Don’t Look Back: Freewheeling on You Am I’s ‘You Am I’ I’ve been going through a Bob Dylan phase lately… it happens occasionally. Been playing ‘Highway 61’, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’. A little bit of ‘Blood On The Tracks’, “One More Cup of Coffee” from Desire, “Forever Young” from ‘Planet Waves’. The more recent masterpieces too, like ‘Oh Mercy’, ‘Time Out Of Mind’… At the same time I’ve been writing this book, The 100 Best Australian Albums. It’s been a challenge but mostly a real joy. Listening to hundreds and hundreds of great Australian albums, trying to narrow down the focus, decide on the real greats… The thrill of discovery, re-discovery. Been playing lots of You Am I through all of this, not surprisingly. The old, the new. Marvelling at the growth, the ambition, the twists, the turns, the defiance, the dumb things. For me, You Am I have only made one less-than-great album, ‘Deliverance’. Some people will take me to task on that. But the band won’t. They’ll disagree, but they’d rather read that than something praising “Berlin Chair” or ‘Hourly, Daily’. When Andy Kent asked me to write something about You Am I’s new album the only thing he said was that the band didn’t want to see words like ‘much loved’ or ‘legacy’. Like Bob, You Am I don’t look back. You Am I have turned everything on its head with their ninth studio album. Tim Rogers still sings and plays guitar; Davey Lane still plays guitar; Andy Kent still plays bass and Russell Hopkinson still plays drums – but everything around them is new. They’ve got a new label, Other Tongues; they’ve got a handpicked team of trusted music industry champs around them; they’re determined to create a more direct relationship with their legion of fans. Rather than booking a studio and working to a deadline, they recorded ‘You Am I’ as the songs and sparks announced themselves, without deadlines and restrictions. The freedom and excitement are bursting out of the recordings. There’s a shared belief within the band that this might be their finest hour, their best album (yet) and I’m starting to think they’re right. There’s a purity, a sense of purpose, control and new beginnings around calling the album ‘You Am I’ that’s appropriate and right on. There’s warmth and joy and magic across all eleven tracks (twelve on the ‘special edition’). There’s sunshine streaming through “The Good Ones” and “Lie And Face The Sun” (featuring Megan Washington’s warm, subtle echoes and harmonies), controlled rocking grandeur on “Shuck” and Beatles/Beach Boys beauty on “Waiting To Be Found Out”. Something that’s different to many of their albums is the attention to great little sonic colours/moments, it’s there in the backward guitars and harmonics on “Shuck”, the proud guitar sounds (both on the acoustic and electric) and the buried whistle under the intro of “we Hardly Knew You”, the air surrounding the piano on “Let’s Not Get famous”, the intro to “Kicking The Balustrade”. And damned if these aren’t Tim Rogers’ best-ever vocal performances, which I didn’t see coming. Elsewhere, the brilliant “The Ocean” has a dirty swagger that’s like something off ‘Coprolalia’ or ‘Sound As Ever’, “Pinpricks” is 2 minutes of high speed thrills that name-checks David Johansen and features some simple guitar genius from Davey Lane at 53 seconds and “Trigger Finger” smoulders like nothin they’ve done before and Lanie Lane’s keening hi-vocal is enough to make a dead man cum. Ah, shut up I’m telling myself, you’re tripping over superlatives, starting to dance about You Am I’s architecture, sounding ridonculous. If you don’t get at least some of where I’m coming from then it’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock & roll.