CD Review: The Scientists - A Place Called Bad

Compilation shines a new light on this oft-overlooked Australian powerhouse.
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Australian post-punk rockers The Scientists never made much of a commercial dent during their 10-year tenure, but their influence has grown in the interim, far exceeding any success they had when they were actively releasing albums. Artists such as Jon Spencer and Thurston Moore have sung the group's praises and the band is seen as having predicted the grunge revolution that was to start shortly after their breakup.

The group released a number of albums and singles, which were mostly available in Australia. Now The Numero Group has compiled this influential music, rereleasing it as A Place Called Bad. The collection is available in two configurations: A four-CD set with all 80 of the band's studio recordings as well as some live tracks and a two-LP vinyl edition comprised of 22 tracks. The 22-track version was made available for this review.

Formed by Kim Salmon, The Scientists took shape when James Baker (Later of Hoodoo Gurus) joined The Invaders. This partnership, with Baker writing lyrics to Salmon's music, lasted until the release of the group's self-titled debut. The band's sound during this period combined elements of punk with garage rock and power pop. Several songs from this period are featured, including both sides of the band's first single "Frantic Romantic" and "Shake (Together Tonight)." The former mixes jangly guitars, hand claps and big harmonies over a driving drum beat while the latter showcases a gritty vocal, plenty of power chords and a great, moving bass line.

Along those lines is "It'll Never Happen Again" from the band's first album. You'd never know it was a song about getting stood up by the song's music, an exciting slab of rock and roll with an edgy vocal. The song's killer guitar and piano break make for a song that definitely betrays its subject matter.

In the mid 1980s, the band took a major U-turn stylistically, going from a more power pop/punk-oriented sound to a darker, swamp-like place inspired by acts such as the Velvet Underground and The Stooges. "Blood Red River" is a prime example of this new direction. With its hypnotic drums, eerie vocals, swampy guitars and fuzzed-out, psychedelic bass, it is a genuinely scary, yet exciting track. "Murderess In A Purple Dress" follow suit, matching a manic vocal with hypnotic bass and buzz saw guitars. It's a testament to the band's ability that they were able to reinvent themselves and be equally exciting with two different sounds. The compilation closes with "Human Jukebox," a noisy, in-your-face song with distorted guitars, bass, vocals and organ. It is an edgy and potent way to close out the collection.

The Scientists are getting a long overdue reevaluation. The band reformed in 2007 and plays the occasional set of their seminal music, reminding people of what they missed the first time around. A Place Called Bad is a great introduction to this powerful, near forgotten, Australian band.