Jet – Monkey Off Our Back
Last week the news of Jet’s breakup was reported around the world, from domestic music sites all the way to Pitchfork, who called it “terrible news.” Indeed the void that they leave among the vanguard of Aussie rock will be felt for years, but in the wake of their untimely death, Nic Cester et al. have hammered the final nail in their coffin with a two-disc boxset of 40 unreleased tracks for the adoring, devastated masses they’ve left behind.
Opening with a muted quote taken from a triple j interview in 2008, “We’re like Jesus, we’re four Jesi who can walk on water,” the first track, modestly titled “Intro”, establishes a motif for the ensuing albums. Interspersed throughout the rare demos and live recordings are these affected quotes, filtered so that they sound almost ethereal and muffled like a ghost speaking through a wall. Presumably that is the ghost of the band, although one wonders why the ghost doesn’t just walk through the wall and speak more clearly. Ghosts can do that. They’re ghosts.
The set itself is divided by no discernible structure; a lush, power-pop ballad called “Monkey Business” is followed by a live recording of “Cold Hard Bitch” which is followed by a cover of The Strokes’ “Vision Of Division” which is followed by an acoustic track that sounds like it was recorded on an iPhone in a garage. With the spoken-word interludes, the erratic structure gives it a mixtape-like quality that is just dynamic enough to alleviate the samey-ness of their studio records.
However the most intriguing thing about the set is what clues it gives towards Jet’s possible future progression had they remained together. The two discs reveal a band stuck in a box and trying as many ways as possible to escape. One track, titled “Sunshine State”, has Nic Cester speak-singing over a drum machine-driven beat produced by Suffa of Hilltop Hoods fame. Another predicts the dark, pulsing dance-punk that drummer Chris Cester later took with him to form DAMNDOGS.
It’s understandable why this more experimental material formerly never saw the light of day. Given the immediate, explosive success each single met, who could blame them for not wanting to alter their formula? Yet, the very fact that these songs exist suggest they felt creatively hemmed in by that success and it’s truly a shame they weren’t able to stay together long enough to see that new vision through. Jet had long since galvanized their place in the Aussie rock canon by the time they broke up alongside other legends like Silverchair, Powderfinger, and Nikki Webster, but whatever the form is in which they return, perhaps Monkey Off Our Back will be its blueprint.
by Jake Cleland