Today Brisbane legends WAAX release their debut album 'Big Grief'.
I just want to be clear on my bias early on. I was born and raised in Brisbane, I enjoy a XXXX from time to time, I have a season pass to the Reds every year and I unironically think the Brown Snake is the best river in the world. So, when it was announced WAAX were working on an album with all-time Brisbane legend Bernard Fanning, I had already made up on my mind on the album. It was going to be sick...
And thankfully, it is. From the punk rock belters fans of WAAX have come to expect, to the slower, more anguished tracks, Big Grief has a scope great enough to feel as though new ground is being broken, without straying too far from the band’s core sound.
There are moments that feel a little too safe, but, for a debut album, that is kind of expected. You need a fan base before you alienate it with your all cowbell follow up EP.
At its core, Big Grief, as the name might suggest, is not a happy album. Songs regularly touch on issues of self-doubt, frustration at the sense of wasting one’s own potential and isolation. And while plenty of songs roar with energy, it is born of anger and pain.
WAAX has had some lineup changes over the years, but the consistency of frontwoman and vocalist Maz DeVita means she is the lens that all these emotions get projected through.
‘Labrador’ has been in our ears for some time now, but it still hasn’t lost its impact. “You’re a girl and a girl isn’t welcome in here” isn’t a line you can’t ignore in the music industry any longer, especially when it is coming from WAAX. Maz’s performance is what brings the punk to this track; her vocals are infused with equal parts anger and disgust. “You were right all along” would normally be a defeatist statement, but from Maz, it sounds more like a sarcastic remark, a middle finger held out as you walk away.
The heat keeps rising with ‘No Apology’, one of my certified WAAX Belters™. While “This comfortable hell has been a good home to me”, Maz isn’t subtle in her goal or what she is struggling against when she screams she wants to “Rip down the ceiling”.
‘FU’ may have been the second single, but it can’t be overlooked (seriously, it’s my editors favourite track). I have described it previously as the perfect WAAX introduction song, because what could sum up the band better than the line “Nobody hurts me, fuck you for trying”. But for all its bravado, there are still those moments of vulnerability, those thoughts of how “I’m just as broken as I’ve always been, you exploit me”.
Have no doubt though; Big Grief isn’t just big punk rock anthems. There are plenty of tender moments and ‘History’ provides one of the first on the album. It has a slow open, with Maz’s vocals over a single guitar, delivering some real gut punches. Lyrics like “We don’t like me” cut a little too close to home.
As the song builds instrumentally, the track begins to transform, and the introduction of the drums signals the biggest change is about to arrive. No longer slow and reflective, it is suddenly an angry rant directed at both parties in the song, and all bets are off.
I don’t want to incorrectly attribute anything to Bernards’ influence, but ‘Changing Face’ and ‘Last Week’ are where I feel his input most. ‘Changing Face’ is dead centre of the album and is something I never expected to hear from WAAX; an entirely acoustic song. If anyone expresses doubt to you about Maz’s vocals, this is the track to get them to listen to.
‘Last Week’ comes at the tail end of the album, and it may not be acoustic, but Maz’s vocals are on full display. Again, I’d struggle to identify this as WAAX, especially with the little ‘wooos’ at the end of the track (that I thoroughly enjoy). And I don’t want to hurt any feelings, but the guitar melody reminds me of Incubus and I can’t decide if I love it or hate it for that very fact.
There had to be one song on the album that left me personally attacked and it was ‘Why’. I’m not sure how much of it is self-reflective, but with lines like “There is a world outside your home, but you’re wasted on your own” and “You’ve been livin’ in your mind”, I can’t help but feel someone from the band has been spying on my not so interesting life. “You’re just starin’ at your phone” is an apt summary of my days at work.
‘IDKWIFL’ is the final song on the album, and is an almost melancholy end. Any questions about the band’s self-doubt are laid bare with lines such as “I say I’m sorry before I even speak”. But that isn’t the only thing plaguing them, anxiety is running hot when you are thinking about how “I don’t know what it feels like, to be certain in my mind, or satisfied”.
There is a rise at the end of the track, but I honestly wish it wasn’t there. It may have a bit of a downer to end the album on, but I think the first half of the song encapsulates Big Grief, an album about fighting enemies both within and without. I strongly recommend giving Big Grief a listen. Fans will be pleased, and those who haven’t enjoyed WAAX’s more traditional offerings may be pleasantly surprised with a number of tracks.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Big Grief is out now from Dew Process and is available to stream and purchase.
“The riffs are sick, the energy is explosive, but once again, the highlight is the group's not-so-secret weapon: singer Maz DeVita.” – triple j
“'I Am' sees the band shed their wild persona as they embrace a sense of emotional vulnerability.” – Hysteria Mag
“Brisbane punks WAAX have cemented themselves as one of the most exciting bands in Australia.” – Tone Deaf