Just Wanna
Have Fun

Moffs? What are Moffs? The only other time I’ve come across the term was in Star Wars; it was a rank in the Imperial army. Since they inexplicably titled a song “Horta” (the rock monster in an old Star Trek) as well, either there was a synchronicity at work or repressed geek tendencies were finally being given a healthy outlet. These Moffs were musicians, a psychedelic rock band hailing from Australia in the latter half of the 80s; and grand Moffs they were.

Their mode of psychedelia had nothing to do with “dig the flowers, maaaaan” (flower-power is a seperate strand anyway, withered and lame), their 60s influences ranged from Byrds to Yardbirds to Syd Barrett and beyond. Their keyboardist owned and operated a fully-functional mellotron, and they tended toward long, multipart songs (only five of them on the first album, each six or seven minutes long), they had internalized early King Crimson as well. Yet they had no interest in ramming their intrumental prowess down your throat while playing in two time signatures at once--their rhythm section couldn’t be bothered with fripperies of that sort, and neither can I. Their “progressive” tendencies had more to do with their worldview than with the deluded grandeur of 70s UK artrock.

Labyrinth and Psychedelicatessen (not to be confused with the 1997 disc by Moodswings--and who can blame them for recycling such a great title?) are their only albums currently available on CD. I’ve heard Labyrinth (their second album) and like it, but it doesn’t quite blow me away. For that, one need look no further their first album, titled, simply, The Moffs. Ahhhhhhh! I defy anyone to hear the opening song, “Look To Find,” and not be utterly enchanted. It can be done only if you have no taste at all, or would rather lie about your true preferences so none of your “friends” will laugh at you.

The Moffs didn’t make fashionable music. That’s the only true thing that can be said against them; therefore their debut was reviewed as being the worst from Australia in the 80s. It was of course one of the best. (Ah well, I never got off on the Zimmermen...) (The Zimmies did manage one brilliant folkrock single, “Don’t Go To Sydney,” before they returned to the void.) Anyone who went out of their way to dis the Moffs would have done better to just ignore them and move on to INXS or The Fixx, something more on their level. When I say something is crap it’s because I understand it all too well; the Moffs were snubbed by people who understood them not at all. They dealt in concepts that were allowed to emanate only from heavy metal or goth bands. For them to hang such lyrics over a musical backdrop that hearkened back to an earlier, more expansionist aesthetic was like a finger in the eye to those who couldn’t accept such miscegenation. If not a finger directly in the eye, then certainly one waving in the air.

Prior to The Moffs there was also a (rare) cassette-only EP, well worth finding and equally delightful. The songlist: “Horta,” “Ship In The Sky,” “Get The Picture,” “Tombstone,” “Tomorrow Never Knows” (they earn five stars right there), and “Confusion.” The title is 12/85, or so I’m told. You get these tapes in the mail from other people, and you’re at the mercy of everybody who ever labeled the thing before you. What few discographies I’ve seen make no mention of it. Perhaps these were demos that got away? I’m glad I have the thing but it’d be nice to know for sure. The sound is rougher and there’s a harmonica (unheard on their records), so these must be among the first tracks they recorded, whether they released them officially or not.

For all its beauty, “Look to Find” on The Moffs was an aberration. Once you got past that first song (which sounds like how a sunbeam feels on your face, awakening you from a dream of your one true love), you were dealing with a rather dour, doomy bunch who nonetheless made such lovely music you could grant them their lyrical darkness without even getting the urge to laugh at their excesses. Their own signals could get decidedly mixed (“Looking like water/tasting like wine”). That 12/85 EP opens with the dreaded “Horta,” whose most telling lyric is “Look into the winter sky/That’s where your soul will die/Ahhh ahh ahh ahhhhh.” Thanks, guy, let’s do lunch sometime. Even when they lightened up and did a “joke” track (a Yardbirds-type harmonica raveup, the sort of thing that makes for a brilliant B-side), they couldn’t resist entitling it “Tombstone,” its only lyric. It brings a smile every time you listen--it’s one of those things where the band plays 12 bars and stops and everybody yells “Tombstone!” (Sixty years ago it was saxophones and “Pennsylvania 6500”--a telephone number. Rumor has it the original title had been, “For a good time, call...”) There was another tune on that EP with more harmonica and a lyric about the “sound of a silence and the horror that hangs.”

It would seem there are things Men At Work never had the guts to tell us. Is life in Australia as awful as all that? I’ve heard about the bars in the outback with the gratings in the tile floors--it’s most convenient to simply hose down the place (and the patrons?) after closing time. The stereotype is that Australians consume more alcohol per capita than anybody except perhaps the Russians. After awhile you get to wondering why??? Their government keeps advertising for people to come live there, and you never hear of anybody returning. (I know one who was deported, but I mean returning voluntarily.) Either they’re happy where they are or else the right-wing death squads round them up at night and feed them to the ’roos.

As for the Moffs, it’s not as if death-tripping was their only hobby. On the musical evidence of the song “A Million Years Past” they were fond of dancing the flamenco, and for extra chuckles they would “laugh at the books as they burn.” Ever restless, not a minute later they could already be found “moving with boats as they dance on the waves/talking to hillsides that tell you their age.” Aussies just want to have fun.

I got all of these releases trading with one guy in the late 80s; unfortunately his cassette deck was a bit slow and I’d dearly love to upgrade my tapes, and to find the rest as well. I’ve poked around the internet and found very little info--their label still exists but the old stuff is out of print. The band broke up some years back and nobody has ever erected a page in their honor. Be it ever so humble, this is it. *sigh* Ah well, half the reason for this site’s very existence is that there be somewhere on the net where praise and worship may be offered to the greater glory of bands like the Moffs.

There’s so much cheesy neo-psychedelia mouldering in the bargain bins; I’ve seen the final albums by the Three O’Clock and Rain Parade selling for a buck apiece. Or rather, not selling. There’s a point of diminishing returns--if you see an album priced at $1, you can safely assume it’s crap. Even if it’s by an artist you like, you can safely assume that particular album is crap. If you decide to take a chance on it you’ll be that much more disposed to toss the thing if you don’t like it--if you didn’t get bang for your buck, at least it was only one buck.

The price was right. As good as those other bands had been in their prime, their final chunks of product deserved to rot there. But the Moffs? Their albums barely made it to these shores at all, except via mail order, so the bargain bin wasn’t even an option. Beyond that, the word is a simple one: the Moffs had class. So of course they couldn’t be allowed to endure for long. America at the time of their existence could boast of only three or four bands of comparable stature. None of them lasted longer than The Moffs, most not even so long as that. (Except for Plasticland. They survived for years, but on the other hand they were just a bit trashy, and the Moffs didn’t even know how to be.) Later for Men At Work, or even Crowded House--here is the 80s Oz band that could have saved our ass. One day the best of what they did will be available once again; and you too will cry over spilt Moffs.


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