Stan Woodhouse, aka Skyscraper Stan, writes about the dark side of life; the wrong side of the tracks, the seedy, the lost, the hopeless and the homeless. He writes of men of dubious character, conmen, shysters, but, you must understand, fundamentally misunderstood. Of beggars and drunks, inspired and resolved to make good only to forever regress. Of people seeking solace and escape through the bottle or the surreptitious snort.
Of people pretending to be their fantasies, but failing miserably like pigs in shit, not happy as the saying goes, but running around in their misery. Of people dispossessed, if not of things they own, then of their environment as the developers come in and gentrify.
This could be you; it could be me, it could be Donald Trump, or it could be Stan himself, not living life clean because that would be such a waste of sin.
But please forgive me, these characters are also human, and often, but not always, sympathetic characterisations of a life lived with determination and good intent, but just falling short of expectations. Yours, their own and others. Underdogs. (Well, that, of course, excludes Donald Trump, because he always exceeds, especially his own…)
And Stan writes of this collection of misfits to music which derives eclectically from the musician’s songbook, and by extension, from ours. With lyrics which are quirky, often humorous, never dull. And a voice which enchants as he sings his songs.
Golden Boy Vol. I and Vol. II is Stan’s sophomore album, due to be released mid-June. Five years since Last Year’s Tune, the interval not a function of a creative lull, no, not that, just money... just the typical lot of the journeyman musician with acres of talent but no big break. There are so many.
But this record is worth the wait, I have to get that out up front. It’s a beauty, and a step up from his debut, not only for the quality of the songs but certainly the depth of the production and sound.
Richard Stolz engineers, mixes and co-produces with Stan the man himself, and The Commission Flats step up to a new level with Oskar Herbig on lead, Martin Schilov on bass, Chris Windley on drums, Bruce Haynes on keys and Gareth Skinner pops in and out on piano and an achingly, beautifully harsh cello. And there’s Monique and Briega on backing vocals.
Golden Boy Vol. I and Vol. II is actually an album in two parts, with the first “side” (or five tracks ) being, in Stan’s own words during my interview with him, “character-driven, and more aggressive, a bit more driving” and side two being “more autobiographical, with a few more tender moments”. Although he admits that side two has ended up a bit more morbid than originally intended. But the first part is the outburst, the outpouring of a bunch of characters collectively demonstrating foibles and flaws, with the second part being more reflective.
Golden Boy Vol I and Vol II is dark, but not depressing, as the foibles and flaws are symptomatic of trying and failing, or simply getting things wrong... something we all do.
Stan thinks this is his best work to date, because his sound has matured, the lyrical content is more cohesive, the album itself has more of an intent across all the tracks, and the process of getting it done was more intense, more in-depth, more work, discarding some tunes and starting again with others. More money as well. And a great effort from Richard Stolz, who matched Stan’s drive and intensity for a quality output. Bruce and Gareth layering texture, and Oskar is all over, layering electric on top of Stan’s (occasional) acoustic guitar.
Let’s dig deeper, track by track:
First up is Dole Queues & Dunhill Blues. Inspired while touring solo round a depressed part of New South Wales, this song is about a man who makes bad decisions which he doesn’t regret; shows no remorse. There’s a spirit in the air, some kind of juju, not a nice place to be, bad things have happened around here. “Kids grown fat from white bread living.”And the “this is my moment; this is my time” moment builds to a Nick Cave crescendo before crashing back to a steady rhythm supported by the female backing singers.
Raphael is inspired by a “me too” thread on Facebook where Raphael is attacking women for resisting his patriarchal approach. Not succeeding with his misogyny. Leaving himself exposed. “he built his castle too close to the tide. Then one day came the waves...”
Flags of Progress is a homage to the dispossessed impacted by the loss of the old, admittedly run-down Kings Cross in Sydney. Cronies capitalising on a deal, but what about the people? Gentrification but no regeneration: “your lounge room has more leather than a motorcycle gang” Song starting slowly, then building into angry guitar against a country backbeat.
Doorbell is a straight-up political statement deploring the current state of affairs in Australia in regard to immigration and the refugee crisis, and the recent election has highlighted the depth of fear about multiculturism. Stan is angry and sad about this attitude, and expresses himself very clearly in this rockabilly number with Oskar once again angry on guitar: “Don’t ring the doorbell, we won’t let you in”
Back on the road we go, stopping at a truck stop somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne, on the Hume highway. It’s very hot, it’s very dry. It’s a Tarcutta day. Tarcutta Shade reports on an unpleasant exchange Stan has witnessed between a trucker and the girl behind the counter. Extends to a day in the life. You can smell the bitumen melting in the sun, it’s a Tarcutta haze, from a Tarcutta gaze, and life is just a Tarcutta daze. A little Cave, a little Cohen, a little life. Extended outro.
Ok, Vol I is over, flip the disc, and here is Stan, now released from the outburst of characterisations and looking inwards, in a song he describes as being about “the unequal distribution of emotional labour in romantic relationships”. Which is a man thing. Men often want to share or even pass the burden of despondency rather than deal with it. Look in the mirror! On Your Corner is a romantic ballad, “nostalgia with a serving of deep-fried self-pity”. It’s a great song, but enough of the man-alysis. It feels too much like me...
Talking About the Weather (While the House Burns Down) is about “not going straight at something”. Beating about the bush. Country-rock beat, soulful backing.
Dancing On My Own Grave is an older song, a classic example of Stan’s lyrical dexterity as he confronts the self-destructive component of himself. “sailing solo through the kitchen, contemplating my condition, waiting for the kick to settle in” and “living clean is such a waste of sin”. In contrast to the lyrics, the song is a good old-fashioned country croon, with solo harmony from Monique and even a whistle from Stan.
Child takes us into 1950’s ballad territory, in 6/8 timing and (secretly) inspired by Grease. A breakup song. Could also be an Elvis song. Stan likes the tonal signature of 6/8, and this betrays his not-so-secret love of musicals.
And the grand finale, six minutes of acoustic journey reminiscent of I Fell Over from the first album, is A Man Misunderstood, a song with a twist. Say no more...
Skyscraper Stan, Australasian troubadour; Trans-Tasman treasure. Check him out.
He’s bringing his band to the Tuning Fork on August 10th.
And Golden Boy Vol. I and Vol. II is out on June 14. You can pre-order from the link below.
Click here to stream or buy
Released: 14 Jun 2019