Cold Chisel – Breakfast at Sweethearts

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Judging by the album cover one could be forgiven for thinking that they’d just let the heathens into Rome, about to overtake a corrupt and antiquated establishment on which they still depend. A week is a long time in politics, and even longer in rock and roll. Since their debut Chisel had come a long way. Still playing the same old shitty dives, but continuously evolving. At this point Don Walker had developed into a first rate lyricist, no boy meets girl or “baby I love you” stories for him. On their second album, Breakfast at Sweethearts, he writes all but one of the songs presented here, offering the listener a series of vignettes consisting of drunks, street sweepers, drifters, and midnight looters. Studio wiz Richard Batchens was brought in to produce, which perhaps goes some way to explain the compressed and claustrophobic sound of the LP overall. More accustomed to working with the likes of Sherbet and Little River band, he hated the group, and they hated him, which saw them walk out half way through the recording process, only to return until a compromise was reached.

“Conversations” opens side one with some melodic piano before the rhythm section join in, where Jim Barnes’s sandpaper vocals grate over some bluesy harmonica. “Merry Go Round” is an upbeat number, musically speaking, while the lyrics evoke an opposite story, one of disaffection at the revolving nature of life and all its disappointments. “Dresden” is an apocalyptic narrative about a traveller who leaves the city on a freight train just as it begins to burn to the ground. Whether this is an account of the bombing of Dresden itself by the RAF during the Second World War, or a nuclear strike set in the future I cannot say. “Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye)” is a wonderful boogie-post-punk masterpiece, where Ian Moss kicks the song off with some tight and ferocious riffs that would have made Steve Jones hang up his guitar (or at least should have had he heard it), and a song I could imagine Jerry Lee Lewis joining in on. “Plaza” is a gentle piano ballad, where Moss describes life in some run down sleazy hotel in the heart of Kings Cross in Sydney.

The pounding throb of “Shipping Steal” begins side two (in vinyl speak), and is certainly a truck drivers anthem if there was ever one. Steel guitar and references to moving heavy loads abound. “I’m Gonna Roll Ya” is pretty much boogie-rock by numbers, and the sort of thing AC/DC had already milked a few years earlier. “Showtime” is another philosophical discourse by Walker, on the travails of being in a band and all that lifestyle entails. The title track is a straight forward number built around a subtle reggae rhythm, with some tasteful late night organ and jazzy guitar to go with your coffee and cognac. This is Kerouac in Kings Cross. “Sweethearts” was the name of a cafe Walker used to frequent, a place where “dreams fly away”, and the people come and go in a T.S. Eliot kind of way. The album finishes on an energetic note with “The Door”, perhaps the oddest song in the Chisel canon, whose lyrics evokes a dark, middle of the night paranoia in the listener, and while not without its moments, I’ve still always thought it seemed a little rushed and underwritten. Or maybe that’s the fault of the producer again, who admitted some years later that he was not in the best state of mind at the time, and probably let the band down as a result. But production flaws aside, this is nevertheless a quality collection of tunes. The Australian public must have thought so too, sending the album to #4 on the national charts. And that’s not all. In 1979 at the TV Week/Countdown Music Awards, “Breakfast at Sweethearts” was nominated for Best Australian Album, and won a gong for Best Australian Record Cover. The boys must have at least been happy with that.