Them Again? Good ...

Mach Schau (EMI/Capitol)
Hoodoo Gurus

By Kevin Gibson

I was pretty disappointed when the Hoodoo Gurus split up six or seven years ago. They were among the first "alternative" bands I picked up on back in the 1980s when I was a teen-ager and I enjoyed a healthy relationship with their quirky power-pop songsmithing for many years to follow.

Apparently, the band members' side projects either didn't work out or became boring, because the Gurus recently returned in their native Australia with this new album - fresh on the heels of recording a rugby commercial version of their classic "What's My Scene" (reworked as "That's My Team"). This and a live reunion - and a new song written by front man Dave Faulkner - prompted the new album, which is available in the states as an import.

So long has this band been in my consciousness that, with what I considered their most creative days behind them, the last few releases have been easily classified and ranked. (For instance, while 1985's Mars Needs Guitars was by far the band's poppiest album, 1991's Kinky was the most commercially accessible, with 1989's Magnum Cum Louder somewhere in between. You get the picture.) Mach Schau, officially the band's ninth studio album, has the guys putting some punk edge back into their repertoire. While Faulkner's trademark hooks are here, they aren't prevalent - this one is more about Brad Shepherd's guitar chops. Therefore, let's put this album somewhere between Crank and 1996's Blue Cave in both sound and execution.

Of course, if you aren't a hardcore Gurus fan, that means zilch to you. So let's break it down a little farther: Heading up this album is the single "When You Get to California," which also was the aforementioned impetus for the band's reunion. This breezy number is one of the catchiest on the album, featuring a perfectly placed brass section as an instrumental break late in the song. (Sounds like it could have worked on Blow Your Cool back in '87, right next to "Out That Door.")

Another keeper is "Nothing's Changing My Life," an aggressive melodic rocker that would have fit well on either Blue Cave or Magnum Cum Louder. But there are elements here that show the Gurus aren't just back together for the hell of it. "Dead Sea" is a criticism of fundamentalist religious ideas; "Domino" almost sounds like a heavier, fuzzier Rolling Stones outtake. "Chop" is beautifully schizophrenic, riding along Richard Grossman's exquisite bass line. Then there's "Isolation," probably the hardest-driving Gurus tune ever. And "Penelope's Lullaby" (written by Shepherd for his baby daughter) shows the band's soft side, something it has rarely revealed.

All in all, this is a pretty damn good return for the band - rather than sounding washed out, they actually sound re-energized. Interestingly, the title, Mach Schau, is something club owners in Hamburg used to shout to the Beatles. When would-be patrons would stop at the door, not sure if they wanted to come in and have a beer, this was the owners' way of telling the band to take it up a notch. Somehow, the Gurus managed to come out of retirement and do it all on their own. (Note: There is also a DVD bonus track on this disc.)