On her fourth album, Cash Savage does two things. She takes an unflinching look at Australian society and gives an intimate and evocative insight into love and desire. She does it all with her characteristic swagger and assertive tone, superbly backed by her cohorts, The Last Drinks.
Better Than That is a devastating opener, honing in on the events of last year and the impact of the marriage equality debate in this country. As she sings “Secretly I’d hoped you were better than that”, the band deliver a bittersweet, melancholic sound that feels like the calm after a storm. Similar subject matter is addressed on the insistent pulse of Human with its frayed nerve, post-punk sound that blossoms into glorious intermittent choruses and the title track where she sings, with the emotional drama of latter day Nick Cave, about the male dominated world she works in. Collapse imagines a society where socio-political structures have fallen and the world is chaos, undone by its own failings. The Last Drinks back her to the hilt with an ominous industrial junkyard blues stomp that perfectly amplifies the song’s apocalyptic leanings.
The single Pack Animals is a magnificent example of Savage’s ability to build and maintain tension in her more rock-leaning songs. Its Krautrock pulse patiently builds like a slow-moving tsunami, with sonic flares and sparks heading off in all directions like downed psychedelic powerlines. “I keep thinking ahead, to when I don’t have to lose my head” sings Savage, one of many instances across the album where she contemplates the future of the world and whether humans will resolve their multitude of failings.
Elsewhere Savage dials back the intensity and paints a tender picture of the highs and lows of love and devotion. The melancholic longing on Sunday has the feel of the Dirty Three in its staggered rhythm and Kat Mears’ aching violin. February and Found You explore similar territory, the latter taking a big melodically swinging approach with chiming guitars and an agitated dance-floor rhythm section.
For all the stage prowling, piercing stares and stirring sound of Savage’s live performances, Good Citizens possesses a resolute sentimentality about it. She’s speaking out with conviction about societal inequalities and how they manifest and are dealt with in the public realm yet the aforementioned flip side of how to navigate the miniature minefields of personal relationships is what hits the hardest. As she sings “I’ve never been so down, never needed anyone, now all I ever want is you” on February, she captures the essence of love and common experience.
Good Citizens is a bold and astute album that thrives on its balance and range. It pulls on heartstrings as effectively as it raises questions and it thrillingly blends musicality with Savage’s emotionally and intellectually-based commentary.