense of uncertainty and anxiety, detailing how all the best parts of life are hidden between tragedies, tribulations and hardships. Learning Curve demonstrates this vocal emotional transference further as he sings
“I just wish that I would die in my sleep, and you would have to go to my funeral and listen to them talk about me. Yeah I bet you’d listen now. Please get the fuck out my head, it’s a steep rise to regret.”
Masterfully, he injects so much feeling into just a few lines. He varies his vocals from shaky, and whimpering – to angry and frustrated and hurt. The instrumentation is still strong enough to groove to, but the way the song grows makes it impossible not to feel alongside the band.
Low adds a hopeful tinge to the heaviness of the previous tracks through opening lines “It was anybody’s guess how I made it out of that mess, but I made it out”, ironically opening the track on a high. Furthering this idea he poses “I still think of you and shrink”, acknowledging that moving on for a bad situation is not linear – healing takes time, and the emotional lows are an important part of that; “I need this low”, he sings in each chorus. “Do the stars look down upon the Earth, make constellations as people merge?”, he sings, re-introducing the visual lyricism centred around space introduced in the first track. Acoustic guitar is the driving instrument in House on Fire, alternating from the heavy electric influence on the rest of the record. The drums are gentle and driving and the bass is smooth and simple. Stewart’s vibrato and emotive vocal instability present themselves. Orchestral string pads appear towards the end of the track, bringing the track to an almost cinematic emotive end. Although they are beautiful, they do surface over Ben’s vocals, in a way that is almost distracting from the lyrical narrative, yet still adheres to their emotional intent.
The Internet critiques the way in which the online world has so fully enveloped society – from political disagreements, to distracting from really connecting with people in the flesh. Restless Legs continues the themes of connectivity. “When we’re lying in bed, I can hear your breathe” he sings, continuing the themes of vivid imagery – songwriting that puts you in the moment. “You wonder it took so long?” he ponders in each hypothetical where either himself or his partner leave. The song details the fleeting nature of intimacy. “I hope that it’s not us, but it’s everything I know”. Using a waltz-like time signature, First Love feat Yours Truly, depicts, in Stewart’s own words, “the rose coloured glasses of retrospection and running from the past.” He furthers this idea by saying “I wanted a song to capture the duality of wanting to forget someone but holding on to their memory dearly”. Stewart and guest vocalist Mikaila Delgado voices intertwine so perfectly.
“You were sent to me carefully right at the time, that I needed a petal to throw into the fire. Something pretty and impermanent that I could admire”
The vocal recording and overall feel of Set the Table feels more lo-fi from the rest of the album, with a more bedroom-pop, stripped back approach to recording. Much like what Blood does on My Chemical Romance’s ‘The Black Parade’, this track strips back the production drastically, drawing the listener in to the lyrics and the story. The melody is relentless and unchanging as his voice cracks and faults, as if he is crying as he recorded the vocals. The lyrics are intimate and heartwrenching. “We lost a baby, lost our love. And I just wasn’t good enough” he sings, before a soft violin is introduced. An intimate slow-burner, the instrumental slowly creeps in, but still takes a very minimal approach to production. Horns and strings play the song out in a beautifully orchestrated outro. The song is the emotional epitaph of the album.
The Level is the most vibrant track on the record. Breaking away from the emotive nature of the rest of the album, The Level speaks on drowning out pain and emotion through sexual chemistry and liberation. “I don’t want to be in love. I just need to reset the mainframe”. Accompanied by a retro music video, the band dresses in ‘70’s couture as their alter-ego band ‘Softly Softly’. Small Talk continues the more pop-themed approach to production while not losing the band’s pop punk roots. Incorporating electronic drums and traditional songwriting structures, the song toys with traditional commercial pop tropes and techniques to aid the tracks overarching sense of hopefulness. “Let’s have the wedding at the hospital. Ceremony in the waiting room. Champagne ‘till we’re comatose”. Final track Anywhere continues this production style, a song accessible to all listeners. Singing about how he felt about himself and his dreams when he was 15, the track looks at how Stewart devalued himself, with the upbeat production presenting the irony that he got exactly what he wanted from his career. “If I had one breathe left I would sing for you” he says, like an ode to all of his fans and followers.
“This is and has always been the ultimate aim for Slowly Slowly” said Stewart on the record, “to celebrate the music we love- anthemic, heart on the sleeve songwriting – but across a broad spectrum of genres. Having no creative ceiling for this project only pushed that ethos further”.
‘Race Car Blues – Chapter 2’ takes that concept to incredible heights. The production on this album is polished and sophisticated; emotive but accessible. The lyrics are heartfelt and heart-wrenching all at the one time. Each song is written like a small poem – the words are tangible and visual, yet verbose. All these elements combined create what is expected to be one of the leading albums of the year. Every track on the record works perfectly as part of the whole creation, but all stand beautifully on their own. No one song feels tired or out of place, constructed so beautifully that there is something new to notice or feel upon each listen.
‘Race Car Blues – Chapter 2’ is available from Friday February 26th on all platforms.
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Thanks to UNIFIED Music Group