The mythology and facts surrounding Hello Sailor as the Famously Dissolute Ponsonby Rock Band of the 70s probably does them a disservice these days. They long-since ceased to be that band and those people.

And while they've been an occasional working band since, they haven't been represented by albums, which means this new one - their first in 17 years and perhaps encouraged by last year's induction into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame - will inevitably invite comparisons it cannot possibly win.

Can a song entitled Bric a Brac Shop compete with Gutter Black, or Black Patch and Pegleg go head-to-head with Blue Lady?

This isn't to excuse makeweight material like the awful faux-Caribbean De Dog here with the mystifying lines "just wanna crap on the neighbour's lawn, don't know nothin' about terrorist bombs, could have been a lesson for Osama Bin Laden".


If you come looking for classic Sailor you won't find it, but not everything on their original albums was a classic either.

There's perhaps a little too much Sailor-mythologising here - the two Dave McArtney-penned openers sound as though they're written from Graham Brazier's imagined diary of self-analysis - but this does contain songs which rate among their finer moments.

When this tries less hard it achieves more, notably on Brazier's lovely Under a Surrey Crescent Moon at the end. Part-poetic rumination and part-reflective murder ballad grounded in the Celtic tradition, it comes with a sympathetic undercurrent from Stuart Pearce's piano and Wurlitzer, and Harry Lyon's gently metallic guitar lines.

Equally McArtney's understated Big Black Bus - lyrics alluding to a fractured relationship and musical suggestions of mature, post-Ponsonby reggae - is immediately enticing.

If Brazier's Black Patch and Pegleg strains the pirate imagery and doesn't quite crystallise, he still delivers a good line in outsider/rebel stories (the bristling Holly and Billy will doubtless be a live favourite).

And you can't deny Harry Lyon's suburban dream-gone-sour on the fierce power-pop Bungalow Ave. Or the menace in Brazier's hard-bitten Good Gun which might have been more effective as a white-knuckle rocker than embellished by horns.

So this is a different Sailor - as it was always going to be - and an uneven album. But when this locks into place, that old acidic-but-sentimental magic remains mercifully untarnished.

Stars: 3.5/5
Verdict: Mature rebels still carrying a torch and a blade.

- TimeOut/