The 3Ds - "Dreams Of Herge (EP Version)" (We Bury The Living: Early Recordings 1989-90)
There are hangovers, and then there are hangovers. David Mitchell’s “Meluzina Man” recounts one that starts out bad, but familiar — the protagonist is on the floor, head spinning. By the time he boards a bus at song’s end, his hometown is burning and everything in sight is turning to stone. That’s one bad hangover. And that’s also The 3Ds M.O. in a nutshell: Take something fairly familiar and twist it till it cries.
The quartet (originally a trio of Dominic Stones, David Saunders and Denise Roughan; D David Mitchell joined before they started recording) had everything you need to be an indie-rock sensation, ’90s style: good guitar noises; contrasting singers; songs with short sharp hooks; a knack for transmitting their onstage energy. They were kings of the college rock heap in their native New Zealand, which is where I first caught them, and they sure knew how to make the drunken kids bounce. They eventually made it to the U.S. for a tour, then settled back into being local heroes until they dispersed quietly in 1997.
But The 3Ds had something else, and they had it best on the early tunes captured here. They didn’t write songs about the travails of romance, or being filled with doubt, or whatever it was people wrote about in the ’90s. They wrote about 30-year-old cartoon characters sailing coffins in the sea, wanting to look like W.C. Fields, and TV sitcom monks cutting loose and running naked through the streets. And let’s not forget hangovers where everything turns to stone. Even if you didn’t get the cultural references, you got the sense of strangeness that suffused their otherwise perfectly presentable pop songs. And the twists weren’t all lyrical. There was a not-quite-subliminal hint of folk music, partly courtesy of Roughan’s dulcet singing tones, but also a sea chantey rollick in their melodies. And they had a knack for twin-guitar pile-ups that would crunch to a halt, then pull out faster than before; just the thing to make the kids bounce a little higher.
This CD collects the band’s earliest recordings: two EPs for Flying Nun, an early version of “Meluzina Man” that appeared on the Xpressway Pile-Up compilation, and a half-dozen demos, most of which haven’t been heard before. Despite some 4-track murk and tape-speed issues, they’re generally spikier and hungrier than the final versions, and well worth hearing. Those bonus tracks, plus some wry scene-setting notes by early champion Bruce Russell (Xpressway Records proprietor and 1/3 of The Dead C.), will be the draws for people who knew of The 3Ds back in the day. But the same twists that made The 3Ds stranger and better back in the day make them transcend nostalgia now. The hooks still catch ears, the guitars still shred with a pungent economy worth more than any master class, and the world will never have enough songs about nights out as bad as the one recounted in “Meluzina Man.”