Black Fingernails, Red Wine

Eskimo Joe

Mushroom (Aus)/Rykodisc (US), 2006

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


Of all the rock bands to emerge this decade in Australia (and there’s been many thankfully), one of the very best is Eskimo Joe.  The three-piece from Fremantle (in Australia’s west) had released two albums prior to this one and both contained glimpses of brilliance and a youthful swagger that won over the critics and public alike. 

Following the success of the first two albums, the band headed into the studio in late 2005 to begin work on the all-important third album. Comprised of Kavyen Temperley (vocals, bass, and keys), Stuart MacLeod (guitars), and Joel Quartermain (piano, guitars and drums), the band was chasing a more polished sound than their previous works and it came with ease.

While they had been loved by the indie and alternative crowds, this third release, Black Fingernails, Red Wine, aligned itself more with the pop/rock crowd. Therefore, the group gained the attention of the mainstream radio stations that kept them on heavy rotation for a full year, thus sending the album skyrocketing up the charts where it eventually gained quadruple-platinum status.

Produced by the band alongside Matt Lovell, Black Fingernails, Red Wine is a more focused and consistent record than its predecessors.  Lovell’s work with bands like Silverchair, Cold Chisel, and INXS was obviously the catalyst for the boys selecting him to collaborate with.  His influence is clearly heard throughout the record, especially on the first single and the title track.

“Black Fingernails, Red Wine” was the obvious choice for a first single; its stunning piano and bass intro, prolific lyrics, and anthemic chorus make for an instantly accessible song.  Radio fell in love with it and so did the listeners who propelled it up the charts and kept in the ARIA Top 20 for nineteen straight weeks.  Now two years later, after the hype has died down, it remains a highlight of the record and a killer song containing some of the band’s best lyrics to date: “The argument over God continues / In this house / All of us stand and point our fingers / At the ground / All of us stand and point our fingers / Straight down.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The second single “Sara” follows up where the first left off.  A love song of sorts, its sentiment is countered by Temperley channelling his inner Sting for a slightly menacing, frantic delivery.  Another highlight here is the even darker “New York,” which was the third single released and its charting well helped to solidify the album’s status.  

“London Bombs” is another song that has a darker vibe, which is quiet prevalent as the album progresses.  Quartermain’s piano is sublime and offers a slightly upbeat mood to counter the depressive state of its author. 

“Pressure” is a strong album track that sounds a little like mid-‘90s U2. Kav even busts out some Bono-esque high notes for the chorus.  “Beating Like A Drum” is again dark in lyrical content and rather poppy in musical arrangement; it’s a curious blend that seems to work better than it should.

“Suicide Girl” is really the only song here that just doesn’t hit it.  Its simple, light groove is engaging but the daft lyrics quickly dispel any hope for a light moment among the darkness: “My social suicide girl / Poison in the wall / Razors in the apple core.”

There is a sense of death and gloom throughout the record but it never gets overwhelming and the inspired moments more than make up for a couple of flat spots along the way.  The album is bookended by two of the most enjoyable songs here. 

Opener “Comfort You” is an insanely catchy tune that introduces the album superbly and while it’s almost void of lyrics, it is a definite highlight.  The closer is morbid, to say the least, but enchanting nonetheless.  “How Does It Feel” is one of the band’s finest moments and closes out the record with a haunting vibe.  I have no idea what it means but I love it just the same, nothing unusual to me.

The huge success of this album has earned the band a much larger fan base than they probably imagined.  Pleasing the new crowd while keeping the loyalists happy will be an interesting journey and I’m really looking forward to the next step.  Black Fingernails, Red Wine remains one of the best by an Aussie band this decade.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Mark Millan and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Mushroom (Aus)/Rykodisc (US), and is used for informational purposes only.