PETER BIBBY’S DOG ACT Marge gets 9/10

Peter Bibby’s Dog Act
Spinning Top Records


Marge is West Coast musical troubadour Peter Bibby’s third album and first with his “Dog Act,” building on his critically acclaimed debut Butcher/Hairstylist/Beautician (2014) and follow up Grand Champion (2018). The album sprawls in a uniquely Australian direction, as Bibby captures the harshness of the rural outback and our island nation’s surrounding sea in a whimsically yet anxious way, doing little to sugar coat the reality of how harsh life can be on the land.

As a result, the album evokes a rattle and hum that shares similarities in tone and theme with Midnight Oil classics like Diesels and Dust. Like Midnight Oil, Bibby and co. use guitar tones and bass utterances to embody the band’s groaning chassis as it flies across red dirt, with only the steady beat of the drums, chugging along like a diesel engine, ensuring that the vehicle keeps steady and moving forwards. Even the LP’s cover star and namesake, the grandma of the Dog Act’s Dirty Dave, are a nod to the the harshness of the musical terrain covered on the record, with the snap of a granny smoking a cigarette symbolic of the few small pleasures available to those in the outback.

The album boasts two lead singles, Oceans and Whyalla. Oceans explodes raucously into existence, (after quiet solo acoustic opener I’m On Fire) with Bibby’s vocals taught from the beginning as he worries about man’s, and possibly his own, fragility. This fragility is symbolised by the song’s refrain, with Bibby anxiously expressing his obsession and depression with the “middle of the ocean” and the “bottom of the sea”. Fearing he is alone in an ocean of anxiety, the sea of voices that join him in the refrain to end the track are somewhat consoling, but through repetition start to offer a feeling of the unheimlich. Unnerving and poignant, Bibby turns his mental health struggles into musical gold.

Whyalla is an angry love song about South Australia’s third most populous city. Cribbing an awful lot from Wikipedia for the noisy, angular verses, the opposing blissful serenity of the waltz-time choruses, with the lulling “Whyalla, why won’t you be home?” hook, give insight into Bibby’s true love; the ambitious outsiders of the bush. Bibby has always shown a love for the odd and eccentric, such as his reappropriation of the real-life stories and signage from country WA as the name for his first album Butcher/Hairstylist/Beautician.

On Whyalla, Bibby goes deeper into local folklore; namechecking three of the city’s greatest. Their achievements are a footy legend, an almost gold Olympian and a guy who stayed up 28 hours playing pinball to set a Guinness world record, to show that “dreams really do come true.” There’s a truth in these people, and for Bibby, the folk-teller, an inspiration, as he admires their dedication to punching above their weight and is delighted to share their stories.

Outside of the singles, Bibby’s anxieties inhabit much of the album which his Dog Act respond to by showing off their nosier side. The punkish Stressed is particularly, well, stressed. With the whole track clocking in at under one minute, there hardly feels like enough time for even the horn section to start and all the whole thing feels like like it could fall off the rails at any moment. Elsewhere, Tin Tuna and Craigieburn are real standouts with their glam-stomp and honky-tonk piano, with Bibby repeatedly asking “When will this journey end?” on the former and trying to make sense of home-ownership and living happily ever after in the suburbs on the latter.

Perhaps the most touching song on the album is one of the slower, quieter numbers. The country and western tinged Your Mum finds Bibby tackling personal responsibility and the two-way nature of a mother-child relationship; “Be prepared to drive her to appointments/ It’s not like being her dad/ It’s like being a fucking man.” As a sign of personal growth, Bibby is resolute that you can’t go back home when you’re in trouble; “If you’re short on change for chips/ Don’t you call on her/ If you’re pissed and in need of a lift/ Don’t you call on her/ If you are down in your deep dark hole/ Don’t you call on her/ No don’t you call on her,” and that it’s time this “little boy” grew up and started to give back to those he has received from. Whether this is from personal experience or not, the track is full of emotion and is a stark reminder of where Bibby’s mind and heart were when making this record.