Originally intended as a side project from Ben Corbett’s other band, 6 Ft. Hick, even a precursory listen to Magnetic Island reveals that Gentle Ben and His Sensitive Side have evolved to become a force in their own right. With its sparse arrangements built around Corbett’s deep distinctive voice, this record is an affectionate take on early 1980s Australian pop music, with strong nods particularly to The Triffids and The Go Betweens, even going so far as including a cover version of the latter’s “Was There Anything I Could Do”.
Corbett formed the group in order to perform cover versions of country/pop songs for their own amusement, and although they now write their own material, what has remained from this initial idea is the element of fun. Throughout the set Corbett croons and yelps his way through three minute love songs with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, ensuring that nothing is ever taken too seriously. Even during the piano ballad “That Guy is A Lie”, when the singer is offering some relationship advice to a female friend and pleads “From some things that you’ve told me/and some things that I’ve seen/the way that man treats you is obscene,” with the added aside, “and not in a good way, honey.”
While on the surface such moments of lyrical brevity, coupled with the almost over the top vocal delivery, may give the impression that the band are simply lampooning romantic pop, however what makes this record such an enjoyable listen comes down to the strength of the songs and the performance. “The Story of the Swan”, in which Corbett does his best Dave McComb impersonation among muted palm guitars and synths, could almost have been included on a re-release of Born Sandy Devotional, while on the following track, “Suicide Machine”, he channels late seventies era David Bowie, managing to sound both dramatic and dangerous whilst inviting us to dance.
Production duties for this record were handled by Custard’s Dave McCormack, whose brother, Dylan, is the band’s guitarist, and he has delivered a tastefully clean mix with very few technological trickeries, allowing the reverb and tremolo heavy guitar melodies and the driving rhythm section of bassist Dan Baebler and drummer Nick Naughton, to shine through. Whether it be from the vocals or the lead guitar, these songs are all about melody, and the amount of space left in the arrangements means that nothing takes away from the strong and catchy hooks littered throughout these 11 songs.
Besides fraternal connections, McCormack has also performed with the members of the band in various Brisbane groups throughout the years, as well as recording and touring with Robert Forster and producing a Go-Betweens tribute album, all of which gives him the perfect background to guide the album without intruding on their sound.
Magnetic Island is a thoroughly enjoyable album by an exciting band, it retains a sense of fun and adventure often missing from modern pop music while delivering a set of classic songs with a certain amount of swagger. Although Gentle Ben and His Sensitive Side take many of their musical cues from the past they do so tastefully, intelligently and with affection, this record comes highly recommended.
Originally published on The AU Review on 26/05/2011. View original article.