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Albums Of The Week: Swedish Magazines | I Wish Life Could Be: Best of 2004-2011

These hard-hitting Aussies just might be the best rock band you've never heard.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Existing originally in the first half of the first decade of this century, Melbourne’s Swedish Magazines were formed by Taswegian singer-songwriter guitarist Van Walker together with his brother Cal. They played — and are about to play again — a varied and richly toned high-energy sound that mixed classic Bon Scott era-AC/DC with early ’70s Flamin’ Groovies and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, with the occasional bit of The Sex Pistols and maybe Stiff Little Fingers for good measure. Or something like that. They have great songs, a superb vocalist, and a hefty sound. In terms of contemporary comparisons, think Sweden’s Hellacopters with a bit more punk and a lot more Oz Rock.

The Swedes were, for a while, mainstays on the inner city Melbourne scene. They followed the likes of The Cosmic Psychos, Hoss and The Powder Monkeys, and set the scene for today’s world-shakers Amyl & The Sniffers and others like Civic and Mr Teenage.

Main man Van Walker is the same Van Walker who is known in roots/folk circles as one of the finest singer-songwriters this country has to offer. His latest solo album Ghosting on Green South Records has received universal raves and was voted No. 2 best album of the year by the readers of an Australian music mag, and he brings that lyricism and depth of soul and his great voice to his rock music as well. Brother Cal Walker is the same Cal Walker who played guitar in much-loved Melbourne outfit Tyrannamen, whose debut album in 2016 gained international acclaim with its “ragged garage nuggets and proto-punk power-pop.” Tyrannamen were dubbed “probably the only band to come anywhere near the amazing Royal Headache in Australian garage-punk.”

The Swedish Magazines kind of got caught up in that early 21st century rock resurgence. They had the briefest moment in the sun, but that tide turned before they even got warned up. Conceived in 2000 after Van and Cal left Tasmania for the golden shores of Melbourne — hot on the trail of heroes like The Powder Monkeys, in honor of whom they would later form a tribute band, just for the hell of it — they began as as a songwriting partnership between Van and guitarist Anton Ruddick. Brilliantly taking their name from the 1979 Iggy Pop classic Five Foot One, they earned a reputation and lived the life. They released an EP called What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Deadly, then their first album Eat More Baby, in 2005. (“Eat More Baby was Collingwood graffiti which I thought summed up the rampant king consumerism world we find ourselves in, as well as the fact the album was an extended version of the EP,” notes Van.)

Regardless of reasons, the album stalled out of the gate, despite the obvious quality of Head On Ice and other highlights including Movin’ Shakin’ and should-be local anthem Girl From the Tote. The group — which also featured Tim Durkin on drums — called it quits soon after. Van again: “The band was so short-lived because we were forced to spend so much precious time and energy just trying to put the band together and find a drummer who could do the music justice. I’m a prolific writer of different styles of music so I had many other projects I wanted to do (still do!) and the Swedes was the first and most difficult.”

Van Walker then fell into a solo career, releasing a succession of acoustic-based singer-songwriter records that contained much of the same spirit, and found himself a completely new audience. A brief Swedes reactivation with a new lineup produced another album, Wino Havoc. Highlights included the barreling punk anthem Bottles & Barstools — boasting a Celtic feel perhaps gained from Van’s folk forays — You Never Wanted It and Think Tanks A Million. “The songs on Wino Havoc were written in a more pop punk style to suit our new drummer, Johnny,” recalls Van. “I couldn’t be bothered trying to teach him a new style, easier to write songs to his style, which is fast and busy, rather than rock’n’roll swing.”

Van’s restlessness and insatiable appetite for making music kept him and Cal busy. Van kept the solo thing going, and other bands came and went, including The Livingstone Daisies (Big Star/Tom Petty-inspired, also featuring Cal, as well as local folk figure Liz Stringer, and former Paul Kelly & The Messengers mainstay Michael Barclay), and The Heartbrokers (bluesy rock ’n’ roll, with Cal again alongside Melbourne blues/roots greats Jeff Lang, Ashley Davies and Ezra Lee). Van puts it this way: “I think you could call it restlessness, but really it’s just the machine spins so much slowly than I do. I write and work at my own pace, which is a lot faster and more productive than the industry, so it’s actually put me out of step and, perhaps prolific and diverse creativity is a disadvantage in an industry which is not.”

Cal also kept himself busy in much-loved punky garage-popsters Tyrannamen, who had a bit of a similar vibe stylistically to Cal and Van’s occasional Reigning Sound tribute outfit The Reigning Men, who backed Reigning Sound main man and Memphis great Greg Cartwright when he played down under in 2015. Cal also frequently performed solo and in partnership with others, and played in other bands including Jemma & The Clifton Hillbillies and Go Go Sapien. Van’s solo career reached new levels in 2020 when, amid lockdown, he released his first album in a decade, Ghosting, which garnered much acclaim.

With Van on the ascent, now it’s the Swedes’ turn for another crack. And with a deal in place and the original line-up back together and maybe, just maybe, the whiff of a new resurgence of rock in the wind, 2022 could be their year.”