Written by: Dave Cantrell
Imagine for a second a sparkling debut by a band that combines the seemingly nonchalant songwriting nous of Crowded House with those un-cringeworthy elements of Coldplay that turned our heads in the first place before things went all prattish and pear-shaped. It would be an album a-brim with unself-conscious pathos while simultaneously never losing sight of the the fact that these are meant to be songs, things that by most definitions reflect as strong a commitment to craft as they do passion, that a collection of them called a long-playing record derives from, and strives to be an example of, the concept that this is entertainment, meant to show up on the stage in our ears polished and energized while neither pandering nor insulting our listening intelligence with fizzy but substanceless bromides.
It’s an age-old dilemma, of course, figuring out how to straddle the divide between a pop album and retaining that silly little thing called integrity, and on Rookie, just out on Bella Union, The Trouble With Templeton (named after a 1960 Twilight Zone episode) manage that precarious fulcurm with youth-belying aplomb. They don’t just successfully walk that tightrope, they strut it with a routine, workaday assurance that’s almost unsettling in its shrug of pop fearlessness.
Formed a mere three years ago (and fleshed into a quintet more recently than that) and already hugely popular in their native Australia, TTWT is largely the product of 23-year-old wunderkind Thomas Calder, a singer-songwriter taking that tired rubric to several whole-new levels. With the exception of one minor wrinkle (a vampy, minute-plus track called “Climate” that serves as a kind of mid-album placekeeping skit and hey, ya gotta allow them that), this whole record blooms with a bright and timeless promise fulfilled on the spot.
The aching, resplendent ode to empathy “You Are New” is where we start, immaculately arranged and pristine in its way but just about the warmest expression of a lover’s heartfelt concern for the the hidden bruises of the past as you’re likely to hear, bathed in a kind of minor-chorded splendor, Caldera pouring himself into it somewhere between a belt and a plaintive cry. It’s a deuce of an opener on your debut album but the happy qualifier is that that lovely burnish of quality never lets up.
Take next track “Heavy Lifting,” for instance, a sparkling and mature, slightly cynical essay on romance buoyed by a dual stream of acoustic and electric guitar (and plenty more; Rookie‘s sound brings a plentitude), one plucky smooth, the other alternately pinging in sympathy or letting the rock chords out of their cage for a little roaring emphasis. Or take the dark and pretty, lurid and lilting “I Recorded You” that offers up a defensible – and gorgeous – apologia for the affectionate creepiness reflected in the title; the impossibly easy pop beauty of “Flowers In Bloom,” lush and contemplative with a touch of spectral doubt; the sunny antipodal tropicalia of “Glue,” romp and restraint rolling down the grassy slope together; the triumphant, almost snotty romper “Like A Kid” that’s actually stuffed with a telltale pleading poignancy that’ll just about break your heart. Or better yet take early single and highest of Rookie‘s highlights, “Six Months In A Cast.” As tight as it is sprawling, gamboling madly across the strumming pop summer horizon, it’s the absolute picture of irrepressibility, attended by carbonated electric piano and triple-time acoustics (Hugh Middleton) tripping along like Split Enz on a Woodentopped rhythm bender, drummer Ritchie Daniell and bassist Sam Pankhurst earning double overtime pay. As a bonus, the band attaches a lovely, piano-speckled coda that sports a heavenly melancholia vibe that would seem the essence of TTWT’s compositional ethos, tuneful, yearning, full of a tender authority.
So, see, what I’m telling you here is that Rookie is one of those albums that takes ‘pleasant’ to the further reaches of ‘exciting,’ the result a record so essentially listenable it becomes an imperative. Meticulous but exuberant – even when it’s being soulful and reflective, as on the Broadway show-worthy “Secret Pastures,” all romantic haunt and luminous regret – dusted with that magical ‘X-factor’ quality that some records seem to possess, this will come as a revelation to those that recognize in the likes of Neil Finn or AC Newman or the Brewis brothers pop song craftsmiths of the rarest order, as it’s not every day a young songwriter comes along that’s so inarguably ready to join their stead.
As further and final testament to Calder’s gift I offer this: all this week as I’ve puttered about my life a melody or chorus would begin playing unannounced in my head and I’d wonder ‘What indie chart classic did I hear at the supermarket to put that in my head?’ before realizing ‘Oh, wait. That’s The Trouble With Templeton again.’ Don’t think you need much more proof than that.