Short, sharp bursts of punk with the glint of a bared fang, Amyl & The Sniffers’ earliest releases had one thing in common: their urgent, unrelenting pacing. Often recorded over the course of a single day (2016’s debut EP ‘Giddy Up’ was recorded in just 12 hours), they may have deliberately lacked refinement, but more than made up for this with raw, energetic punch.
Combining the cartoonish, freewheeling side of Australian rock’n’roll through the ages (see: AC/DC, The Saints, The Meanies) with the swampy scrappiness of US punks such as Wipers and Green River, the Melbourne group have always worn their vintage influences on their beer-soaked sleeves – not that it particularly matters. It’s hard to be mad at a bit of pastiche when it’s so much fun to listen to.
With the band’s self-titled debut, released in 2019, however, they seemed to push their first winning formula to its logical conclusion – and though decamping to Sheffield to record with ‘AM’ producer Ross Orton brought extra precision and studio-induced beef to their sound, there are were limitations that sprung up naturally from recording so quickly.
Some of their lyrics felt slightly throwaway. From the playful made-up genre at the heart of ‘Monsoon Rock’ to the rage at the core of ‘Gacked on Anger’ (“I wanna help out the people on the street,” drawled Amy Taylor, ”but how can I help them when I can’t afford to eat?”) The Sniffers were at their best when they wrote brilliantly absurd, sneeringly silly lyrics and coupled it with their raucous take on rock and punk. “You got a new dog, do you remember me?” Taylor snarled in one such line, on ‘Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)’. “She walks around on my old lead”. Elsewhere, it felt like the band still had further digging to do when it came to discovering their own voice beneath the sheer wealth of vintage rock influences.
Arriving back home from two years of gruelling live tours, Amyl & The Sniffers were effectively forced to slow down by the arrival of the pandemic in early 2020, and wrote the entirety of second album ‘Comfort For Me’ throughout a series of lockdowns. “During lockdown I was asking, ‘What the hell is existence?” Taylor recently told NME. “What does it mean?”
By her own admission, this record is lyrically stronger than the last (“I pushed myself heaps and heaps,” she has said in a statement accompanying the release) and besides ‘Security’’s yowling onslaught of guitar solos, The Sniffers send up the boozer-loving Cosmic Psychos anthem ‘Nice Day To Go To The Pub’ to make sense of their own place within pub rock. “Security will you let me in your pub,” Taylor pleads, “I’m not looking for trouble, I’m looking for love.”
Atop juggernaut hard rock, ‘Choices’ sees her rage against dickheads who refuse to listen to or respect women’s boundaries and ambitions. “My choice, my own! My voice, my own! My body, my own!” Taylor chants, bringing to mind the politically-tinged alternative rock spewed so venomously by L7, with a hint of riot grrrl. On the muddier, grungier cut ‘Knifey’ there’s a sadness to Taylor’s wish to wander by the river to see the stars at night. “Please, stop fucking me up,” she says to an unseen figure, “please, because I ain’t that tough”.
And though ‘Comfort To Me’ retains The Sniffers’ talent for a rowdy rock’n’roll track – the largely instrumental ‘Don’t Need A Cunt Like You (To Love Me)’ blazes in and out of view with one-and-a-half minutes – it also shows a more reflective side to the band amid the silliness. Though it still feels as fiery and spontaneous as ‘Amyl & The Sniffers’, this album’s raging pace is coupled with a darker introspection.
This is perhaps partly linked to the fact that Taylor, as she told NME, had been getting into “big hip hop vibes” while making this album, listening to the likes of Slowthai, Junglepussy and Barkaa, the broadened palette giving this record an even harder edge than its predecessor.
There’s a stronger seam of politicised anger, too – take the battering ‘Capital’, partly a protest against Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose response to the Australian bushfires in 2019 and 2020 they deemed lacklustre, to say the least. Lamenting those left behind by society, Taylor spits: “Freedom don’t exist / Humans don’t exist / People don’t exist.” Cue a blistering solo from guitarist Dec Martens.
When the band rally against being pigeonholed on ‘Don’t Fence Me In’, it feels like they’ve finally escaped this fate – sure, they can still pull a decent pint of pub rock, but ‘Comfort To Me’ serves as proof that there’s far more to them than just that.
Release date: September 10
Release label: Rough Trade