Modern Music For Modern People is the third album from the Australian nine-piece Steve Hensby Band, which has been on a quite a roll. Their self-titled debut from 2017 featured folk and world influences, and 2019’s Chasing The Sun drew from soul, funk and world music with an added horn section. They even toured as “Steve Hensby’s Circus” by playing songs from their first album with acrobatic, burlesque, contortion and fire routines. They’ve performed countless shows and festivals across Australia and the UK and have had a single nominated for the 2019 West Australian Music Song Of The Year Award.
So, it comes as no surprise that the band’s third release Modern Music for Modern People contains elements from their previous ventures. Very much a concept album in the tradition of Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake or Nektar’s Down To Earth, Modern Music for Modern People follows the adventures of Mista Twista, a quirky and not very skilled barber who spins great tales. As the story progresses and his band becomes famous, Twista does battle with the horrors of modern digital life, then finally (spoiler alert!) survives rising oceans and Armageddon to remain with his lover.
Musically this album draws upon a broad palette to illustrate this crazy tale. The primary color is jazz rock, though there are many detours and most of them are quite engaging, including “…funk, soul, ska, world, a sprinkle of psychedelia and a dash of folk.”
A Brian Wilson-like a cappella introduction leads into “Revolution Of The Bland” a fast, fun prog-rock anthem with head-snapping guitar melodies and expansive Chicago-like horns over which Hensby sings charismatic leads. Continuing the high energy mood, “Mista Twista” has a jaunty Kurt Weill vibe with wall-to-wall chorus harmonies and a sassy saxophone, while Hensby tips his toe in John Lennon vocal territory.
“Pucker Up” is the album’s first solo vocal by the talented Elysia and is an upbeat, sorta reggae-rock hybrid that’s irresistible to dance along to. “Ship In Ship Out” slows down for a solid funk groove and recalls Michael Jackson and Sly Stone. “Got to get you moving!” they sing, and you’ll be hard pressed to argue. Elysia returns for an even lovelier vocal turn in the sweet and slow “Witchcraft” (“She’s gonna hang you out to dry / it’s Witchcraft!”) that also features chiming strings and even backward guitars.
After a hilarious Intermission (with goofy circus music and cartoony voices), “Rules Of Love” rocks out with Off-Broadway abandon. You can almost see the kicking chorus line and garter belts. An amazing drum solo takes center stage before the big lead guitar and vocal climax. “Codes Of The Hinterlands” starts with an Indian sitar sound before launching into a compelling prog-rock track worthy of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. “Song For The End Of The World” fades in with churchly organ as Twista describes the bittersweet destruction that surrounds him. Let It Be-era Paul McCartney smiles down from clouds during the gentle acoustic “Epilogue.”
The songs here were so good, I didn’t feel the need to follow the story too closely. The sound and mix also can’t be faulted: every musical instrument finds a perfect spot and sticks around only as long as needed. My hat’s off to the scope and variety of both this band and their excellent new release.
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