I honestly have no idea why Mental As Anything – the Australian Rock quintet – are not superstars. And if not superstars, they should at least be a huge cult band beloved by music fans around the world. Or, at the very least, adored by fans of classic Pop acts like Nick Lowe, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, etc. Now that the Mentals are just about to celebrate their 40th Anniversary in 2017, it’s about time that the world started paying a lot more attention to them. They are truly one of the finest bands to emerge from Down Under in the last… err… 40+ years! Their blend of rootsy Rock and melodic Pop places them firmly between Nick Lowe’s side of Rockpile and Squeeze circa ’79 to ’81. The Mentals’ quirky sense of humor also fits that same comparison. However, the band were/are their own ‘thing’ and comparing them to other artists is ultimately unfair. While their music is filled with liberal nods to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s past, they don’t sound like any other band, past or present. Sure, you can hear their influences but it is hard to pinpoint any particular artist that may have inspired them along the way. Mental As Anything are true originals. They evolved over the years, adding more elements into their sound but they have never deviated too far from the sound that put them on the Oz map.
During their first 22 years of activity, the band consisted of Martin Plaza (guitar/vocals), Greedy Smith (keyboard/vocals), Reg Mombassa (guitar/vocals), Peter O’Doherty (bass/vocals) and Dave Twohill (drums). In general, bands revolve around one or two central figures who handle the bulk of the creative output but the Mentals were a rarity – they had FOUR singer/songwriters in the band, each with their own unique style. While Plaza and Smith sang most of the more familiar Mentals tracks, Mombassa and O’Doherty did their fair share of vocalizin’ as well. And if Reg and Pete thought that Martin or Greedy were better suited to sing their self-penned songs, they had no problem stepping back and letting them do their job.
Quirky, hook-filled, fun and unique are just a few words that describe the band and their recorded output. The Mentals rarely took themselves too seriously and it always seemed like they were having a great time in the studio. There was a sense of camaraderie on their recordings. This was a real group creating real records in the ‘80s, a time when everyone else was twiddling knobs and trying to get the best sounds out of synthesizers and studios. Sure, the band did indulge in technology by the mid-‘80s but always managed to keep their feet on the ground.
Now, 40 years later, Mental As Anything are still around, although only Plaza and Smith remain from the original line-up. Mombassa and Doherty left to focus on their side-project Dog Trumpet (they have released a series of fantastic albums over the years that are worth tracking down) and Twohill left the music business. While there are no plans to release a new Mentals album, they have issued two singles that you can order through their official website.
But what about their 40th Anniversary celebrations? Shouldn’t there be an international holiday to honor this great band? Thankfully, Edsel Records in the UK had the foresight to make it easy for you to celebrate Mental As Anything’s legacy by releasing both a two CD set entitled LIVE IT UP: THE COLLECTION and a CD box set – A MENTAL COLLECTION VOLUME ONE – containing their first five albums in mini LP sleeves. And both releases are essential to any music lover’s collection.
A MENTAL COLLECTION VOLUME ONE contains CD pressings of GET WET (1979), ESPRESSO BONGO (1980), CATS & DOGS (1981), CREATURES OF LEISURE (1983) and FUNDAMENTAL AS ANYTHING (1985). While they don’t include bonus tracks, each album is more than worth your while. Commercially, GET WET, CATS & DOGS and FUNDAMENTAL are the most successful of the five but the real gem here is CREATURES, which was viewed as the difficult follow-up to the mega-successful CATS & DOGS but is actually a better album overall. FUNDAMENTAL is the album that utilizes more studio wizardry and sounds a little dated but how can you fault an album that has “Live It Up,” “Hold On,” “Stones Of The Heart,” “You’re So Strong,” etc.? A nearly flawless set, this five CD box is a treasure trove of Pop and Rock gems. Brilliant is an understatement.
(COLLECTOR’S NOTE: the version of CREATURES in this set features the U.S./UK track listing, which switches out a few songs from the Australian version so, if you have the long-deleted Aussie CD pressing, hang on to it!).
While a two disc ‘collection’ might seem like a redundant purchase after plunking down money for the box, LIVE IT UP: THE COLLECTION features enough non-album tracks to make it a worthy addition to your shopping experience. There are nearly a half-dozen tracks from ’79-’85 that are not included in the five disc box (including the Elvis Costello-produced “I Didn’t Mean To Be Mean”) plus an additional 10 tracks that were released in the decade after FUNDAMENTAL. So, whether you are an avid collector of the band (like me) or have always wanted to give them a spin, this is a great purchase. Contains many classics like “The Nips Are Getting Bigger,” “Live It Up,” “If You Leave Me, Can I Come, Too?’ “Brain Brain,” “Let’s Go To Paradise” and many more. 35 tracks total including Martin Plaza’s solo hit, “Concrete And Clay.” Again, brilliant as fuck!
Experience Mental As Anything again. Or for the first time. Let’s celebrate their 40th Anniversary together!
Peace, love and pancakes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee