This may shock you, but it’s a very different world now to what things were like back in 1997. Blur and Third Eye Blind, then at career peaks, taught us how to woo-hoo and doo-doo-doo respectively. Current pop-culture commodities such as Kylie Jenner and Desiigner were in their first few days, weeks and months of their entire existance. Up on the north coast of New South Wales, some barely-legal burnouts by the name of Grinspoon were concocting an all-guns-blazing debut by the name of Guide to Better Living. For all the artefacts from 1997 that have since entered obscurity, the legacy of Grinspoon is one of survival and defiance. It’s clearly laid out across Better Living – and now, with its expansive 20-year edition, one is able to take in a full-scale appreciation of this era of the band.
Up first, naturally, is Better Living itself. Although a lot of the pedal-stomping and riffage is firmly steeped in a time and place, a lot of the record holds up within a contemporary context. “Just Ace” is a fuzzy, youthfully-exuberant bunny-mosh of sweet nonsense; while “DCX3” trucks along nicely and “Repeat” remains one of the group’s best choruses. It’s big in the way you wanted your debut album to be at the time – loud guitars, aggressive vocals and a churning rhythm section laying it down track after track. Although the band would go onto better things – one can sense the evolution into 1999’s Easy and 2002’s New Detention – there is a certain je ne sais quoi around Better Living that ensured its impact is felt now just as much as it was then. With barely any time to catch one’s breath after “Truk,” we’re immediately thrown into the surrounds of legendary New York venue CBGB’s; in which the band perform a full live set as far away from home as they could have gotten at that time. Hearing the band tear through the likes of “More Than You Are,” “American Party Bomb” and the perennial mosh-starter “Champion” genuinely makes one wonder what more they could have done in order to secure an American fanbase.
Disc two is halved between a collection of cutting-room floor songs from around the Better Living era and a homeground performance at the 1997 Falls Festival. The former is a fascinating insight for any super-fans delving in a little deeper, collating B-sides, remixes and – in the case of “Green Grass Meadows” – previously-unreleased material. “Freezer,” for instance, could have easily worked as an album cut, its frenetic energy later replicated in the band’s “1000 Miles.” There’s also quite an inventiveness to Groove Armada’s remix of “Champion,” speeding up Joe Hansen’s guttural bass-line and turning it into the looped hook of the song. Who’d have ever guessed that Grinspoon would be a band to done orange-tinted sunglasses and puffy vests to? As for the Falls festivities, there’s a real energy that shines through in the recording – it’s a loose, raging festival set that is indicative of the house band of sorts that Grinspoon would go on to become at festivals like the Big Day Out and Homebake. It ends in a blaze of glory with the unexpected finale of “Dr. Grinspoon,” and the now-exhaustive guide is complete. This impressive package truly brings out the very best in what was clearly a seminal album for everyone that heard it the first time around – and might just go on to influence another generation of barely-legal burnouts all over again.
– David James Young