Friday, 29 November 2013


‘Black Rainbow’ is the debut solo album of ex-Noiseworks bassist Steve Balbi, and is a reflection of the many influences and experiences of the mature musician, showcasing tunes in the style of old-school Bowie, and well as a throwback to early 90s grunge.

Is it Frank Zappa? Is it Johnny Depp? No, its Steve Balbi.
Balbi is an important figure in Australian music, appearing in the 80s as bassist for the band Noiseworks, whose hit song ‘Touch’ is covered on his album. After the band’s split in 1992, he paired up with fellow Noiseworks member Justin Stanley to form psychedelic pop group Electric Hippies, where Steve was lead vocalist, his distinctive style still evident in his tunes.
He has since worked with high-profile artists such as Michael Hutchence, Tom Jones and David Bowie, whose influences are evident on this album, which Balbi produced via Social Family Records. He has notably been involved with several others artists in ‘Ziggy, The Songs of David Bowie’, a live performance which showcases Bowie's repertoire played by a series of Australian musicians.

Balbi (far right) in Noiseworks

In ‘Black Rainbow’, we see Balbi’s own style emerging, especially after his inclusion in a wide variety of acts and groups. The album has a dark, slightly melancholy feel, as probably suggested by the cover - a black-and-white portrait of a contemplative Balbi, his face framed by long, Zappa-esque locks. His sound is showing some roots of classic 90s grunge, but its reflective, mature lyrics showcases his song writing ability – and its influences, especially David Bowie. Bowie's style is reflected in Balbi’s use of dreamy layering and spacey effects, and in ‘Sweet Sabotage’, we hear a storytelling introduction, reminiscent of early Bowie:

There’s a lonely man lost/caught in the fog/he can’t find his face. Steve Balbi, ‘Sweet Sabotage’, 2013.

I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home/I searched for form and land, for years and years I roamed. David Bowie, ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, 1970.

While the album exudes a certain darkness, a standout track, ‘What Do You Do’, uses a ukulele, paired with an electric guitar and light-hearted vocals. A highlight of the album is Balbi’s reworking of the Noiseworks classic ‘Touch’. This sensitive piece is re-done well, using a few select instruments and highlighting Balbi’s strong vocals, as well as the poetic lyrics.

Another day is going out/A sea of faces crying out/With all we have today/You think we'd stop and take a look now/And all I want to say/Is maybe that we should reach out, everybody.

As well as providing a satisfying throwback to Balbi’s earlier years, ‘Black Rainbow’ has given the veteran musician a chance to develop his unique style, incorporating mature, toned-down grunge and showcasing reflective, poetic tunes.

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