A couple of weeks ago I hinted at my long, and deep, affection for the Models (the new wavey, indie-ish, Sean Kelly-led pop group out of Melbourne in the early and mid eighties). For many the central charm of the Models is Sean Kelly’s David Bowie meets Paul Westerberg knack for putting unexciting phrases in exotic locations and making them work. It’s a gift he’s never lost and he continues to do his thing, regularly playing shows at the Bayswater Brassiere and the like. For others the bait that makes the punters bite is Andrew Duffield’s astonishing, crisp, keyboard riffs that feel stolen straight from a Stevie Wonder sound check. You only have to listen to “I Hear Motion” to hear something tickling your funky bones. There were times that the Models made white guys from suburban nowheresville move like they’d been transplanted to the Hacienda or Studio 54. Duffield left the Models in 1984, more’s the pity.
The Models made more radio friendly material after Duffield left but it was never as funky again. What the Models made after that was something else. It was pop, centred on voice and bass with James Valentine’s sax playing lead. It was probably as close to a Stax sound as has been managed around these parts. Not for a second did they sound like Otis Redding but there is something whole, something very filling about the sound the Models made with Out of Mind, Out of Sight that calls to mind the gravity-fed bliss and heavenly certainty that those Stax tracks embody (William Bell and Johnnie Taylor especially, you won’t see them on teleological, story of rock, documentaries but if you’re interested check them out). Barton Price, on the drums, thuds a bit like Ringo: he’s solid and there, but just after you expect him to be.
For me, though, the big deal is James Freud. Not because he’s actually shit hot, or amazing, or thoughtful, or goes deeper and harder. No, none of that. We know, now, that James Freud was a tremendously flawed human being. What’s thrilling and enticing and mesmeric for me about James Freud is that he knew he was a tremendously flawed human being, and he still had joy. He has a little bit there in everything. He can see the horror and the doom, gives into it pretty much every single time he reaches for life, but has this bit of relictual joy, this fragment of a whole.
James Freud wrote some rocking songs, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” not least amongst them (though secretly I have a soft spot for his 1982 hit with the Teenage Radio Stars, “Modern Girl,” which I note is not available through iTunes, much to my surprise) but if you want to hear something quite wonderful, undeniably lovely, then do yourself a favour and have a listen to “Barbados.” It’s a tune about having nothing left, being without and no prospect of getting it together, but keeping a faith and letting it be the guide to times and places unknown, happier places. Listening to the waves of hopelessness hit his beach of despair what’s shiver-inducing is that the possibility of simple happiness is never gone, it remains, more than a relic of past hopes: part of the joy is not washed away.
If you’ve read his twin autobiographies I am the Voice Left from Drinking (2002) and I am the Voice Left from Rehab (2007) then you know his story didn’t go well, and that his days were not spent on a spiritual or professional Barbados but rather surveying the self inflicted wreckage of his life from the bottom of a bottle. I am the Voice Left from Rehab is a book that I remain dead scared of, even having read it three or so times, because despite the horror and the folly it still manages to build and protect these little corners to paradise. As if Canute had managed, for a bit, to hold back the sea and rest on the beach. More than simply access to something wonderful, in his tunes James Freud made space, space for wonder and joy to exist. Imaginary, flawed, irregular spaces in which the core of joy is wonder of being alive. He makes space for us to be sure that one day we will all see Barbados.
The knowledge that James Freud committed suicide in 2010 is still jarring.