This Is Serious (Mum)

I have always admired TISM. In fact, I liked them before I'd even heard them. Which is not something I normally admit, but then, it's not something that normally happens. This cult Australian band formed in 1982, and released their first album in 1985. So I can remember hearing about their albums Great Truckin' Songs Of The Renaissance and their 1996 semi-breakthrough Machiavelli And The Four Seasons (which featured the infamous River Phoenix threnody: (He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River, with its Ritalin-induced throwaway chorus: "I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix" - pumping along to a techno-polka).

And the thing is, it wasn't until 1998's that I really sat down to listen to TISM; realising that - as funny (and cruel) as many of their songs were - they were also a very clever group. Basically, hearing songs like Whatareyou? and I Might Be A **** But I'm Not A ******* **** (their asterisks) and The Parable Of Glen McGrath's Haircut, I (finally) got the joke.

These guys were musical satirists. In the same way that Ween or Frank Zappa are/were. But with TISM it's slightly different of course. The band remains masked whenever they perform or appear publicly (press conferences, interviews) - and with TISM it's a self-referential parody.

They even have the track TISM Are Sh*t. And at one point, earlier on the same album, they strike a smoldering almost blues-jam dance-groove and as it's building in momentum, turning in on itself and perpetuating new fresh musical motifs, not to be considered wankers, the band's singer, Ron Hitler-Barassi, instantly dismisses the groove, the band, and the song by humorously announcing, "oh, this is BULLS**T!"

And that's it, the end of the song. Clean break.

So, TISM are that rare beast within satirical music acts, they are not afraid to be the only people laughing at their jokes. And they have built - and retained - a cult-like audience over the years.

This stunning package (one CD and two DVDs) marked the release of The White Albun (and no, that's not a typo, this Beatles-referencing release is actually an 'albun' rather than album, whatever that is?!) Only available in a gatefold-DVD case, with two DVDS, brimming with content. It is the ultimate fan's wet dream.

And if you've never a) liked TISM, b) listened to them or c) got the joke! - well there just might be enough stuff here to convince you to try them - or try them again.

The White Albun pretty much follows the formula of and De Rigeurmortis (the two prior releases) mixing scathing social-commentary (I Rooted A Girl Who Rooted A Guy Who Rooted A Girl Who Rooted A Guy Who Rooted A Girl Who Rooted Shane Crawford) with cheap-throwaway lines ("I'm putting off procrastinating until next week") and comedy-poetry that still manages to illuminate in its complete, frank, sense ("too much knowledge leads to confusion/too many guitar lessons leads to jazz-fusion") with sharp, near-abrasive, swells of bobbing techno beats and guitar riffs dotted around the edges.

If the album is good, the DVDs are amazing! DVD 1 features "a film by Antonionioni" (more trashing of high-brow culture). This is a complete live gig from the Hi Fi Bar in Melbourne, recorded Sept 26th, 2003. The gig is a faux-telethon, with the band taking the stage explaining that unless they raise $1 million before the end of the gig - the Save Our Tism show, as it's called - they will break up. The stage replete with a line of telephone stations, with call-centre clerks perched behind the band, answering calls. The set draws on early TISM favs (Defecate On My Face; Saturday Night Palsy) as well as newer material.

I saw TISM in 1998 when they played at Indigo (now The San Francisco Bath House) - great gig! Their live act hasn't changed all that much since then, and songs like Greg! The Stopsign!!, All Homeboys Are Dickheads and I Drive A Truck still hype the crowd. There's after-show footage, featuring the band in their changing room and fans talking on the street (delighted and baffled, in equal measures).

DVD 2 features every video clip TISM has made - some really funny stuff here - including the home-made porn-film footage to accompany I Might Be A ****. There are also interviews, heaps of bootleg footage from early gigs - shot by fans in a number of cases and a set of songs from a Channel V-sponsored live gig. There's even footage from previous Australian Big Day Out appearances.

Band members Ron Hitler-Barassi and Humphrey B Flaubert discuss the virtues of the DVD-format - explaining why TISM decided to indulge their audience with such a bevy of footage (like everything this band does, tongue is firmly in cheek even if you can't tell - hey, maybe that's why they always wear balaclavas?)

They then take the camera on a tour of Melbourne, pointing out various reference-spots along the way ("this is where the first gig happened". Flaubert and Hitler-Barassi then explain that there was actually only ever one TISM performance. And that each time the band has played since has been a reunion concert. They break up after every gig).

Well I've been having my own reunion with TISM lately - listening to the band's music again. Some hilarious stuff.

Were you ever a TISM fan? Are you a fan? Or have you never heard them? Maybe you can't stand them at all...why is that? Or perhaps you have one favourite song you dig? Or an album you really liked?

What do you think of TISM?

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