By Nick Bollinger
(Reprinted with Permission)

NZ Listener August 22-28, 1998

Dave Dobbyn


From the bold declaration of the title to the instant familarity of the opening track, this album feels like a homecoming. Of course, Dave Dobbyn has been home for most of this decade, after a determined but unsuccessful attempt to follow-up the trans-tasman success of "Slice of Heaven". Since he moved back to Auckland, he has made what are easily his best albums, Lament for the Numb and Twist. Yet even these don't have the unique sense of place that defines The Islander. The former is imprinted with the style of american produced Mitchell Froom, the studio sorcerer behind most of Crowded House's records; the second was produced by Neil Finn, who's work reflects his status as an international musical citizen.

The Islander, on the other hand, could only be Kiwi. Self-produced, it is less consciously arty than Lament or Twist. Nor is there anything to pin it to the late 90s; no trance beats, no difficult dissonances. Through a kaleidoscope of sounds remembered from his youth - Bowie, Beatles, Neil Young and Leon Russell are a few of the obvious ones - Dobbyn speaks of who he is, where he's been and where he is today.

The opening track, "Waiting", is the poppiest thing he has written since "Heaven", echoing influences he had as far back as th' Dudes. He even affects an English accent in this fun, glam, singalong, which is bound to take its place alongside perennials such as "Whaling", "Loyal" and "Slice of Heaven".

Nothing else here is as instantaneous, though several tracks come close: "Be Set Free", with its lurching Neil Young verses building to Beatle-esque choruses; "Hanging in the Wire", with traces of Polynesia in its swaying rhythms; the hypnotic raga of "Blindman's Bend"; the unashamedly sentimental "I Never Left You".

If the melodies press familiar buttons, the messages, too, have a comforting tone. "Mobile Home" revolves around the wonderful image of the heart as a kind of camper-van; you're at home within yourself, wherever you may be parked up. "Hanging in the Wire" turns a grim wartime metaphor into a statement of reassurance; he would never leave his mate alone on the frontline. Titles such as "I Never Left You" and "Keep a Light On" speak affirmatively for themselves.

And yet The Islander concludes on an edgy note. Over gospel piano chords Dobbyn delivers "Hallelujah Song", a modern parable in which a sniper attempts to shoot the Pope and instead triggers off a miracle. It's an oddity, and yet, in probing the Catholic values he grew up with, Dobbyn is being faithful to the album's theme of identity.

A footnote: towards the end of making The Islander, Dobbyn was persuaded by Neil Finn to take the tapes to a New York studio to add an expensive touch of big city gloss. Finn had done the same for his Try Whistling This, with good results. But the experience only confirmed for Dobbyn that there was nothing New York could add to his music. He kept the change and came home.

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