Year dominated by wild side of rock and music for easy listening

The Dominion, 22 December 1998

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AS ALWAYS, there were plenty of headlines from the wild side of Kiwi rock this year, but arguably the year's most significant achievement came from the mild side.

Espresso Guitar, Martin Winch's gentle collection of easy-listening covers, took New Zealand's album chart by storm. He set out to make a warm, pleasant-sounding album. The espresso connection was a masterstroke, and Winch's decision to avoid making one of those "recorded-in-a-day" budget albums and take the time and trouble in brewing Espresso Guitar has paid rich dividends. Backed by a big promotional campaign, Espresso Guitar shot into the top slot in the charts, and by year's end had racked up impressive triple platinum sales of more than 45,000 copies.

Members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra provided the string section for the arrangements by Winch and producer Carl Doy (of Piano By Candlelight fame), and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra was also involved in another big release this year, ENZSO 2. Former Split Enz keyboard player Eddie Rayner had already dipped into the rich well of the band's back catalogue, and scored a big success by rearranging Enz's Kiwi rock classics for symphony orchestra. The sequel has not done as well, but has still been a steady seller in the top 30.

The big rock news of the year was Christchurch band The Feelers.

After four years of building a reputation in and around their home town, The Feelers exploded into the national consciousness with their debut album Supersystem. The album went to No 1, has not been out of the national top 10 since its release in August, and has gone double platinum. Four singles from it have also reached the top 15. The Feelers have also just announced a hometown February concert that will see them become the first New Zealand band to headline the new, 8500 capacity Westpactrust Centre - which has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan, Michael Crawford and Janet Jackson.

Some cynics have enviously sniped at the band's success, crediting most of it to big label financial clout rather than true talent. Any local band brave enough to tackle a venue that size - and be confident of filling it - has the right to reject such suggestions. Next year, The Feelers tour Australia, where the album has just been released, and possibly Asia. The album will be released in Singapore, and several other Asian territories are also expected to release it.

Two other New Zealand albums hit the No 1 slot this year, repaying two veterans for producing some of the finest work of their careers. Neil Finn faced a big challenge when making his debut solo album Try Whistling This. After his work with Split Enz and then Crowded House there would be few arguments to his being hailed as one of New Zealand's greatest singer- songwriters.

However, there is always a tad more pressure applied when the album cover has your own name on it, rather than the protective shelter of a band. Finn responded with a gem. Arguably Try Whistling This was darker and more difficult than his earlier work, but was stamped with his trademark touch of melody. The album went straight in at No 1 in the New Zealand (where it has gone platinum) and Australian charts, and entered the British album chart at No 5.

Dave Dobbyn also crashed in at No 1 with his latest album The Islander. It was another big year for New Zealand's premier balladeer, one he capped off with a tour of the United States with Neil Finn, and winning the prestigious songwriting award the APRA Silver Scroll for the third time.

New Zealand artists also fared well in the singles charts. Three artists went to No 1 - dance/pop act Deep Obsession with Lost In Love, '70s survivor Fred Dagg with this year's novelty hit We Don't Know How Lucky We Are, and Auckland rapper Che Fu.

Without A Doubt, a stunner from the former Supergroove singer's debut album, made the top spot, and another single, Scene 3, went to No 4. His 2B Spacific album would have been a certain - and deserved - No 1 most weeks of the year, but had the misfortune to be released in the same week as the disc by Irish pop sensations B*witched.

Other top 10 achievers were Ardijah, The Feelers, Sina and NV.

Things were quieter on the alternative music scene, with the hard- rocking Shihad and Head Like A Hole once more to the fore. Shihad released a top 20 ep, Blue Light Disco, and laid plans for a fourth album and a prolonged stint in the United States.

Head Like A Hole shrugged off a weight of doubt that had surrounded the band and released its fourth album - and best yet. It also has plans to head overseas, with Europe the destination. It also wins controversy of the year award for its single Wet Rubber, a raunchy and graunchy song that sampled a fetish porn flick. When the band dressed "following the fashion" for the video, it raised more than a few eyebrows.

New Zealand's leading independent label Flying Nun had a quiet year. However, things perked up delightfully at the end with the release of the latest disc by label veterans Tall Dwarfs. It was an album that surprised with several sprightly pop tunes, and revolted a few with the accompanying video.

With many of the bands which made Flying Nun's name now in abeyance, it is a matter of rebuilding. There are hopes that Dunedin band High Dependency Unit will be at the forefront of that.

Dance music continued to make huge inroads into the national musical psyche.

Rather than watching a black jersey-clad guitar band, New Zealand's youth are more likely to be leaping up and down to local dance heroes such as Salmonella Dub, Pitch Black or Aspen, or making plans to attend annual dance festival The Gathering.

The rock festival made a notable comeback this year. After a year's siesta, the Big Day Out revived itself and will be staged in Auckland early next year. Back after an even longer absence is the Sweetwaters festival, which has been resuscitated by former Mutton Birds manager Daniel Keighley. It too will be staged in Auckland in January.

The music world was in mourning after the death in July of Marc Hunter of Dragon. The frontman of the band, which had hits such as April Sun In Cuba, Are You Old Enough? and Rain, died in Australia after battling throat cancer. - - NZPA


Caption: The Feelers... exploded into the national consciousness with their debut album Supersystem

The Dominion, 22 December 1998

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