RVG are on a one-band mission to keep the dark heart of Australian rock beating and their new single Alexandra injects some serious electricity.
We last heard from RVG on their 2017 debut, the modern post-punk masterpiece A Quality of Mercy. It was equal parts dark and starkly funny, recalling the bright but emotional pop of The Go-Betweens mixed with the world-weary cynicism of a Nick Cave or Ian Curtis. Interest has slowly built and RVG now find themselves as one of the hottest up and coming guitar rock bands on the planet. If they keep cranking out singles like this one they’ll be handily continuing on that trajectory.
Alexandra takes them even further in the Go-Betweens direction – this is raw emotion in pop form. The band’s black humour is not evident here – lyrically this is a heartbreaking tale of a person ostracised by their family and community. One wonders if frontwoman Romy Vager, herself trans, speaks from experience. The words have a further symbolic sweep – one verse is about a catatonic mother, so shamed by her outcast child that she “hides inside her mind / she thinks the devil has visited her”. This is followed by the “dishonored” father, all masculine indignation, “taking up his bayonet” and telling his child to get out of town. In the era of Brexit and Trump where small-minded insularity rules extreme, these two characters feel representative of the twin pilars of religious conservatism and military might backing this new strain of rightist thinking. Scary stuff.
The lyricism wouldn’t be so stark if it weren’t for the instrumental backing. This is RVG at their finest, guitars chugging as Vager delivers her most impassioned vocal performance. The production is crisp and bright, doing the band a big justice. It would be misleading to say their overall sound has changed, but frankly it need not. If it ain’t broke…
The B-side is also a welcome surprise – a cover of Dying on the Vine, from John Cale’s underrated album Artificial Intelligence. That album has proved a sleeper favourite, full of the kind of disarming and personal lyrics that RVG take to heart. Their cover fits the track into a more traditional post-punk mold, and the re-imagining works a treat. The guitar solo at the end, featuring Vager’s instantly recognisable Eastern-tinged plucking, is divine.