As a human being who has occupied the planet for a tad over 40 years, it is a slightly daunting reality that some of my favourite albums are having significant birthdays of their own. As incredible as it seems, a number of records that very much formed the soundtrack of my youth are turning 20, which to me is now exactly half a lifetime ago. As a result ‘Don’t Let Go‘ is to be a regular Across The Ocean feature, a nostalgic glance back in time to celebrate some of the truly seminal moments from that era. So with that said come with me on a journey back to the days of indoor smoking, flanno donning and scarcely controlled stage diving- the mid 90s. – Gavin Stocker
(Release date: February 1995)
Recorded over a mere seven days in New York, Hi Fi Way is to many the definitive You Am I album. The whirlwind week of recording, in which frontman Tim Rogers was “high and drunk the entire time” lends credibility to the theory that the best art is often created without overthinking. No doubt the tracks were sketched out beforehand but once up and rolling instinct took over, capturing the songs in a raw energetic state.
For Hi Fi Way the band enlisted Sonic Youth‘s Lee Renaldo on production duties. The record was also the first for new drummer Russel Hopkinson as he commenced his long term alliance with entrenched bassman Andy Kent.
As usual Tim Rogers’ lyrics resonate through the tracks. ‘Purple Sneakers’ (“Had a scratch only you can itch underneath the Glebe Point Bridge”) remains one of the band’s most recognisable moments.
Slotting in behind other powerful singles ‘Cathy’s Clown‘ and ‘Jewels And Bullets‘, it is not difficult to see how this album connected with the masses.
Rogers’ tales of the every day banalities of regular folk struck a chord with the listener. The average person could relate to the lonesome pizza guy in ‘Pizza Guy‘ and the resentful hospitality worker in ‘Handwasher‘. This feeling of social isolation and self examination is most evident in album pinnacle and closer ‘How Much Is Enough?’ (“Did you ever want to throw a party just to make sure you missed it?’) Not really, but the point is taken.
Poignant moments aside, there are plenty of perky rock tracks to counterbalance. ‘Minor Byrd‘, with it’s retro organ intro and the acoustic jangle of ‘She Digs Her‘ are punchy early numbers that get things up and rolling.
The second half of the record is where the foot goes down and a slew of two and a half minute classics flow towards the climax. The likes of ‘The Applecross Wing Commander‘ (“Done a lot of dumb things, I sure hope we do some more”) down to Ken (The Mother Nature’s Son) are where You Am I successfully combined newly developed pop tendencies with the established rock of earlier releases. Hi Fi Way manages to squeeze a lot into it’s forty two minutes.
The antecedent album to Hi Fi Way, Sound As Ever and 1996’s Hourly Daily form a trio of albums that capture You Am I at their undeniable peak. It is Hi Fi Way, however, with it’s consistency and carefree delivery that ensure it stands just that little bit taller.