Orlando Sentinel - December 7, 1990
by Troy Holland of The Sentinel Staff
Not Drowning, Waving
The band's name could be a punch line to a Monty Python skit. But Not Drowning, Waving seems more interested in writing songs that reflect change in their Australian homeland than in telling jokes.
The group's major-label debut, Claim, is a combination of observant lyricism and mood-inducing atmospherics.
With a sound built around an understated rhythm section and sparse piano, they seem at times like a spunkier, more acoustic Blue Nile. Many instruments float in and out of the mix - horns, cello, oboe and mandolin as well as stranger ones such as Chinese moon guitar, tree leaves and didjeridoo (a sort of aboriginal horn, made from a gourd). Occasionally, tapes of children at play, buses and crowded pubs surface, adding texture.
On the shadowy "Palau," tribal percussion and flute constrict around a slowly writhing bass line, recalling Peter Gabriel. Lyricist/singer David Bridie's whispered vocals address the effects of industry on a primitive culture. "There's a caterpillar tractor/ there's an aeroplane shed/ Poverty is when I'm sitting next to your place/ saying bless us oh Lord and these American gifts/ They never told this story years ago/ And the giant painted turtle never fought like this."
The instrumental "Wobble" provides an upbeat moment, playing a sort of practical joke on the listener. Guitar and mandolin strum hurriedly, conveying an urgency that is either heightened or diffused when the sampled voices of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are dropped into the mix.
The mournful ballad "Thomastown" is the real gem of the album. In a kind of lyrical journalism, it vividly describes walking through a working-class neighborhood fallen into decay. "The roads have got potholes/ And your car falls apart/ And the milk-bar attendant/ Would like to sell up." Bridie continues his stroll past auto-repair shops and seedy hotels where "every pool table has blood on the cloth." He doesn't miss a sardonic detail. "And it's the older Greek women who/ are the ones dressed in black/ Not new wave guitarists/ with cows on their backs."
Of the 10 tracks on Claim, four are instrumentals. They are evenly placed throughout, giving the album balance. It's fitting that the final, title track features the stark drone of the didjeridoo, played by Gnarnayarrahe Waittairie, an aborigine. The edges and quirks of the previous songs are reduced here to their most primitive source, providing the strongest sense of the merging of old and new Australia.
Not Drowning, Waving's Claim is worth staking.
Copyright The Orlando Sentinel 1990